Friday, May 27, 2011

What was that you said?

Just like so many things, it’s all in how you choose to look at it I guess. One of the side effects of my first surgery has been the loss of hearing in my left ear. This may not seem like much, because after all I still have hearing, and for this I’m extremely grateful. However, the difference between hearing in one ear and hearing in both ears is still a big difference, which you may not understand until you’ve lived it. For instance, when you’re driving and you hear an emergency vehicle, you’re never quite sure from which direction that vehicle is coming; you don’t know which side of the road to pull over to, or if you need to pull over at all-it could be possible that emergency vehicle you’re hearing isn’t even within what would be considered your zone of concern. Then there are the times when someone yells your name down the block, and the block is crowded and the person yelling is far away. You may look for a long time before you find that person-that is if you ever find them at all. I can remember a time, when my mother and I were both outside her house, but not near each other. She was in the front and I was in the back-she called my name, and I continued to do the same until we both walked in a complete circle around the house, not ever connecting with each other- neither one of us stopping while calling out to the other one. Finally after about five minutes, I decided to stand still and she ran into me. We’re both deaf in one ear and we weren’t able to tell from which direction the other one was calling. We may very well have done this for much longer than five minutes with no real idea or indication where either one of us was located if I hadn’t stopped moving. Just glad the situation wasn’t an emergency. I think she was calling me to come look at a flower that had bloomed. Another thing about being a singular h/earer is when I’m in an important meeting, and the location is in a conference room or maybe a restaurant-I have to think a lot about where I will sit within that group before I actually sit, and if all the sitters haven’t arrived yet, oh that’s a real tension heightner. I must also always assess to the best of my ability what noise or noisemakers I potentially could be sitting next to. I know there’s a good chance I won’t be able to hear everyone at the meeting, and I need to think about who will be talking the most, and even more importantly who do I need to hear the most. Again, these are just things. Then there is stereophonic sound. This is lost on me. A bit sad really. I haven’t heard stereophonic sound since maybe 1989 when I went to an Elton John concert. I’ve noticed people who’ve made a concerted effort to use only one of the earplugs on their cell phone headsets in order to still hear the outside world while they’re talking to someone on the phone. I suppose this is the same concept behind one-piece headsets. This kind of rigging doesn’t change a thing for me; I have the same complete concentration to whomever I’m speaking to, with total silence to the outside world without this rigging. I have this because I have only one working ear. But all these things considered it’s still much, much better to hear than not to hear. By the way, better to use a headset than not to use a headset for health reasons, whether you have the use of one ear or two. That being said, what I hear can sometimes be quite interesting, even funny...depending on how you look at it, and after 22 years of not hearing with both ears, that’s how I’ve decided to look at it. There are many things I’ve heard wrong, enough probably to fill lots of pages, but recently I thought I would write a few of them down. Here are a few of those things:

Recently I was getting my hair cut by my friend Sasha. I’ve known Sasha since before I had my first surgery, since before Jamie was born, when I could still hear in both ears, so we’re talking over 22 years. Sasha was telling me a story. We had started talking somehow about how people are living longer lives than they ever have before, and she said she had read a story about a woman who was 92 years old and “could still pee”. I heard this and thought that while this didn’t seem like all that much of an accomplishment to me, and I that should I reach the grand old age of 92 I hoped I would be a natural in this department, perhaps there are plenty of 92 year olds out there that aren’t able to boast this same accomplishment. Maybe there are many 92 years olds who are wearing adult diapers and aren’t in control of their bodily functions at this age. So, I said to Sasha “Wow, 92 years old and can still pee?” She started to laugh hysterically and tried to talk, but her words were unintelligible. I wasn’t sure why she was laughing, since I was sure I was just reiterating what she had said to me…but she was convulsed with laughter and could not talk. When she was finally able to pull herself together, she came around to my hearing side and told me what I was unable to hear the first time around. She said, “No, Heidi, she’s 92 years old and she competes. She’s just completed a marathon”. I thought to myself, “Ah, now that’s an accomplishment!” It’s hard for those reading this I suppose to understand how “can pee” and “competes” could sound the same, but to those that can hear “sort of” those things sound quite similar, and not only that, they sound that way a lot of the time.

On a different day I picked up my youngest daughter Rachel from school. We were in the car together. We got into one of our usual post-school conversations. She was telling me about her day, maybe she was complaining about somebody, some teacher, some class, something. I made a comment about one of her complaints. I wish I could remember the specificity of this individual situation, but I can’t. At the moment, on that particular day, when the particular conversation occurred, it held the heft of its particular importance…afterward (sometimes, shortly afterward) it seems to fade away. So looking back on the situation, I’m straining to remember the particulars, but for this story the particulars are not so crucial anyway. So Rachel tells me something and I comment. She comments back, “Oh you’re an old fart”. First, I’m quite surprised to hear Rachel use the word “fart”. I’m just surprised that Rachel knows the word “fart”. It’s not a word I recall her ever using, but perhaps it’s just entered her vocabulary. Could that be? Second “since when did Rachel start to use this saying?” Is this a part of some retro High School lingo? I answer back, “You may not like what I said to you, but why did you just call me an old fart?” She started to laugh, and of course as is usually the case in these wrong-hearing situations, I didn’t understand why she was laughing. It took her a few moments, and then after getting over hearing me say the word “fart”, which she found funny I suppose, she said “I didn’t say were an old fart, I said you’re no fun.” The most interesting thing to me about this mishearingness, is that while I’ve heard things that sounded more similar to each other, the sentiment of these two comments is very similar “you’re an old fart” and “you’re no fun”. I could have after all have misheard her say “you’re not smart”, or “do you carry a gun?”

On a different day, I had gotten together with my friend Leslie at my local diner. We ate, we talked, the bill came, it was time to pay; we divided the bill…easier that way. She looked at me while holding a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Do you have gas?” We’ve been friends for almost twenty-five years, there’s almost nothing we wouldn’t feel free talking about together. We’ve gone through our pregnancies together, she was there after both my surgeries, we’ve been through a lot together, and so “if she wanted to know if I had gas”, I wasn’t all that put off by the question. I wondered why she cared if I had gas, but I wasn’t put off by her asking if I had it. It did make we wonder if she had gas. So, I said, “No, I don’t have gas, why do you care? Do you have gas?” She said, “No, not gas, I want to know if you have cash, all I have is this twenty-dollar bill. I want to know if you have any change, and I don’t have gas” So then of course we laughed at my usual lack of hearing, I gave her a couple of bucks. I was glad to hear she didn’t have gas. This is not the first funny non-hearing story between she and I-it won’t be the last.

Then there was this story that happened only recently. It was this last event that compelled me to finally write about how I hear things differently than what is actually said. I thought as funny or embarrassing as some of these “non hearing moments” may be, they may never top this most recent one. I was walking my dog Max, a feat in itself. Max is strong…a puller. He has definite opinions about the people he likes, and doesn’t like, but he’s just a bit older than two, and he’s improving every day, but still…he’s Max. So we were out, and we passed this house up the block from our house on our way home and Max was looking for the dog that lives in this house. The dog that lives in this house is an old Jack Russell Terrier. For those that don’t know, a Jack Russell terrier in their prime can also be quite opinionated, and a force to be reckoned with-they’re small dogs, very bright, and don’t seem to care or know that they’re small. This particular Jack Russell is almost 16 years old. The owner and I have talked before about her dog and how he’s not what he used to be, and how she takes him outside to “pee” now (there’s that word again), and he just stands there, but he’s still hanging in there. So on this particular day when Max and I were passing the house, her dog was not out, but the owner was sitting in a chair outside. Max was sniffing around for the dog and I said to the owner “my dog is looking for your dog”, and she said with what sounded like a bit of a sad low tone to her voice, “Oh, he just died”. I was horrified to hear this; I had just seen her dog and he seemed like he was doing okay. He was by no means fit as a fiddle, but he was oozing down the road, if not easing down the road, and he seemed to be happy enough. I said to her with genuine sadness “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that!” and she quickly said with more of an upbeat almost corrective tone, “oh, no, no, he’s fine, he’s just inside”. I of course felt embarrassed and immediately apologized and told her that, “I don’t hear very well, that I misunderstood what she had said, and that I was glad to know that he was still with us”. She said, “No, he’s still hanging in there”. As Max and I walked back home I was a mix between sadness, awkwardness and laughter about myself and how I hear. I felt sad for the owner of the Jack Russell Terrier. I hoped that I didn’t fill her with sorrowful thoughts about her aging friend. I also couldn’t help thinking a bit about the embarrassment of seeing her the next time we ran into each other on the street. This is the way of things when you have hearing in only one ear. But even considering all of these times I have heard things wrong, I always know that having hearing in one ear is still better than having no hearing at all. It’s all in how you choose to look at things.


PJ said...

Ah, the benefits of aging.

After testing awhile ago, I came to find out I’ve had significant hearing loss. And everyone apparently suffers from hearing loss as they get older but in this instance it is more severe than might be attributed to age.

So, there are moments when I am asking people to repeat themselves because I simply don’t hear what they are saying. Those are also the moments when I wonder if I won’t be that clichéd image of the old guy with the horn up to the side of his head.

But, you are right in your observation about how one’s approach makes all the difference and there are times when I think about how lucky I am NOT to hear some things.

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