Audiology is a wonderful profession! We get many opportunities to help people hear better, and, once in a while, we get to work miracles. My story today is about a miracle.
To appreciate the beauty and depth of this story, it helps if you have seen My Fair Lady, the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical that was made into an Academy-award winning movie in 1964. Based on Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw, My Fair Lady tells the story of a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, and his friend, Colonel Pickering.
These London gentlemen get into a debate about whether or not it is possible to teach Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl with a strong Cockney accent (played by the beautiful and talented Audrey Hepburn), to speak so elegantly that she can pass for a duchess.
While the story of my “fair lady” doesn’t have the music, costumes, or actress of the film, it is even more grand and more heart wrenching.
Her name is Maria and she was about 16 years old when I first saw her. Maria had never attended any type of school because she could not hear. Her speech was limited to about 10 words. She lived with her brother and his family who were very poor. Our hearing tests indicated a flat 80-dB hearing loss in both ears. We fitted her with hearing aids.
The joyous part of my story happened whenever Maria returned for an office visit. Each time, she could hear her family members better than the last time. She was able to hear the cars on the street and understand people on TV. Her speech improved quickly and her vocabulary expanded massively.
Maria is a delicate, soft-spoken, sweet woman, who learned to talk and interact with the people in her life. The miracle of language development—usually seen in very young children—happened to her as a teenager. The family was thrilled and said, “She can talk now.”
I looked forward to my office visits with her with great anticipation. There was always something new she had heard. Her language development was astounding, quickly moving from single words, to three-word phrases, then multiword sentences.
“I heard a cat,” she once told me. “It makes a funny sound.” I can still see the smile on her face when she said that.
THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
We don’t appreciate the vast contribution hearing has in our life until we work with people who cannot hear. This young woman’s life changed from hearing not at all to hearing well. Before she heard, she lived with a family, but was not really part of the family.
My gift of hearing and hearing aids to Maria was huge. But her gift—of showing me what my profession was all about—was perhaps even greater. I am very proud of our profession and what we do. So much of what enriches our lives comes to us through our ears.
I have seen Maria for many years. Some flowers and trees take a long time to bloom and grow only more beautiful with age. Maria is without question such a flower. Now, sadly, she has lost her vision and is blind. The last time I saw her, she held my hand and told me, “Thank you for my ears.”
The love Maria receives, the jokes she hears, the connection to her children, the music that entertains her, even the silly cat she hears, all come through her hearing aids. Words cannot fully express what this story means to me. She is my “fair lady.” I am her_______…fill in the blank: hero, doctor, knight in shining armor. When you give a life-changing gift, it comes back to you in the form of joy.