My deafness often becomes a topic of intrigue and curiosity to people who I know because you’d never suspect I was naturally deaf. So, for those of you who knew me “way back when”, as well as for those who know me now, here are some most of the most common question I get asked.
At times I feel like the poster child for cochlear implants, but if my story can help others’ out there recognize they have a similar problem, or have family members who are going thru the same ordeal, perhaps my story will aid in moving them one step closer to getting their lives back.
1. Were you born deaf? Now, this is obviously a question from those people who I’ve recently come to know and not from those I knew in high school, since everyone I knew in high school knows I wasn’t deaf at the time because my sarcasm and smart ass comments were expected from those who were friends with me, and how could I possibly have been so witty and sarcastic if I couldn’t hear you?
2. So, if you weren’t born deaf, how did you lose your hearing? This was a gradual process starting at the ripe old age of 21. When you’re 21 years old, you think you’re immortal (until you turn 40), and then realize your body has trouble keeping up with gravity. That’s when I contemplate a moon suit and working with my financial advisor to move to another planet sans gravity. I’d be alone, but I would look FABULOUS.
Anyway, I digress. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease. There’s no known reason or cure for it and can last anywhere from a few days to almost a year. The first time I got it, it lasted about two weeks. I thought it was a sinus infection: My ears were plugged up, it felt like I was talking in a tunnel, and I was tired alot. Then, it completely went away. So, I went back to my 21 year old life: Back to partying like a 21 year old should!
In my mid thirties I got it again, although this time it lasted about six weeks. The symptoms were more severe: Bad vertigo, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion. Once that episode was over with, six months had passed, and I began to get tinnitus in my right ear.
This drove me crazy. The high pitched white noise made it difficult to sleep at first, but you gradually learn to tune it out. I tried the homeopathic remedies like ear candles. If you’ve never tried ear candles to clean out your ears, I highly recommend it for first time users. It’s amazing what gunk is really inside your ears. YUCK. I tried herbal supplements, oxygen treatments…no help. About a year later, tinnitus attacked my left ear. At this point in the game, my hearing loss started to become an issue. I kept having to ask “What?”, “Can you repeat that?”, and “Excuse me??” The high pitched ringing affected my ability to hear things normal people would hear. The stuff you take for granted like birds chirping, wind blowing, leaves rustling….I couldn’t hear that any longer, but didn’t realize it because….well, you take it for granted. I only realized what I missed until much later on during my travels on the road to silence.
Rather than having people repeat what they said all the time, I did myself and my friends a favor. I graduated to hearing aids.
3. That had to be a tough decision – You were only 35. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I had a position at work that required me to have good listening skills (what job doesn’t?), I had to raise a small child who needed my attention in case his fingers got slammed in a door and I could hear him scream at the top of his lungs. So, I got fitted for small hearing aids to amplify sound so I could hear things better.
It wasn’t a bad situation. But the following year I had to graduate to the grandpa hearing aids (the kind that go behind your ear). These were more powerful than my first set, and I really hated these. ALOT. Trying adjust to not being able to hear like you used to started to suck big time. Noisy places weren’t so fun anymore. You couldn’t get them wet, and when it got windy, you REALLY heard the howling go thru your hearing aids. And, the plastic piece that fit inside of your ear didn’t allow for any air to get in, so my ears itched from the moisture to the point of bleeding.
4. So, you had different hearing aids and they didn’t work either? They did at first. Hearing aids amplify sound, they don’t help with speech articulation. After I retired from my Telecom job in 2008, I decided to go to school full time to get my degree in Web Graphic Design. Two months after retiring, I woke up one morning and couldn’t understand what anyone was telling me. The analogy I provide to people is that of an old dial radio. The dial is in between stations. You can sort of make out what people are saying, but not quite.
That’s when I started reading lips, and couldn’t use the phone any longer. My communication with anyone from that point on was either thru lip reading, text messaging or email. This went on from June of 2008 until March 2009….a LONG time without using the phone!
What occurred between that time will be in The Road to Silence – Part II: High Tech Hearing.