Getting Caught with Naked Ears

Sometimes when people want to communicate with us, we may not be fully functioning, hearing-wise.

In the shower, for example, or when we are abruptly awakened from sleep. Or when going down for breakfast at a weekend house party, and realizing you’ve put on all your clothes and all your makeup, but have forgotten the minor detail of your hearing aids or cochlear implant. Or when, in the midst of a social conversation, your battery dies and you are temporarily senseless (again, hearing-wise).

These are rare events, but they do happen.  And when they do, what does one do?

First, let other people know that your hearing is at low tide or that you are temporarily deafOne method is to perform the universally-understood routine of shaking your head slightly while frowning and pointing to your ears.  The frown is important, because if you do the routine with a smile, they may think you have lost your mind, drunk too much the night before or are sleepwalking and dreaming that your hearing has been returned to you by the night fairies.

The other option is to tell them: “Gosh, you’re all speaking softly this morning. Oh, heck-darn, it’s me!  My hearing aids (or cochlear implant) are still on the bathroom counter. Back in a flash!”

Neither of these are useful when caught, deaf-ish, in the shower.  I know what you’re thinking—who would try talking to a person with hearing loss, who’s standing behind a curtain or shower door and beneath a noisy waterfall, some of which, presumably, is in the shower-er’s eyes?  It should be self-evident that being naked includes being devoid of hearing technology.  But the who in this case would be the Hearing Husband who needs to know where I put the car keys, or the child who needs something—food, money, anything—right away.

Likewise, when awakened from a deep sleep, especially in the dark of night, it should not be necessary to explain that you can’t hear or understand.  But if the person desperate to converse cannot wait for you to get your hearing aids out of the dry-aid and into your ears, then emergency communication tactics are needed.


  • The person with hearing loss should make sure the other guy is very close, eyeball-to-eyeball. Then, ask them what in the name of all that’s holy is the problem?  Your voice might be quite loud, not being able to hear yourself and all, but that’s their problem, not yours. (And if you’re in the shower, you might want to reinforce your point by spraying as much water on the interloper as possible.)


  • Ask them to state their purpose in as few words as possible, accompanied by appropriate gestures that will clarify their meaning. For example, the word ‘keys’ is difficult to lipread on its own. Try it; grab a mirror and mouth the words ‘keys’, ‘ease’ and ‘heat’.  They all look the same, right, without any supporting evidence?  Mind you, it could also be a big smile, but the difference is that when a word is uttered, the speaker usually moves their head a bit, with a slight upward tilt of the chin, whereas a smile is just a smile. (As a speechreading instructor, I know what I’m talking about.)  So, along with saying ‘keys’, the speaker should raise their eyebrows to indicate a question, and bring their hand close to their face to make a motion that simulates turning a key in the lock.  “THE CAR KEYS?” I would bellow. “Really, you couldn’t wait another two minutes?  Gahh, try my purse!”


  • A further word on what qualifies as an appropriate gesture: the hearing speaker should not use frantic hand movements that wouldn’t be understood even with hearing aids in.  Temporary deafness does not grant us temporary sign language fluency!


  •  If you have residual hearing and can understand a person speaking clearly and directly into one ear, invite them to do so. But ask them to keep it short, because they may be speaking at high volume with a force that could blow up some delicate hair cell.


  • The person with the emergency could write the message down. This might not work so well in the shower, and in the waking-up scenario time will be wasted turning on the light (which is temporarily blinding) and then waiting for you to put on your glasses.


  • But if there is time to do #5, then there should also be time to put in the hearing aids or CI! Those of us who have been doing this daily, for a long time, can move damn fast when necessary. Sometimes, though, the stress of the moment can cause hearing aid fumbles. There is nothing more challenging than searching for a hearing aid battery in the carpet.


To summarize, in an emergency situation:

The speaker must face the person with hearing loss, be well-lit, speak clearly and use appropriate facial expressions and hand gestures. There should also be a good reason for the urgent conversation in the first place]

The person with hearing loss must pull out every communication strategy they know, including remembering to ‘put on’ hearing technology at the earliest opportunity. With respect to appearing in public, fully dressed and made-up but without hearing aids, try this.  Make it a habit of saying to your reflection, just after the lipstick goes on, “You look fabulous, darling!”  If you can’t hear yourself, there’s one more thing you need to do.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Great article, and humorous take on a problem that those of us who wear instrumentation deal with regularly. My severe ski slope loss will let me fool most folks in quiet, and I’m generally OK when the lights go out, until my loved one wants to go over the details of her day, all spooned up and warm, facing the other way with one ear in a pillow, and one of the cats purring in the only one available.

    But, social situation are a different story. I get real dumb, real quick if I’m caught without amplification. All the classic symptoms and complaints. I can hear folks talking, but just can’t understand.

    Thanks again Gael for a reminder to check for spare batteries, and make sure their in before attempting communications.

    Best Wishes,


  2. What a wonderful simple but to the point article of a problem every H O H person has to encounter every day of their life. One would think living in a family they would fully understand the problem and make allowances,BUT just watch the expression on their face as you take a few seconds to get the aid in full receiving mode. No matter how much your “other” loves you a frown comes on the forehead and very obvious a resentment at having to spent even a little time before their requirements are full met,
    Now, if you were blind or had an obvious problem no doubt every effort would be made to assist, it is true HOH is an invisible condition and often treated by others as a nuisance. How often have we heard,as an aside, he/she hears rightly when they want to or has selective hearing. I live in the U K but really enjoy reading hearinghealthmatters I don’t know of any UK blog to match it.

  3. Hey, neat one Gail!

    I had the experience of being on a group trip. I was taking a shower …. and it leaked! Water was dripping down through the ceiling to where the group was preparing for breakfast. ( … I’m a late riser … so what!) They wanted to go up, tell me to turn the shower off!! My hubbie told ’em “Good luck … She won’t hear you!”)

    It ended up OK .. they decided to wait ’til I turned it off – no body drowned, no big puddle and I was spared embarrassment!

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