Seeking New Strategies for Hard of Hearing Challenges
Why don’t I admit I can’t hear?
An excerpt from Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith
One morning, I woke up with a sore throat and blocked ears. But I had only two classes to teach so I decided to go into work.
In my Spanish II class, Carolina came up to my desk and whispered something that seemed important by the way she bent in and gestured toward the whiteboard. I couldn’t quite make out what she said, though, since she was speaking through her braces.
I tapped my hearing aid and three little bells sounded indicating it was set at the highest level. “Excuse me, Carolina. Can you say that again?”
No better the second time around. I was forced to say, “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said.”
Carolina rolled her eyes and sucked air through her tin braces. But she leaned in and whispered again. Whispering was difficult to follow on the best of days but that day I felt especially awful and everything sounded muffled.
Did the students even know I wore hearing aids? They were tiny, sophisticate devices that I could hide behind my ears. Nothing showed except for the slender clear wire that held them on. I’d never mentioned wearing them to the students. At their best, however, they brought my hearing to ninety-one percent. So, even on good days, I couldn’t fully hear quiet sounds.
When I couldn’t hear Carolina the third time, pride got the better of me and I nodded as if I had, giving her a reassuring smile.
Typical of me.
I looked at the whiteboard hoping it would give me clues as to what Carolina had meant by her whisper. She smiled at me and returned to her seat with a happy gait, having accomplished her mission.
Our lesson took up most of the class and I completely forgot about whatever Carolina had tried to tell me. But at a couple minutes to eleven, she began to cough and point frantically to the clock on the wall. I looked at the clock. We still had about ten minutes of class left, so I continued with our lesson. The class took a lively interest in the dramatic show of attention the time received. I re-directed their attention to the class activity at hand.
“¡Por favor, silencio!” I admonished.
“Sí, sí!” they shouted, “¡Silencio!”
A wave of “Silencios” tore through the classroom, accompanied by several sets of double arms waving up and down and pointing to the clock in fairly synchronized movements. But with my vision, the arms looked fuzzy to me. What was everyone trying to say? Did I miss a fire drill?
This was me five years ago. (You’ll have to read my book to see how this lively situation ended with my students)! If you are interested, you can order my book HERE.
I don’t know how much more honest I’ve gotten since then, either. I still pretend I hear much of the time. In the latter stages of her cancer, my sister became angry at me. To her, pretending that I heard when I didn’t was lying. I would have given anything to have been able to admit I didn’t hear. But somehow my response always seems involuntary.
Is it embarrassment?
For me, it’s a combination of all those emotions mixed together. Sometimes I still feel like a failure when I can’t hear properly and have to keep asking for repetition. I somehow feel like it’s a reflection on my personally and that I’m putting others ill-at-ease. I need a patient interlocutor.
It’s so difficult to get past.
But it’s lucky that I have a really great sense of humor because not admitting that I haven’t heard something has led to many outlandish situations — most which could have been avoided had I only been truthful.
What I’ve learned in my hearing loss journey.
1. Pretending doesn’t work anymore.
When I was with those I saw often and had a degree of familiarity with, I could guess or anticipate their questions and often fudged my answers based on knowing their personality and giving a ballpark response. But with different variables (i.e. my sister being sick and speaking more quietly, that has stopped working), Answering “yes,” or “no,” to a content question became quite noticeable.
2. Context-reduced situations trip me up.
Now that I have phone and radio interviews in the vein of “let’s see where it takes us” with strangers, I don’t have facial expression to cue me in on the fact I haven’t heard the entire question, or have missed a key element / word. I don’t know them well enough to predict what they are looking or fishing for in my answer. I also have to depend on re-phrasing and repetition and hope I hear the question properly the second or third time around.
3. My answers to questions don’t always make sense.
I latch onto a word or phrase and don’t even know I’m missing part of what is being said. I feel like a second language learner, missing key elements. However, in my defense I answer what I understand cheerfully. Here are some recent examples.
“Do you participate in any sports, like cross-country skiing or such? What do you do when you get out?”
“Yeessss! Of course, I get out and about!
“We hear a lot about the Middle East and we think of ‘danger.’ What has your experience been?”
“Danger? As a matter of a fact. When I moved to Colombia, there seemed to be quite a bit of danger…!”
Where did you get those letters?
They’re certainly not mine. I don’t have any lighters.
Letters, Amy, I said letters!
Oh, those are mine.
There are a number of variables that we have no control over. Not hearing is one of mine. Perhaps when I pretend I hear, it’s makes me feel better about myself. Maybe part of that is denial. But I’m just deceiving myself because in the end, there’s a whistle-blower. I’m not sure if that’s me or the one I’ve just attempted to fool.
Being hard of hearing isn’t a reflection of any degree or lack of education, self-worth or personal success for failure. It’s simply a fact of what I need to cope with. When I internalize this, I will begin to accept who I am and network with others to find solutions to the challenges that I face.
I want to make a change in my outlook and behavior.
I’m striving towards honesty. My knee-jerk reaction is to keep pretending but starting now, I’m going to slow down, take a breath and it’s bye-bye pretense, hello truth!
Are you struggling with hearing loss? Do you know anyone who is? If you’re anything like me, not only do you really want to make that positive change, you want others to understand that it’s a hurdle. If you are struggling, comment below. If you know someone who’s struggling, share this post. We can become a team and cheer each other on!
You have just read, “Why don’t I admit I can’t hear?” by Amy L. Bovaird. © Copyright Feb 24, 2014. If you empathized with the content on this post, Comment, Like and Share it.