It’s probably not an easy thing to learn that your two year-old daughter has permanent hearing loss. You worry, because she is also a sensitive child for whom the sky will be always bluer and the grass always greener than for some other people.
That’s how my father, a few years ago, described my mother’s discovery that my willful behavior was actually hearing loss (the psychological analysis came from their close friend, a professional who worked children).
Several decades have passed; my initially mild loss is now severe to profound and I wear two hearing aids. I love the blue of skies and the green of grass, but I don’t know if they are any different than what you see, although I do admit to a tendency of being over-sensitive.
By now, the family story of hearing loss has circled back to include my dad. The child has become a woman and the father has become a stubborn senior with hearing loss who won’t wear his hearing aids when he’s supposed to!
There—I got that off my chest.
My parents raised me in a time when the prevailing medical wisdom dictated against using amplification for mild losses. This was the era before amplified telephones, classroom specialists for hard of hearing students, parental resources, or almost any form of the accommodations that we have come to see as necessary to help youth succeed with hearing loss. All my parents had to work with was the knowledge that if I told people I was hard of hearing, if I sat at the front of the class, and if I learned to ask for repeats when I needed them, then I would be ahead of the game. Most importantly, in our family life, my hearing loss was just a fact. I wasn’t disabled. I wasn’t given special treatment. In fact, my hearing loss was a source of frequent amusement when I misunderstood or said the wrong thing. (Admittedly, it was funnier to my parents and my sister than it was to me.)
My parents taught me to stand up straight with my hearing loss. Good communication was drummed into me, although it has been a lifelong learning curve.
My dad always had a slight hearing loss, thanks to a childhood bout with scarlet fever. Then in his adult years, he developed some irritating tinnitus for which he was prescribed hearing aids, and which hit the drawer faster than you can say, “Pardon me?”
But over the past couple of decades, he developed bona fide presbycusis, age-related hearing loss. His hand seemed permanently cupped behind his ear in a visual request for us to speak up or repeat what we said. In family gatherings, when he seemed disengaged from the conversation and we asked him if he was following, he would say, “No, I’m not, but thanks very much for asking.” We told him he needed hearing aids.
“I had some, they didn’t work.”
“Dad, that was for something different and besides, hearing aids won’t work when they’re shoved in the medicine cabinet.”
That had no effect, so I said, “Dad, you raised a child with hearing loss. You were proud of how well I did, you applauded my new hearing aids. Why are you resisting the same help?”
That got no response either. What finally sent him to the audiologist was the suggestion by his lady friend that it would be nice if he heard a little better during their daily games of cribbage.
He now has lovely, shiny in-the-ear hearing aids. He’s meticulous about keeping them clean and making sure the beads in his drying-aid are the requisite shade of blue. We’ve spent time comparing our hearing aids, and I’ve shown him a couple of neat tricks, such as actually inserting it properly in his ears. ‘Oh my! That DOES sound better.”
It’s just that he doesn’t always wear the damn things.
“I live alone and I don’t need to hear things. I’ve discovered I love the sound of silence.”
I’m OK with his second statement but the first one gives me cold chills, especially because I’ve walked unannounced into his house, giving him a fright when I suddenly appeared in front of him.
“Really Dad, what about hearing the doorbell?”
“Nobody comes to visit that I’m not expecting.” (See above.)
“What about the phone?”
“I’ve got a super-loud ringer.” And he’s right—it can be heard down the street.
“Dad, you’ve got the TV loud enough to wake the dead! Why not put in your hearing aids?”
“I like it this way—and I’ve got the captioning on.”
At least I can take credit for the closed captioning. For years, I nagged him about it, but he was resistant. Then one day he complained about not being able to understand a character on Will & Grace, and I said, resignedly and automatically, “why not use the captions”. He looked at me and said, “Now, there’s an idea.” And he’s never looked back.
But he’s religious about one thing: he puts in his hearing aids every day at 3pm when he goes over to Lois’ house for cribbage and dinner. And nowadays when we go to visit, he’s usually wearing them. He finds them a bit loud, but my suggestion that he wear them all the time to get used to the loudness gets the standard pooh-pooh response.
But, hey, who am I to tell him how to hear. Uh…his daughter? Who has a lifetime of hearing loss and hearing aid experience, who’s a public speaker and writer on the issues, who’s published a book?
Nope, not good enough.
It’s his life and his hearing. He’s going to do it his way—because he also lives in a world of blue sky and green grass.