Two Crazy Years of Masked Communication!

Two years ago, I wrote an article about wearing masks. It had only been a month since the panic of the pandemic set in and masks were only recommended at the time.

Who knew that there were at least two years of pandemic ahead of us – and counting! The masked pandemic is also responsible for revealing a massive communication problem: people have realized that they can’t understand speech very well if they can’t read a person’s lips! This is at least partially responsible, I’m sure, for the 37% increase in hearing aid sales in 2021! 

Looking back at my first real mask experience (excerpted from by article in April 2020):

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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. 

I decided it was time to do my bit to plank-the-curve and start wearing a mask. How hard could it be?

Perfect timing – a kind neighbor had given us homemade masks to use when we went shopping for supplies. Mine was (very) bright green and, thankfully, I decided to put it on before I got out of the car. 

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 that popped it popped up over my eyes, blinding me. The Hearing Husband, in the seat beside, kept checking messages on his phone, ignoring my frustration and running narrative that was rapidly turning the air blue.

Patience is not one of my gifts. I yanked out my hearing aid and shoved 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 looked odd; 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 and people talking (which also ignited some serious tinnitus).

I’m thinking, is all this yakking absolutely necessary? You’re not wearing masks and your droplets are hosing down the vegetables! 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. She understood and 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 and shook my head no (to whatever she said).

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 got over my crankiness 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. 

(Update: I have the mask problem licked. I still wear it in stores and on flights. I would prefer not to have Covid again.)

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

2 Comments

  1. I greatly enjoyed this humorous column, and completely identified with the “blue air” comment!

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