I woke up with a shock the other morning.
Actually, the shock didn’t happen right away, because I was thinking about my cool dream of being interviewed for a position as nanny for Justin Trudeau’s kids. (For those not up on Canadian politics, Justin is our Prime Minister.)
The jolt came when I realized that during this interview with Justin and his wife Sophie, I kept asking them to repeat themselves. I was hard of hearing—in my dreams! Then the second shock wave hit: this was unusual! In most of my sleeping adventures, I get what’s being said the first time, every time—no hearing loss. Like most people, my dreams are wacky—for example, I’d be the world’s worst nanny—but at least the Dream-Me communicates more easily than Awake-Me.
Why can I hear more easily in sleepy-land? Is it because deep down, I want my hearing back? (Actually, that’s not so deep down.) Or is it because in the strange world of the brain, I simply don’t need to actually hear words to understand them while sleeping. Or is it simply that I can ‘hear’ in dreamland for the same reason that I can also breathe underwater and fly in the sky merely by flapping my arms?
But why was I hard of hearing that night? Perhaps it had been a bad tinnitus day; we’d spent several days crossing the country with Flag, our fifth wheel and it had been noisy. Perhaps the dream was part of my occasional “I-don’t-want-to-be-a-HoH-anymore” moods. Every hearing loss advocate has bad days when we can be downright mean. We’ll look at a hearing spouse or friend and think, “If there was a way to steal your good hearing from you, I’d do it, I swear to God I would.” In a haze of self-pity, we might grumble that other people don’t know how good they’ve got it: “OK, yeah, yeah, you’re in a wheelchair, but you’ve got ramps and accessible curbs, and peeps with hearing loss can’t get the public signage or looping we need? Huh!?” Thank heavens we never say any of that out loud, let alone even mean it. But it’s human nature to think nobody suffers the way we do, or knows what we’re going through, but we need to shake off those twin devils of self-pity and frustration and get back to positive self-advocacy.
It’s hard to remember details of our dreams. When discussing my potential nanny employment, did I identify my hearing loss and offer communication strategies? The leader of a country should know how to talk to the millions of constituents with hearing loss. But maybe I was dazzled and may have tried to hide it and bluff my way through the interview. But how did I think I was going to understand the kids’ high voices? It’s difficult to understand other people’s kids. Besides, these kids are bilingual, and I don’t speechread very well in French. Pas mal (French for ‘not bad’) looks the same on the lips as Papa (French for ‘papa’).
But if I had got the job (those poor kids), I’m hoping I would have identified my hearing loss, clarified the accessibility I would need, including hearing loops and visual alarms, and explained the basics of good interpersonal communication. That’s what I do in real life. Most of the time.
But dreams aside, how much do we actually hear while sleeping? A 1998 John Hopkins University study discovered that it’s the brain’s frontal lobe that processes sound during sleep, serving as a vigilance system that wakes a mother when her baby cries, yet lets her sleep through other non-important noise. That makes sense for hearing people who don’t need assistive technology, but without my hearing aids at night, I hear nothing. Recently, while camping, a flash of light pierced my sleeping eyeballs—the lightning woke me up, not the thunder.
So, now that I know I can hear in my dreams, do I want to spend more time sleeping, enjoying chats that aren’t punctuated with pardon me? When I quit smoking years ago, former smokers told me I could look forward to enjoying a cigarette in my dreams. But when it happened, I woke up in a panic, thinking that I’d have to start the painful quitting process one more time.
I just have to accept that I have hearing loss, 24/7. But I will enjoy being a hearing person when I’m sailing in the wooden shoe with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (and Gael).
– from the 1889 poem by Eugene Field, with 2016 edits by Gael Hannan
Images: Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister’s Office; Trudeau Family, photo by Maude Chauvin; Wynken, Blynken and Nod, public domain