Having hearing loss is no cakewalk, but compared to some other conditions, it’s not so bad. It’s not the worst thing that could happen, or is it?
It has been a sad week. Who has not been moved by the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people? The world is shocked at losing a beloved, towering talent who had lived one wildly successful life in pro basketball and was starting out on his next life chapter. Kobe had big plans, according to those who knew him.
On the day it happened, the Hearing Husband and I were in Los Angeles visiting our niece Andrea. While Andrea and I were out on a hike, she asked me about my hearing loss, my cochlear implant, my tinnitus – especially my tinnitus. She’s a pilot, so the threat of developing some degree of tinnitus is real and I told her that mine is severe, 24/7, and can flare even louder when triggered by body movement and noise. “How horrible you have to go through that,” she said.
I answered, “Yes. But…. Kobe Bryant!”
She understood and we were quiet as we walked. It’s all about perspective. Like I said, compared to some things, hearing loss isn’t so bad. Yes, losing your hearing, or some of it, is life-changing. Compare that to losing your life.
I am not trivializing hearing loss. It’s a serious condition that impacts every aspect of our lives. For many people, incurring a serious hearing loss is devastating. I recently heard from a young elementary school teacher who experienced sudden, complete deafness in one ear six months ago. It has been the worst six months of her life, and I get that. She’s at the beginning of her hearing loss journey – but she cannot yet see it put quite so poetically as a ‘journey’. Right now, her life has been turned upside down, pureed in a blender. She’s still learning to cope with an unexpected event that changes how she carries out her daily life. It would not help calm her current frustration to have someone tell her, “Well, at least you’ve got one good ear!” Grief and rage don’t work on a prescribed timeline of perspective.
Remember that horrible game where someone asks – either because they’re trying to know you better or they have nothing better to do – what would you rather lose, an arm or a leg? I always pick “none of the above”, because how can I guess at what life would be like without a body part?
But if the question was: what would you rather lose, your sight or your hearing, I’d bet the farm someone would quote Helen Keller – blindness cuts you off from things but deafness cuts you off from people. OK, but deaf people didn’t have assistive technology back then, and if I were offered the chance to get my hearing back in exchange for vision loss, I would choose to remain deaf(ish). Technology has come a long way to help us communicate.
When I was still a bilateral hearing aid user, I remember thinking, well, at least my hearing loss isn’t so bad that I need a cochlear implant. Now I am a cochlear implant recipient and I realize how off I was in my thinking. What I should have thought: my hearing loss isn’t severe enough to qualify for a CI and its benefits. Years ago, I tried to minimize the appearance of my hearing aid, especially the big beige one that was as attractive as a freckled armadillo. Now? I’m way farther along on my hearing loss journey. I no longer try to hide my devices and I love the look of my sound processor on my head, with its protective silver chain and ear cuff. In fact, I’m planning to add feathers some time soon.
So, in a sad week like this, when we are reminded again to embrace and be grateful for the state of being alive, my hearing loss gets put in its place.
I would rather not be able to hear than not be able to live.
Featured Photo: Canadian Audiologist