By Kathi Mestayer
Visits with my family are always a challenge, to varying degrees. All of the adults who share DNA are hard-of-hearing. Dad, who is 93 now, has a cochlear implant in one ear and the other ear is deaf. His wife, Mary, has hyperacusis, or extreme sound-sensitivity, so conversation can get tricky.
On my last visit, they picked me up at the train station in the Philadelphia suburbs. On the drive home, with them in the front seat and me in the back, Dad starts talking to me about…something. After all these years, you think he’d know not to even try to have a conversation with me behind him and the car engine running. But no. So, a tough choice for me: do I lean way up in-between the front seats and ask him to repeat himself? Or just sit back and ignore him? There was a time when I would have made the effort to lean in. But now, I just sit back and wait, while a few minutes pass in silence, letting us all (hopefully) get back in touch with reality.
Finally, at home in the quiet-ish living room, we can have a conversation. Kind of. My first words are met with “Don’t talk so loud!” from Dad. So, I quieten down a bit. It’s tough to find the “sweet spot”, the perfect way of speaking, anymore but I keep trying. Then, Mary says something to him and he hears her perfectly. I’m starting to think he’s so attuned to her voice, that he hears her way better than anyone else. Being that he doesn’t spend much time with other people, that’s not a stretch. Yes, social isolation.
When I turn to chat with Mary, she says, “could you talk a little louder?” So, the hard-of-hearing person wants less volume and the over-sensitive hearing person wants more. As our friend Jack Segal once said, “If you don’t occasionally walk that fine line, you won’t know where it is.” I’m there, on the edge.
In the “normal hearing” realm
Then, at my brother Fred’s house, the “background” music is everywhere. Indoors, in the shared spaces (everyplace but the bedrooms and bathrooms). Outside, chattering comes out of implanted speakers at various spots – the edge of the lawn, the pool, sitting areas. And in the car, of course. No obvious operation of a music system, it just keeps on coming. Have I complained? Yes, but not often. The music is usually fairly quiet (except in the car), so I don’t pick that particular battle.
And what did I bring to his house? An old movie on a DVD, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I thought it might be fun for the kids and I hadn’t watched it in several years. Fred got it playing only to find out it doesn’t have captions. Nice job, Kathi! Bring the one movie that is impossible for you to watch.
Bottom line – a nice visit. It was hard to hear the toddlers but we could do things that didn’t require perfect hearing, like throw rocks in the creek, put together puzzles on the floor, and watch some kiddie tv (with captions!).
Sometimes, family vacations are tough on everybody, but we keep trying. And picking our battles.
Kathi Mestayer writes for Hearing Health Magazine, Be Hear Now on BeaconReader.com, and serves on the Board of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. In this photo she is using her iPhone with a neckloop, audio jack, and t-coils which connects her to FaceTime, VoiceOver, turn-by-turn navigation, stereo music and movies, and output from third party apps, including games, audiobooks, and educational programs.