How’s this for a salad bar of communication strategies?
Hearing aids. Cochlear implants. Speechreading skills. Assistive listening devices. Telecoils and looping. Bluetooth. Captioning on TV, at the movies, on our smartphones. Assertiveness in having our needs met. Manipulating our listening environment with lighting, good sight lines, and low-or-no background noise.
People with hearing loss pick and choose the ones they need, want, or can afford in order to communicate to their best ability. And with the right attitude, it usually works. But what about those days when attitude turns sour, when coping with hearing loss becomes a grind? At times like this, what are you gonna do?
Get out of town.
Go bush. Take your car, your bike, a bus or your own legs. Just get yourself to a place of nature where you can calm down, be in quietness, feel and see. Even a few moments of quality calm can straighten up your picture of the universe. It doesn’t matter if it’s a true wilderness or a local city park on a Sunday morning; you just need a place where you don’t have to deal with people who mumble, who speak to you with the back of their heads, from another room, or on the phone. There’s no need to understand, to respond, to get it right. You simply have to absorb quietness and nature as you move along a trail dribbling your fingers through the leaves, or lie on your back and look at what’s up there.
The Hearing Husband and I recently went camping at the spectacular Pinnacles National Park in California. There was no WiFi or cellphone coverage. We hiked, played cards, read, and made deliciousness for dinner. Black-tailed deer, coyotes, and brush bunnies passed close to our camper and condors circled above us. Not one of these creatures required me to hear or respond to them, except with my eyes. One minor concern: I wouldn’t have been able to hear a rattlesnake with its high frequency hissy-rattling on the hiking trail—but that’s what a Hearing Husband is for.
The goal of the trip was not to avoid spoken communication with other people, because at campgrounds, other people talk to you whether you want them to or not. After we arrived, Doug struck up a conversation with our neighbors, a charming couple with two dogs and three cats. I could have dodged the challenge of talking with strangers, because I saw that the man had—horror of speechreading horrors—a mustache and a close-trimmed beard. But they were serving nachos, which I don’t even try to resist. Soon we were having wine, nachos and a lively chat. But as I wasn’t familiar with their speech patterns, the Hearing Husband had to straighten out a couple of classic mis-hears.
The conversation had turned to how some people struggle with personal responsibility (yes, it was that kind of discussion). Speaking of his adult sister, Kevin-with-the-Beard said, “My mother still makes porridge for her.”
Me: She what?
Kevin: She makes my sister’s porridge.
Me: Is there something wrong with that?
Kevin: My sister’s 40 years old!
Me: Maybe it makes your mother happy to still make porridge for her girl.
In the brief silence as they all looked at me, I knew I had misheard. Doug was about to translate, when Kevin beautifully rephrased it. “My sister’s mortgage. My mom pays it for her every month.”
Makes her porridge. Pays her mortgage. To the person with hearing loss, these phrases look the same on the lips, sound the same to the ear, and the context was the same—mother doing something for her daughter. A classic communication goof. Then Kevin and Lisa, who are rock collectors, showed us a stunning specimen they’d bought for a song at the rocket ship store. When I asked how it had been brought back from space, I got another one of those looks. OK, I’m not a rock collector, alright? Rocket ship store and rock and gem store sound the same to me!
When I laughed, so did they—gratefully. Holding in laughter is tough, but when let loose, it’s like a cleansing ale, dissolving tension and creating harmony. Especially at a picnic table with mountains in the background.
This was my only significant hearing challenge during three days in the wild. I heard rain on the camper roof and the crackle of campfire. I relaxed. And when dealing with chronic tinnitus and the everyday tests of hearing loss, taking to the outdoors to relax and recharge is one of the best ‘cures’ for hearing loss that I know.
Photos courtesy of National Park Service and the Hearing Husband.