The Hearing Husband and I just returned from a two-week trip to Scandinavia, namely Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and we’re suffering from a bit of jet lag.
I had been invited to speak about living with hearing loss by several groups of consumers, as well as a hearing aid manufacturer, GN Hearing in Copenhagen. Since talking about hearing loss is my absolute favorite thing to do, everything else – interesting people, wonderful food and wine, and spectacular local sites – was just delicious icing on the cake.
I usually travel alone to speaking engagements and, on every trip, I run into barriers because of my profound hearing loss.
- I can’t understand PA announcements in the airport, train station, on the plane, and/or all of the above.
- Boarding announcements are still done on the PA system, rather than through visual signage, in most airports. The gate staff make frequent, yet unintelligible, announcements about – well, I don’t know what they are about because it’s just gobbledy-gook to me. I self-identify as having hearing loss at the earliest opportunity, which usually gets me on the plane before anybody else.
- Checking into a hotel, I advise front desk staff that I have hearing loss, and please write that down because if there’s a hotel emergency they’ll have to break down my door and carry me to safety. Thank you.
- And then, even if I have a shake-awake to help me not oversleep, I keep waking all night long to see if the shake-awake is working.
- Ordering food, getting directions, and just about any information that is delivered by sound and speech, carry the potential that I’m going to have to ask for (several) repeats, bluff my way through the conversation, or simply hear things incorrectly which take me to the wrong place at the wrong time, etc.
In spite of these irritations, I’ve been traveling solo, more or less successfully, for years without a major disaster that I could attribute to my hearing loss. But when the Hearing Husband and I travel together, he fills in the blanks for what I don’t hear – and also bears the brunt of my travel anxieties.
- He can hear the PA announcements. But he only understands them if he pays attention to them. “What was that?” I ask. “Don’t know,” he replies. “Are they calling our row yet?” (With him along for the trip, I don’t get to board early, which means competing for space in the overhead luggage bins.) “Not yet.” “I’m going to get in line anyway.”
- During the flight, when the attendants come around with carts of food and drinks, he becomes the mediator, with his head ping-ponging as he relays information between the attendant and me. (How did I ever order a drink all by myself before?)
- In the taxi, he can hear and understand the driver whose eyes are on the road, and our eyes on the back of his head. This is always a challenge for me, especially if the driver’s mother tongue is different from mine and he has an accent. I often don’t respond to anything the driver says once we get my destination sorted out. If he persists in talking to me, I explain my hearing loss which guarantees silence. But with the Hearing Husband along, we always have an interesting conversation with the driver, if Doug is willing to play relay tag.
- In the hotel, I don’t have to explain my hearing loss to the front desk staff, because the Hearing Husband has acute hearing. I don’t have to worry about sleeping in too late or not hearing a nighttime emergency, or even worse, someone breaking into my room. If I were alone, a burglar could come in and strip the room bare without me hearing – and if he doesn’t turn on the light. I’m very sensitive to light.
- The Hearing Husband wasn’t much help with learning people’s names (and we met a lot of people on this trip). He may hear people’s names correctly, but tends to forget them , especially if he can’t pronounce them. In noisy situations, I only get the names that are written on name tags; if I have to ask someone to repeat their name more than once, I end up bluffing, because at this point, things are getting uncomfortable.
Copenhagen and Stockholm are very accessible cities. Doors to almost every public building and retail store, open automatically. This has nothing to with hearing loss – I just think it’s cool! But our boat tour and museums offered hearing-aid compatible audio information, in some cases using my own smartphone. This meant I didn’t have to ask Doug every two minutes what a guide was saying.
When I travel by myself, I always “get by”. I admit, though, it’s nice having someone else along to make the trip more stress-free and understandable. The Hearing Husband and I work as a team; he hears a person’s name and I remember it. He hears a public address announcement and I make sure we act on it. Doug has a better sense of direction than I do – otherwise, we’d still be trying to find our way out of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town).
One last reason I’m glad he came with me: he carries the heavier suitcase.