Laughing At Hearing Loss

Gael Hannan
February 13, 2012

This will be a short blog.

They say that to live successfully with hearing loss, you must keep your sense of humor. That makes sense; being able to see the funny side of things is an admirable quality. But what if the laugh-at-yourself gene didn’t make it into your DNA strand ?

Hearing loss is a goldmine of laughs, especially for those who don’t have it.   Our funny bone is tickled by the faux pas, verbal boo-boo, or interjected non sequitur by the person with hearing loss.

A man says “It’s Thursday” and his friend replies, “Me too, let’s get a drink!”

In spite of themselves, other people laugh at these inappropriate responses. But the hard-of-hearing person is always embarrassed, to varying degrees, at having made the mistake, although she or he may hide it or even laugh it off.

From where I sit, some of these incidents are the stuff of comedy, just plain funny. They just don’t always seem that way, at the time, to the owner of the hearing loss. I use the term ‘owner’ deliberately, because from the moment I faced up to my hearing loss and took responsibility for managing it, my life changed for the better. And with this personal power also came the freedom to laugh at the absurd situations that come with being hard of hearing or deaf.

At consumer conferences, I love to sit with other people and share hearing loss stories – sometimes funny, often painful, and all surprisingly similar.

  • My family was positive and relaxed about my hearing loss. Maybe too relaxed because they loved to laugh at my bloopers, and they strung their favorites into a litany that is still chanted at family gatherings. One person starts and the others pick it right up:   “Who died?  I hear it (although I didn’t)! Who saw a bear? She has sinus trouble? Who died, who DIED!?” This won’t seem funny to you, but I guarantee that if my family’s reading this, they’re holding their sides!
  • When I ask strangers to “Speak up please, I’m hard of hearing,” the occasional sharp wit will quickly reply, “Pardon?”  I smile politely because I’ve heard this like, oh, 5000 times before. But sometimes I laugh, because they do it so well!
  • On the other side of the wit spectrum is the dimwit who asks if I can read lips. She tests me by stretching her lips into a painfully slow rendition of “Whaat amm I-I-I-I sayyyinnnngg??”  I hazard a thoughtful guess – “What am I saying?” – and she expresses awe for my talent as a speechreader. This always cracks me up.
  • Prior to the landing of a flight home from somewhere, a flight attendant who knew I was hard of hearing, asked me if I wanted to remain in my seat until everyone else got off.   Excuse me?  I was sure I’d misheard her. But when she repeated her offer, I politely declined and added her to my mental list of dimwits. I’ve been guffawing about it ever since. (If you don’t ‘get’ this anecdote, you may be a hearing person.)
  • My friend Beth always identifies as hard of hearing when she checks into a hotel. On one occasion, she asked for an accessible room.  “No problem, ma’am!”  Her room had an extra-high toilet.
  • People with blue, green or purple hearing aids have senses of humor.   I wouldn’t wear polka dot hearing aids, myself, but I applaud the spirit of someone who does.
  • Hard-of-hearing people singing together is always a merry event. Karaoke lyrics are crucial, otherwise each of us will sing our own words, because we never got the right ones when we listened to the radio.  Sometimes we even have our own tunes for the songs, which don’t sound anything like the songwriter’s creation. But what we lack in accuracy and talent, we make up with enthusiasm. And it’s just funny.
  • My friend Dorothy was baking apple pies on a hot summer day. She was perspiring, so she took out her hearing aid and put it on a kitchen shelf. A little later, a friend dropped by for a chat and Dorothy went to get her hearing aid. It wasn’t on the shelf. After a panicked search, she looked in the oven to see the pie rising nicely – with a large lump in the middle.
  • A 200-lb dog named Digby ate my hearing aid. Most hearing aid-eating dogs don’t swallow them whole and pass them out, intact and repairable, at the other end. Digby chewed mine into bits of screws, coils and plastic casing, which he tastefully arranged across my bedroom floor. I cried because it was going to cost me big money to replace this pile of rubble. But, bless him, Digby’s owner found the situation so funny that he hyperventilated, and it took two of his also-hysterical rugby friends to help him breathe again.
  • Every person who grew up with a hearing aid has a funny story to tell about ‘slow dancing’ with a hearing person. We held our heads stiffly out at an awkward angle in order to read our partner’s lips or to avoid the ultimate horror of a squealing hearing aid. But with the neck at a stiff 45 degree angle, the body also becomes a little robotic. Some of us weren’t very good at catching the beat, either, thanks to a combination of hearing loss and cranking our neck out, and all. Come to think of it, it’s amazing that any hard-of-hearing person ever got past that first dance!

OK, so this blog isn’t short. And if you like these stories, we’ve got a million of ‘em!

You gotta laugh at being a HoH.

  1. You are right on Gael. And then there is the family member (in my case a sister) who enjoys tantalizing you on the telly! As in making a profound statement about something perceived as important while lowering the voice (and inflection) at the end of the statement just to see if you understood. When you bluff and say something totally out of context (while actually thinking you might be on track), the pleasureful voice on the other end says “You ddn’t hear what I said, did you?” Yes…I do have a sibling like this. Bad news.

    1. Oh, bad sister – kick her outta the will! ‘Pleasureful’ – what a wonderful word in this context. Thanks for sharing, Julie.

  2. Gael, you have done more than anyone to point out the humorous side of hearing loss, which is not always funny to the deafened. I, like many others, need to be reminded that it is all in our attitude. Think resentment at our disability and each embarrassing experience is not funny. On the other hand, think how we have so many other blessings to be thankful for and hearing loss then becomes not so important to our dignity. So let’s laugh a bit more at ourselves. Laugh on Gael and thanks for reminding us.

  3. I knew a person who thought it was so funny, to talk in a whisper to me. Then when I turned up the volume on my hearing aid, he would shout at me, then laugh when I quickly turned it back down. I failed to see the humor in that, and considered it to be very cruel.

    1. Luckily most people aren’t that cruel. Hopefully you were able to limit your communication with that person.

  4. Hello Gael:

    Thanks for another wonderful blog. I agree with Jesse’s comment that you really do a good job of pointing out the lighter side of hearing loss (but they always have serious messages). We all know lots of people who just don’t get ‘it’ when it comes to understanding what hard of hearing people have to live with every day. I always try to be polite and explain to people about why I don’t understand them, but the usual comment is, “But you have hearing aids on”, or, “Get a new set of hearing aids, those obviously don’t work”. At other times, when I can hear and understand what someone is saying, they’ll say things like, “Are you sure you have a hearing loss?”, or, “You can hear me fine now, what was the problem two minutes ago?”. So, it’s a constant struggle and sometimes a pain, but all in all, things could be a lot worse I always say. I always try to look on the bright side of things and one of those bright things, is that I can simply turn off the hearing aid when I no longer want to hear insenstive comments or it gets too loud. You have to count your blessings sometimes. Bye for now and keep those blogs coming!

  5. Hi Gael:

    As usual, you hit the nail on the head with this article. And you’re so right when you mention you’re hard of hearing and they respond with, “Pardon?”.

    Years ago I remember a song which I ‘thought” was “When Chestnuts are Falling” . . . and actually it was “Winchester Cathedral” – LOL.


  6. And then there was the waitress in a restaurant which shall remain nameless. The waitress asked what kind of service dog was sitting under the table. “He is a hearing ear dog”, the handler said. He alerts me to sounds and helps me to hear”.

    “Oh”, the waitress replied.

    Whereupon she bent down to the dog’s level, looked him straight in the eye and asked him loudly, “SO WHAT DOES YOUR OWNER WANT TO ORDER?”

  7. All so true. I am married to Mr “Pardon”, really funny, I don’t hink.
    My friend announced that for her 5oth birthday she would like a chimp in a balloon. I was a bit baffled, and trying to hear through her Kiki accent, asked for clarification. All I could vision was a cuddly toy inside a helium balloon. This is definitely not in the taste of said friend. A repetition gace me the sam picture. Again, a little embarrassed at having to ask a second time for a repeat, she explained, you know a trip in a hot air balloon. It all makes sense now, but I still have a picture of a small monkey inside a large helium balloon. We all did have a laugh over this one.

  8. i love when some one has a sense of humour like mine. an example in my past is in a local coffee shop on the way to uni. we’d just had a break from classes and the woman behind the counter said what i thought was “did you enjoy you wee cough” (my pal had just been coughing) and i said i hadn’t coughed it was my pal. this whole conversation was then repeated when i asked what. The pair of them then almost died from lack of breathe because they were laughing so hard. Turns out once they could breathe a little the question had been “did you enjoy your week off”. at which point at least i found it funny too 🙂

  9. Wish you and the commedian Norm Crosby could share stories. …I have been with a group of friends for dinner. When they order coffee. I usually say I ‘ll have SANKA. I never get the coffee!!!!! My lisping , they think I am saying THANK YA…LOL I have done this several times to prove it to my friends!!!!!!!!!

  10. Gael,
    Reading your stories made me laugh out loud. Now, I understand why my kids didn’t sing the same song as me.
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply