I’m a HoH. That’s pronounced ho.

If I were to say that out to a person who doesn’t know me, I’d expect their face to turn a fine shade of shock, disbelief and horror – after all I’m no spring chicken and why am I telling them this?

So I don’t say this to strangers. I use more common terms to let people know that I have hearing loss and could they please do me the courtesy of speaking up. HoH, in my world, means ‘hard of hearing’, and describes a person with hearing loss in two slightly different ways.

Short form of a three-word adjective:  “She has been hard of hearing since she was 20.”

A noun: “She’s a HoH.”

People who are deaf or hard of hearing have historically disagreed on the correct way to describe ourselves. In my book here is no absolute right way to self-identify, but there’s a long list of terms to choose from: Deaf, deaf, a little deaf, deafie, late-deafened, deafened, hearing-impaired, person with hearing loss, hard of hearing, hearing-challenged, differently hearing, hearing aid user, cochlear implant user, HoH.

I mean, who am I to tell you what to call yourself or vice-versa? I used to correct people who used the term hearing-impaired (which, by the way, is the common term used by hearing professionals to describe their clients), because for some of us, it sounds as if we’re being labeled as defective or flawed. But many others do choose to use this term and to my mind, it’s far better than trying to hide the fact that we don’t hear or hear well. 

I use the term HoH for several reasons. First, it’s kind of a generic brand name. For example, Kleenex is a brand of facial tissue made by Kimberly-Clark, but we use ‘kleenex’ to describe any brand of facial tissue. So by calling myself a HoH, I’m able to dodge the what’s-the-proper-name battle, which I’m tired of debating. It’s a generic term for a person with hearing loss who uses speech and assistive technology to communicate. It’s also a fun term that tells you I’m not ashamed of my hearing loss, which I’m certainly not trying to hide.

A couple of years ago, I performed at the Hearing Loss Association of America’s annual convention. I ended the evening with a rap-like piece called “I’m a HoH”. Here’s part of it; do try to use some rhythm as you read it and trust me, it’s much better live.

 

I didn’t want to admit it

But I no longer want to fake it

You’ve been wondering about my issue

So I’ll come right out and say it

I’m a HoH!

 

There’s no sense trying to hide it

Our lack of hearing has defined us

As special people with no shame in

Our need for accommodation

Because we’re HoHs – yes, we’re HoHs.

 

When you see us with our aids in

Or perhaps we’ve got an implant

Or holding microphones before us

Remote controls in our pockets

If you’re wondering what to call us

Try a HoH.

 

Some people come and ask me

Gael, you’ve simply got to help me

I think I’ve a got the “issue”

But I am not completely sure…

How do I know – if I’m a HoH?

 

Well….

 

If you’re staring at the lips

And your head is cocked like this

And your brows are drawn together

Like summer stormy weather

Then the chance is pretty good

That you’re a member of the hood

Bro, you’re a HoH!

 

If someone says you’re pretty

But you hear you’re so shitty”

And you go “what’s YOUR problem”

And they go, all I said was”…

Then you realize you goofed it

And say, sorry, I misheard that” –

Girl, you’re a HOH!

 

We say things like “can you speak up”

Or perhaps would you repeat that”

And if you say oh never mind”

Just one too many times

We’ll start to tell you off,

Cuz there’s no shame in what we are

We are HoHs! 

 

And that’s why I’m a HoH.

I ask you. Who in their right minds would neglect their exquisitely high tech and internally delicate (not to mention expensive) hearing devices by exposing them to seawater, sticky sand and sloppy storage? 

The dictionary says that dipstick (ˈdipˌstik/) is a ‘stupid or inept person, but I think that’s a bit harsh for what we’re talking about. Like other humans, hard of hearing people (HoHs) sometimes make mistakes or don’t think things through. Also, accidents happen.

Summer weather and activities can mean bad news for hearing technology; we need to take a little extra care. As any self-respecting HoH knows, there are some basic rules to maintain healthy hearing aids, cochlear implant sound processors and other technical doo-dads:

 

 Keep ‘em clean.

 Keep ‘em dry.

 Make sure they fit properly.

 Know where they should be and where they are at all times.

 

The Clean Thing:

Don’t get sunscreen on your hearing aids. Clean your hands after slapping it on your skin, because technology doesn’t like slimy SPF50 getting in its microphones, or gritty sand getting in anywhere.

After a day in the summer sun, pamper your precious equipment by wiping off its surfaces, removing the batteries and letting it all get a good night’s desiccation in a drying aid.

Remember to change the wax guards more frequently than you probably do. (Or maybe it’s just me who only remembers about once a month.)

 

The Dry Thing:

Keep your hearing devices free of moisture. They don’t like baths, even sponge baths. Sweaty heads and hair means can send perspiration seeping into aids and processors. My first behind-the-ear hearing aids had thick (by today’s standards) tubing connecting the device to the earmold. Sometimes, I could see water bubbles in the tubes!  I’d unscrew the tubing and suck out the moisture…gahh!  Hearing aid breakdowns are often due to a buildup of moisture and crud inside, so be religious about protecting them. 

Use sweatbands or products specifically designed for wet activities. Or, if it’s practical, remove your technology before a wet or sweat-producing sport. I always carry a portable dry aid or other tight container with me wherever I go, just in case I have an unexpected urge to jump in a river.  After showering, my hearing aid doesn’t go back in until my ear canal is dry, and my sound processor waits a bit longer until my hair is dry. And every night, like the good HoH that I am, I put my techno-stuff into my big electric drying aid. (Some nights I even remember to turn it on!)

I swim deaf. Cochlear gave me a kit so I could swim and hear at the same time; I’m sure it works like a charm, but I’ve been too nervous to try it. Actually, I don’t swim much, and when I do, I don’t talk much. Friends and family understand my basic sign language such as, “you swim on without me, I’m happy paddling in the shallows”, or “the water’s freezing, I’m going in”. Then I just sit on the dock with a cool drink, technology in place, trailing my feet in the water. The only problem is that I’m usually one glass of wine ahead of my friends at happy hour.

 

The Protection Thing:

When your aids and processors aren’t in your ears, make sure you know where they are, secure and safe from all the evils that threaten them. Do NOT just stuff them, naked and unprotected, into your purse or beach bag. If I did that, I’d be a nervous wreck, checking them every two minutes, the way a traveler keeps touching their passport to make sure it’s still there. 

Protecting your head from sunburn and injury is important but my new sound processor has caused some problems. I jammed my favorite little Italian straw hat on my head and it knocked off my Kanso sound processor (thank goodness for the hair clip attaching it to my hair), so I’m looking for a new hat. My bike helmet didn’t like my processor either. Since concussions are nasty things, I left the processor at home and my right-side hearing aid pulls double-hearing-duty, supplemented with a bike mirror, super-vigilance and a Hearing Husband.

I’m sure every HoH has hearing horror stories about their technology and outdoor activities. My friend Brian went snorkeling with his brand new, teeny-weeny hearing aids, one of which became fish food. He managed to save the second. The rest of us HoH dipsticks wouldn’t be that lucky.  

If you’ve got some cool or hot summer tips for people with hearing loss, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime – enjoy a summer of safe hearing!