In November 2007, I was invited by the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association—Yellowknife Branch to give a public presentation on hearing loss. The city of Yellowknife sits on the shores of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT), just 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. On that trip, I landed at 2 pm and by 3 pm, I was standing on a dogsled, mushing a team of huskies around a lake. The sun was starting to set and it was an unforgettable experience. Last week, I returned to Yellowknife for more presentations.
Tuesday, 11 pm: Getting ready for an early flight from Toronto to Yellowknife. Packed and ready to go, taxi is ordered for 5:15 am. My shake-awake isn’t working, so have set a timer on the floor lamp to come on at 4:20 am.
Wednesday, 3 am: Light comes on, an hour early!! Eternal dilemma: if I turn light off for anther hour’s sleep, I might not wake up on time.
5:20 am: En route to airport. Sitting in the back seat, it’s dark and the driver is chatty. I offer my standard sorry, I have hearing loss and I don’t understand you, which usually kills any idle chit-chat, but this guy is determined. He speaks loudly and clearly and we manage a laugh about how cold it’s going to be in the Northwest Territories. I will remember our laughter in the days to come, when the temperature will be no joke.
Two planes and eleven hours later…
2 pm local time: Landed in Yellowknife. The sun, which ‘rose’ at 10 am, is already sinking in the sky. I wrap my scarf around my face, put on my mittens and leave the plane. A freezing blast of -30 C (in American, that’s -15F) air pounds my face, and I lurch down the ramp, across the tarmac and into the terminal. Joyce and Wayne from the local branch of CHHA greet me. They look warm and happy. I force my flash-frozen lips into a smile.
10 pm: Before turning in, I check the weather—the temperature is plunging. Peer out hotel window to see if I can see the aurora borealis, the northern lights. Nothing; I hit the sack. Next morning, I hear that the northern lights waited until I was asleep; they lit up the sky at 11 pm.
Thursday, 10 am: Water main bursts in hotel, flooding the restaurant. Bundle up to go outside for coffee and muffin. At first, forgot to put up my hood and the edges of my pinnae crisp with cold. I wonder if this weather is bad for my hearing aids?
1:30 pm: Arrive at St. Joe’s school to give a Sound Sense© presentation, the Hearing Foundation of Canada’s elementary school program. The 30 students in Grades 4 and 5 are a bit wild at first; they had to stay inside for recess because it’s still -30. (When it’s only -29, they have to play outside). Talking to kids about why (and how) they need to protect their hearing from noise damage is one of my favorite things to do. Although some kids up here in the north also hunt and snowmobile—both loud activities—almost all of them are like kids everywhere: they listen to music on their MP3 players and smartphones too loud and for too long, using earbuds that can add up to 5 decibels of noise coming in their ears. By the end of the presentation, the kids have learned they can protect their hearing by turning it down, reducing listening time, standing back from the source of noise, and wearing hearing protection. If they don’t want permanent noise-induced hearing loss, it’s a message they need to keep hearing.
5 pm: Go for dinner with my friend Bev at a funky local eatery in Old Town, the original settlement built in 1936 when gold was discovered. The low ceiling and packed house bring the noise level to about 90 dB, equivalent to a motorcycle idling. That’s fine because Bev also has hearing loss, and we bellow at each other. It’s what we do, even in a quiet restaurant. But here, we don’t sound out of place. Can’t stay too long, though, because I have to practice what I preached to those kids today! How do hearing people stand this noise?
Friday, Noon: It’s so cold that the air is shimmering with ice crystals. At a seniors’ luncheon, I do a special presentation to honor Esther Braden, who in 1993 started a hard of hearing group that later become a branch of CHHA. Esther, who is now 91 and a recipient of the prestigious Order of Canada, has helped spearhead many hearing health initiatives, including the distribution of assistive listening devices to remote nursing stations throughout the Northwest Territories, and providing new moms with information on newborn hearing health. Esther has been concerned for years about the toxic sound levels of electronic devices and her dream is that all northern kids can get the Sound Sense message.
1 pm: Just learned that the Northwest Territories do not yet have the Text-911 service which is being slowly rolled out across Canada. In fact, NWT is one of the few jurisdictions that doesn’t have 911 service, period, although it’s apparently being considered. In an emergency, Yellowknifers must call the fire department. This lack of service puts people with hearing loss, who may not be able to hear on the phone, at additional risk. Can’t imagine having to call the fire department when one is stranded on a highway, frozen fingers fumbling with the phone and frozen ears trying to make out what someone is saying on the other end.
2 pm: Temperature has risen. Hallelujah, it’s -23!
Saturday, 9:30 am. Sun’s not up over the treeline. I take this picture as we head to the Dancing Moose for breakfast, after which I’ll catch a flight back south. This is the the frozen beauty of the north, worth seeing—and hearing!