We all know competition freaks—those people who have to be first, or the best, or win at everything they do.
It’s amazing what people will compete over—who had the most dramatic “I almost died” incident, who lost the most weight and what’s the best way to lose it (dill pickles and coconut water). If you tell a funny story about falling flat on your face when stepping off the curb, someone will one-up about being knocked off their bike and falling down a manhole.
It’s no different in the hearing loss world where people compare notes. About their family members:
“My dad is getting so hard of hearing, we have to wave flags to get his attention.”
“You think that’s bad! My mom struggles so much on the phone that when my sister or I call her, she can’t figure which one of us is on the other end. Then she hangs up on us, saying that the OTHER sister doesn’t mumble!
That’s nothing! When I visit my mother and suggest a hearing check, she pours my unfinished coffee down the sink and says ‘thanks for the visit, you’re leaving now’!”
Those family members lob it back:
“I used to be able to tell what kind of bird was singing a mile away. Now I’m lucky if I can hear a woodpecker on my front porch.”
“Oh, puh-leeze. I can’t hear the garbage truck coming down the street. I’d pay a hundred bucks to hear that rumble again!”
“What are you complaining about? My hearing’s getting so bad that I can’t understand what my teenage grandkids are saying at the dinner table.”
“I don’t think that’s your hearing, bud. But if you want a real challenge – come to my place for dinner. My wife dims the lights for ‘ambiance’, which is another word for ‘let’s-make-sure-my-husband-doesn’t-understand-a-damn-thing-I’m-saying’!”
They trade horror stories about technology:
“My new hearing aids were so expensive, I had to take out a loan.
“Well, at least your batteries are cheap. My cochlear implant batteries are so expensive that they’re all I ask for at Christmas and birthdays!
“When I got my hearing aids, everything was so loud, I could hear the goldfish farting.”
“Yeah, well how loud can goldfish be? The cutlery was so clanging-loud, I made my family eat with their hands. For a month.”
“I dropped my hearing aid down the toilet.”
“I deliberately flushed mine down.”
“I baked my hearing aid in a pie. At 350 for one hour.”
“The dog ate mine.”
“I ate my own. I was watching TV and eating popcorn; I took my aid out for a moment…and then, crunch!”
“When I got my hearing back with a cochlear implant, I found that my boyfriend made more noises than a girl should have to live with.”
“You think that’s bad? When I lost my hearing, my boyfriend couldn’t handle it and he left.”
They one-up with success stories:
“Now that I have a cochlear implant, I don’t even have to lipread.”
“Isn’t that nice. I’m hearing so well with my CI, that I can hear through walls. No more running into the next room to hear what was said!”
“My new hearing aid connects with my smart phone, the TV, the telephone, you name it.”
“Oh, that’s last year’s model, is it? Because my new device has a built-in timer that tells me when the eggs are done.”
I admit to having a competitive streak. In cards or trivia games, I play to win. But when it comes to living with hearing loss and spending time with other hard of hearing and deaf people, my competitive nature goes on mute.
I admit to the occasional spat of envy when someone shows off their newest and best hearing aids (while I have to wait another two years before I can buy another set). I am in awe of friends who have been implanted and can now understand what someone is saying from way over there. And I remember reading comedian Kathy Buckley’s story in which she not only grew up with profound deafness, but then was run over by a dune buggy as she lay sunning on the beach and required extensive rehabilitation. At that time, ideas about writing my own book were starting to germinate and I thought, “I don’t have such a dramatic tale. I’m just plain old hard o’ hearing. Why couldn’t something like that happen to me—maybe being blown off a bridge into the icy river and then rescued by a handsome guy dangling gallantly from a helicopter but I couldn’t hear what he was shouting because my hearing aids had come off in the icy plunge?”
Competitive stories are really just expressions of pride or pain, shared with people who understand the reality of hearing loss, rather than hearing people who may not understand our nuances. We applaud each other’s successes, small or large, and if someone is struggling, we offer encouragement. Not because we are such sweet people, but because we have been there and done that. We know how tough things can be, and how even a mild improvement is cause for celebration. So we urge each other on in what I like to think of it as positive competition: we have done this—and so can you.