The Sound of Silence?

The irony of being hearing impaired is that you don’t appear physically different from anyone else. You don’t walk with a white cane, or a seeing-eye dog, or with help from others as you would if you were blind. You’re not confined to a wheel chair or use a cane or crutches or have visible deformities, scars or missing limbs. You simply can’t hear. You look like everyone else, wear bright t-shirts, tennis shoes, ball caps. You drive a car…you can even ride a bike. You smile, nod, sneeze, cough. Thus when you converse with the soft-voiced grocery store checker; the waitress with the foreign accent; or the slurred answer of the hardware store salesperson and ask them to repeat themselves (often more than once) they assume you just don’t understand them. You’re old, senile, and confused or have a low IQ. When you ask them to repeat, often for a second time, they become irritated. They treat you as if you were simply stupid.

Hearing aids, often hidden, don’t necessarily compensate for hearing loss and in some cases even aggravate the situation. They increase the volume but often further impair the clarity. You hear the noise but not the words. And you are never really sure just what direction the noise is coming from.

Hearing impaired people often have to significantly change their habits. Attending parties, meetings or other crowded events is exasperating because the confusion of a multitude of voices prevents you from being able to converse, even when someone standing in front of you. You regularly wonder if you should have nodded when you shook your head. Thus, you choose to avoid such events. Of course concerts and music festivals become a thing of the past. You remember music but no longer hear much of it without earphones, and then only partially. Sound systems in automobiles are a waste of money. So is going to the movies because no matter how much you want to see the picture, the dialog is lost. Watching television requires high volume, annoying to others in the room, or requires wearing earphones that eliminates conversation and only partially improves comprehension. You get an inkling of what’s going on but not all the specifics. Situation comedies are a thing of the past and you get most of your news by reading.

Thus, one reverts to spending more time in activities where verbal intercourse is not required, avoiding situations where hearing might be required. These are lonely activities; sitting at a computer, walking in the woods, crafts and art, reading. You wave to your neighbors rather than walking over and having a conversation. You smile when your grandchildren whisper “secrets” in your ear and don’t tell them that you heard nothing. Your dog accepts your problem… your spouse no so much.

A number of years ago I gave a nature program to a nursing home. A well-dressed man sat in a chair alone in the corner. I asked. “Why don’t you come over where you can better see the slides?” I asked. “He can’t hear you,” the nurse said, “he’d rather be alone.” Now I know why.

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