Being deaf means different things to different people, and so they describe themselves in different ways – a little deaf, Deaf Culture, oral deaf, deaf-deaf, cochlear implant.
But to a person who uses hearing aids or cochlear implants, there is a special kind of deaf. It’s similar to when you wake up in the morning, and you can’t really hear anything until you connect to your devices. But because you know you will shortly be turned on and tuned in, there’s no stress in being deaf for a while.
Then, there is the deaf you become when your devices are removed—not because you’re going to bed or taking a shower—but because they are being examined because Something. Might. Be. Wrong.
Nothing gets our heart pounding and our nerves jangling more than problems with our precious electronic mini-miracles. We may hardly notice them when they rest comfortably on our head or in our ears. But they minute they’re not there, our head feels disconnected from our body, a bobblehead. When you’re used to having it the sense of hearing, albeit electronically-aided, having it removed in an instant is a shock to the system.
A few seconds ago that person talking with you was someone you understood. But now, that person has become two-dimensional with a moving, silent mouth, and you wonder—how can she possibly think I can understand her when she has my hearing aids in her hand!?
A few years ago (prior to my cochlear implant days), I went to the manufacturer to have my sputtering hearing aids looked at, content to wait for as long as it took to have them fixed. On this particular day, I waited over two hours, with nothing to do except worry—and write about how I was feeling.
Sitting Here Deaf
I’m sitting here, quietly and deaf
Waiting for my hearing aids to come back.
They are being examined, possibly repaired
By technicians who may not know
They have my life in their hands.
This may be the twentieth set
They’ve worked on today
Under their magnifiers and lights,
Looking for what’s wrong and
What might be fixed.
But really, do they know
They’re poking at my insides,
Dissecting organs of communication
That connect me to the world?
I’m waiting here, nervous and deaf
In a temporary vacuum, void of sound
I clear my throat but cannot hear it.
I’m worried –
Is there something seriously wrong?
I’m pacing, anxious and deaf,
Half-cursing my dependency
On these two bits of digital technology.
I feel as if I’m separated from my babies
Unable to focus on anything but them,
Worrying and wondering how the technicians are doing…
Perhaps joking with colleagues?
But hopefully focused and intent, because
Surely they’ve been trained and sensitized
To know that what they’re working with
Goes beyond a fusion of wires and plastic and chips –
These are creations of human genius
An eloquent expression of our ability to make
Something from nothing – to create communication out of silence.
Do they know that?
I hope so but I won’t know so
Until she comes back with my ear-babies and says,
“Here, try them now.”
I’ll put them in and start the ritual
That tells me how they’re working.
I clear my throat – once for sound, twice for assurance –
My voice will rise and fall, whisper and boom –
As I test myself with a fragment of nursery rhyme.
Mary had a little lamb,
Lamb, lamb, LITTLE LAMB!
Mary, mary, MARY, mary…
Then I’ll know that I can hear, and maybe hear well…
But whatever happens, whatever the verdict,
I hope she brings them back soon
To where I’m sitting and waiting –
Deaf, quiet and anxious.
– Gael Hannan 2014
In the end, the hearing aids were repaired to work beautifully, and I have continued along my hearing journey. But, every time my audiologist has my device(s) in her hands, I am uncomfortable until they are back where they belong—on my head.