Turning 60 has its benefits.
1954 was clearly a bumper year for babies, including Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta and, more importantly, me and my friends. I don’t know how John and Oprah celebrated their big Six-Oh, but I’m sure they didn’t have as much fun as my group of girls who, born in different months of the year, saved up our birthday parties and pooled them into one fabulous trip to Barbados.
I arrived home last night with a sore hip, stubbed toe, a couple of extra pounds, and a week’s worth of hearing loss stories. I can’t blame hearing loss for the weight gain or the muscle I pulled on a morning run over uneven terrain. But I can say that if I could hear, my big right toe would not be a massive purple and painful bruise.
I swim deaf unless I’m guaranteed there will be no hearing aid-drenching waves or splashes. The ocean cannot make this promise, nor can “aqua-cise” sessions which turn a swimming pool into a churning cesspool. So out came the hearing aids for a water-class led by Pedro, with 10 women in the pool and several husbands (we left ours at home) watching with cameras. Using a mix of simple signs and re-voicing for easier speechreading, my friend Brenda interpreted Pedro’s important information: Get those legs up! Move those arms! At some point, Brenda and I were separated and in an effort to get close to her again, I rammed my toe on the bottom of the pool. As I was functionally deaf, I cannot swear that I didn’t swear out loud. In case you’re wondering, no hearing people suffered aqua-cise injuries.
The week’s only real communication difficulty was a trip to local caves, which included an underground tram ride through a labyrinth of tunnels. The attraction billed itself as accessible to people with hearing loss, but the how was never made clear. The pre-cave video was not captioned. When I explained my hearing loss, the guide of the tram trip asked me to sit in the front row of the tram so that I could read her lips. She forgot to mention that we would be in darkness most of the time, and that she would hold the microphone a mere inch from her mouth. Water dripped on our heads from the cave ceiling and I kept my hands over my hearing aids for much of the tram ride. But, apart from that, the stalactites and stalagmites were very pretty. Before leaving, I offered the guide some gentle ideas for better accessibility, so if you go to Harrison’s Caves in Barbados, follow up for me, will you?
A few fundamentals—some of which I have ignored at my peril—for people with hearing loss holidaying in a sun-and-sea destination:
Take a good dry-aid jar or kit, because moisture can be just as damaging as a sunburn. The islands are humid with frequent showers, especially at this time of year. And use the dry aid—not only at night, but during the day to protect from moisture, sea salt and sand. After swimming, before re-inserting your technology, make sure your ears are free of moisture and grit. I don’t mean to sound like a bossy momma, but when I was snorkeling, I unexpectedly hit the beach shallows and sand filled my hair and ears. Sand in a hearing air or CI is not a good thing.
For some scientific reason I can’t explain, voices carry well across the surface of water. If you have some residual hearing and swim deaf, you may hear your friends or family better in the pool or in the sea than on land.
Don’t swim alone, especially if swimming without hearing technology. You need another pair of eyes (a functioning hearing system is a bonus) to be alert to any danger or difficulties.
Take extra hearing aid or CI batteries. I carry enough to keep half a dozen hard of hearing people going for a month. I don’t feel secure otherwise.
We dined at a round table every night to make communication easier for me. Note that I said easier, not easy. Eight women with something to say are a challenge for any speechreader. We did try the putting-up-your-hand-if-you-want-to-speak thing at lunch one day, and although people tended to speak and raise their hand at the same time, it actually worked quite well, for 5 minutes. That night at dinner, however, we only raised our hands with wine to toast ourselves for looking so very fabulous at 60. (Here we are, showing off our pedicures. You didn’t think I was going to show us off in our bathing suits, did you?)
Having a hearing loss didn’t interfere with anything else: snorkeling, floating in the sea, dining, or dancing, or the nightly music under the stars which was perfectly amplified. Turning 60 hasn’t been so traumatic, after all.