I’m packing for a month at the lake – but one thing I’m not taking with me is my hearing loss.
Yup, I’ve made up my mind. I’m taking a break from the stress, the demands and the accommodations that are the fabric of my personal hearing loss life. No, I won’t be trying to pass myself off as ‘hearing.’ Why would I? Not only is it impossible to do, but who in cottage country cares whether I’m hard of hearing? The person selling corn by the roadside, the ice cream store guy? They don’t care and – here’s the kicker – neither do I.
During the next few weeks at the cottage-on-the-hill-by-the-lake, I’ll be running on a different program, one that doesn’t require optimal communication in order to enjoy myself. In my everyday public and private lives, I strive for accessible and respectful communication, but for a few weeks this summer, hearing loss advocacy will not be the focus of my days.
I may write a little bit now and then to keep the brain motors in good running shape. And, of course, I’ll be taking along the usual hardware: my hearing aids, dry-aid kit, a good supply of batteries, little thingies to clear out the air vent and what I never go on a trip without, back-up hearing aids. I’ve learned the hard way that if something is going to go wrong with my hearing aids, it will happen on a weekend, or when I’m in some remote location far from the nearest hearing aid specialist.
While I’m away, my hearing won’t change; the internal software that dictates how I filter and process sounds, will remain at its current, imperfect level. But for this month by the lake, I’ve installed a new stress-free program on the human computer that is me. It’s a free program called: I Will Not Let My Hearing Loss Cause Me Any Stress in Any Situation.
I’m a generally well-adjusted person – with respect to my hearing loss, anyway. I know ‘how to have my needs met’ (as they say in disability-land) and I handle well 8.5 of my 10 daily communication challenges. But jarring incidents do occur regularly: missing a phone call’s ringing and flashing, or becoming anxious about not hearing something important, especially in background noise. On a recent noisy subway ride, the PA system was spitting out announcements that sounded increasingly urgent. I asked three people for help in understanding the message; one woman shrugged “No English”, the next removed his earbuds and said “Whudyasay?” and the third grunted, “No idea.” Am I the only one who cares?
But where I’m going, I won’t miss hearing the phone – because there is no phone. There are no subways and no public address systems. For a few weeks, I’ll be free from debilitating background noise, except for the occasional mosquito buzzing in my ear – and then only if it’s the left ear, because the right ear is immune to bug noise. Actually, I’d rather hear the skeeter before it bites me so that I can smush it, loudly, as a warning to the rest of its tribe.
And how noisy can the wind in the trees be – enough to make conversation difficult? If so, bring it on! Let the wind-sound be my focus, and let voices be the background noise. A thunderstorm brings out the witch in me – I will throw open the doors and laugh maniacally into the wind and rain. OK, maybe not – my hearing aids would get wet. Sigh. (Note to self: don’t forget backup hearing aids.)
On this vacation, if someone wants something from me, they will have to come to me. This girl will not do the running to the voice that’s calling. What can be that important that I have to go or run: “Honey, do we have any sunscreen – some chips – more beer?”
Of course, I’ll still evaluate the tone of voice, to discriminate between the trivial and the frantic. “GA-AE-ELL!” Does that mean “If you’re near the kitchen, can you make me a sandwich?” or does it mean, “Help, I’m in a standoff with a grumpy bear!” It’s a crap shoot; sometimes you go running with an upraised broom, ready to beat off the beasts, only to have your husband look up and smile, “Oh, hi honey…just wondered where you were”. On the other hand, you could find out later that, when you ignored his calls, your husband was forced to stamp out a small fire with his bare feet.
Being a hearing loss advocate is one of my life’s passions, but I’m looking forward to the break. I’ll do some writing, some reading, sure, but in the evening we’ll sit chatting by the lake as the sun sets. When it gets too dark for me to chat easily, I’ll just stop talking and look at the pinky-orange sky. Dining on the deck with friends and family, my most stressful decision will be whether to sip a Niagara chardonnay or a French rosé. And if the conversation gets away from me – as conversations often do – I will bring it back my way with a brilliant non-sequitur such as, “Isn’t this a beautiful night? More feta and olives, anyone?”