“Were you born with ‘it’?”
I get this question a lot when I, and my hearing loss, meet someone for the first time. Sometimes they ask hesitantly, not sure what to call ‘the problem’, which they indicate with little finger jabs at their own ear.
Hearing loss is my favourite topic and I’m drawn like a moth to the flame of anyone wearing a hearing aid. (Aha, one of my people!) When someone asks me about hearing loss, either mine or in general, they get an unexpected tsunami of information. (My friends and family have learned to avoid saying the words ‘hearing loss’.) How long the discussion lasts depends on whether the person is really interested, how much time I want to spend with them, or how quickly they cut me off. “Gee, how nice, thanks for sharing.”
The Short Talk is usually conducted with strangers, as a ‘sidebar’ to a conversation when I’ve had to ask the person to repeat themselves or speak up.
“Uh, how long have you had ‘it’?”
“All my life.”
“So, you were born with it, then?”
“Oh, wow. Do they know what..you know…?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes. Can you repeat what you said?”
“IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO!”
(Sigh.) “No, what you said just before I asked you to repeat yourself the first time.”
The Long Talk can take place anywhere, anytime, with anybody, stranger or not. As hearing loss is increasingly showing on the social radar, and with the pandemic’s masked communication, the Long Talk is a common one these days.
It is also the backbone of hearing loss conferences where people love to share their stories – and where you are honour-bound to sit through many tales of lifelong hearing loss and a traumatic recitation of past, horrible hearing aids. But the payoff comes when they are done and you can launch into your own hearing loss history, which they in turn must sit through, to the end!
Luckily, most people and their hearing loss stories are interesting, to me anyway, because they involve communication and human nature, all that fun stuff. The bonus is hearing about some hard-earned tips. “Do not,” one person told me, “EVER put your hearing aid on the kitchen shelf while you are making a pie, or it may fall in with the apples and bake at 350° for an hour.” You can’t make this stuff up. It made the person’s hometown news.
But I understand why some people prefer not to talk about it, to keep their hearing loss issues to themselves unless absolutely necessary. Although communication is between two or more people, thus making it a public issue, struggling with its frustrations and griefs is a private issue. We don’t always feel like airing our needs, especially on days when we’re tired or upset about something else going on in our lives.
Or maybe, we are simply freaking tired of having this bleeping challenge that keeps us out of the loop and two steps behind!!
It’s OK to have those moments from time to time. But most days, I welcome questions about hearing loss, even the ones I’ve answered a thousand times before. Such as the jokers who, when I ask them to speak up, fire back with “pardon?” and then expect me to laugh as if it were the first time I’d ever heard this corny joke.
I also frequently get asked, do you do the sign language? Or do you read lips? And when I reply yes, I know what’s coming next, in BIG LIP format: What am I saying now? And every time, I get it right!
The occasional grumpiness aside, I love these questions because the conversation often circles back to their own hearing issues and their not-so-silly questions: I’m struggling with hearing loss, too; how are things going to change for me and am I going to be OK?
There was a time when I was the one in need of information and this is my opportunity to pay it forward – to encourage the person to seek professional hearing care, to recommend a hearing loss consumer group, to suggest some informative websites.
I answer: “Got a minute to chat?”