Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sorry? I missed that joke.

I probably began to lose my hearing more than 15 years ago, though I was in deep denial, as most people are. Whether or not I could hear depended on several things: background noise, the voice of the speaker (some people speak softly, mumble, are "mush-mouthed," etc.) But I wasn't hearing lectures, even though I always sat in front, and I wasn't hearing in church. My brother was a particular problem, because he got mad if I didn't tell him when I didn't undertand, yet I didn't want to interrupt every two minutes.
Not being able to hear struck me as particularly unfair since I had never flown airplanes nor shot at rifle ranges and I am the last person to listen to loud music. I don't like the term idiopathic--medical speak for we don't know why it happened. But one day I found a tiny article buried in the paper indicating that women who had been given a combination of estrogen and progesterone were showing a high percentage of early hearing loss. Because I had an estrogen-driven cancer,when I was finally given estrogen, it was combined with progesterone. I asked my gynecologist if he knew about this research, and he said, "No, but I will by tonight."
A  problem most people don't realize about hearing loss: often I can hear the words, but it's like I am brain-damaged. They don't make sense to me. Other times, the most simple word can baffle me. That particularly distresses my local daughter who often gives up and my grandson who says, "Never mind."
Hearing test after hearing test showed moderate to severe loss, but it increased each time I was tested. Having your hearing tested is, in my mind, akin to being asked to read the ophthalmologist's eye chart: you feel like the bad child who hasn't done her homework because you can't do it.  About six years ago I broke down and got hearing aids--to say they are expensive is an understatement. Insurance pays sot of close to one-quarter of the cost.
Hearing aids help but they aren't a magic cure-all. They make restaurants more difficult because of background noise though you can adjust for that to some degree, and the music in church will never again sound the same. Now it has a tinny quality. The other day it seemed like the minister, a favorite of mine, was yelling at me, so I tried to turn them down but never did get a satisfactory adjustment. Besides, I now have a newer, Cadillac version--at the same high cost. Hearing aids have a life--and a warranty--of five years. These are better, I can tell, but still not perfect.
I decided to blog about this when a young woman (probably 40s but that's young to me) wrote a piece for my memoir class that combined her own diagnosis of hearing loss at 19--genetic--with that of her daughter at 13. She wrote of the feelings of denial that welled up in her, and the confusion she had felt at 19 when there was some hint of a brain tumor and yet she was never told why her mother was so upset. She wrote of her reluctance to face the fact that her daughter had the same problem and to seek help for the daughter. She read of the feelings of isolation that she felt as a young woman, and boy! did I identify! She cried in presenting the piece, and my heart went out to her. (I repeat all this only with her permission, though she remains unnamed.) She finally bought her daughter the most expensive aids she could--and bought some for herself.
But later, in conversation, she told a story about talking with a minister and a couple of friends. The friends laughed heartily, and she followed their lead--without any idea of what they were laughing about. It makes you feel dumb and isolated, an outsider. I know that feeling too. I tune out on convesations I can't hear.
So if someone seems distant, doesn't laugh at the right time or respond the right way, give them a break, make sure they heard. We try to hide our hearing aids--they aren't exactly cosmetic--but we can't always hide the deficiency.

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