As we crawl our way through this global pandemic, I understand the need for masks. But that doesn’t mean I have to like them.
People with hearing loss are not good at masked communication because it cuts off the vital information we get from lipreading. Before the pandemic, my suffering was limited to trying to understand a mask-wearing aesthetician giving me a pedicure. Now, masks are everywhere.
I decided it was time to do my bit to plank-the-curve and start wearing a mask, partly because it’s now a recommended practice and partly because of that other virus going around – a nervous distrust of people who may not be following the pandemic safety rules, therefore putting the rest of us at risk. Besides, how hard could it be to wear a mask?
Perfect timing – a kind neighbor had been making masks for the local community. We took a couple of her free, sterile, and packaged masks with us when we went shopping for supplies. The Hearing Husband decided to wait in car and catch up on the news while I shopped. But first I had to put on my new and very bright green mask.
I hooked the elastic holders over my ears and discovered the mask wasn’t quite wide enough. My pinnae (the flappy part of the ears) were pulled forward over my ear-holes, causing the behind-the-ear part of my hearing aid to pop out and dangle beside my head. I tried to stretch the mask a bit wider, but it popped up over my eyes, momentarily blinding me. The Hearing Husband kept checking messages on his phone, ignoring my frustration in the seat beside him, as well as my running narrative that was rapidly turning the air blue.
Patience is not my best quality. I yanked out my hearing aid and put it in the glove compartment, hooked on the mask as best as I could and marched into the store, with my ears were still folded in half. I was keenly aware of my odd appearance; the bright green mask coupled with my red Inuit-design parka had turned me into a walking Christmas card, and breath-induced steam was escaping upwards and clouding my glasses.
Without the hearing aid, my cochlear implant (CI) was on its own. My brain is used to getting its information from the partnership of my left-side hearing aid and right-side cochlear implant. Forced to fly solo, the CI could pick up the high-pitched music over the store’s PA system, but it struggled with the overall noise (which also ignited some serious tinnitus). Most shoppers appeared to be in pairs and all were engaged in discussing their shopping lists. I couldn’t help hearing two people interacting urgently, loudly, and with lots of arm waving.
Her: Do we need pasta!
Him: We have enough pasta!
Her: We don’t have rotini!
Him: But we have penne!
Her: Right! Go get some coconut milk while I choose the cheese!
Him: No! YOU get the milk and I’LL stay with the cheese.
Her: OK, fine!
I’m thinking, is all this yakking absolutely necessary? You’re not wearing masks and your droplets are hosing down the cheese! Cover your gobs or stop talking or both. (It’s clear that a side effect of this pandemic is crankiness.)
The checkout clerk didn’t speak as loudly. I asked her to repeat herself, but not using speech. Because I need to read lips, I bizarrely assumed that people can’t understand me from behind my mask. Instead, in a universally understood gesture, I raised my eyebrows and cocked my ear towards her. This seemed to work. She repeated, but because of her amazing skill of talking without moving her lips, I understood nothing. I replied using my own special skill of bluffing (pretending to understand when one doesn’t have a clue) and shook my head no.
As I picked up my bags, I heard Ms. Softly-Voiced say something along the lines of have a nice day. For some explicable reason, instead of saying you too, I bowed to her. Bowed! Had my neighbor sprinkled some dementia powder in my mask before packaging it? Or did I bow simply because nothing is normal now?
To be fair, my neighbor’s only crime was sewing the masks based on the average facial dimensions of her and her husband, which are clearly smaller than ours. The Hearing Husband is 6’6″ with a proportionately-sized head while I, although shorter, have a more, uh, significant nose that pushes the mask outward, making it harder for the elastics to hook my ears comfortably.
Back at the car, I was over my snit and by the next stop, I had the process nailed. I entered the butcher’s with my mask, hearing aid, CI sound processor and glasses all in place. I stood well back from the counter. I used my voice. I did not bow.
Dislike of masks aside, I was doing my bit to stay healthy, lick this pandemic and keep the economy moving.