Life This Morning

My people don’t talk in the waiting room.  They are already tired from asking directions at the front desk and figuring out the receptionist’s instructions. Once they are sitting down and waiting to be called, they want to be left alone. After all these years of becoming increasingly deaf, I know what other hearing impaired people are thinking.

Don’t talk to me.

Don’t talk to me. I’m saving my concentration and effort for the doctor. He’s the one I need to hear today. You look nice. But don’t talk to me.

I look from one door to the other, worried that if I look down at my phone to kill time, someone will call my name and I won’t hear. So I’m vigilant. Waiting and vigilant. I don’t want to be caught unaware, be the person whose name is called over and over, appear to be really far gone, need an escort to do this simple thing. Go see a surgeon about a cochlear implant. I can do this on my own.

A young couple with a baby in a stroller sits down a few seats over. The mom fills out paperwork while dad looks straight ahead. They both look at the baby, a boy maybe a year or so old, when he drops his little fire truck on the floor. His mother bends over to pick it up and he drops his other toy, obliging her obvious interest in retrieving his belongings. They keep looking at him, saying nothing but radiating their disapproval of his dropping things and the boy sits still. Silently chastised.

I wonder why they are there. I wonder if the baby is deaf.

My name is called and I see the doctor. He explains the surgery. He tells me how he’ll make an incision behind my ear and create a pocket to hold the internal receiver. Then he will bore a hole through the mastoid bone and thread a wire with electrodes on the end into the area of my cochlea. Then he will stitch everything up and I will wait two weeks for the implant to be turned on. When it’s turned on, it will take weeks or months to get used to.

He says to me, “your word recognition will improve a lot.” And when he says this, I get tears in my eyes. Here is the only place people know how bad it is. There are numbers on the paper, measurements “Your word recognition without looking at someone is almost non-existent. This will change that.”

I feel like someone is airlifting me from a sinking ship.

A doctor is holding the door open for the couple with the baby and keeps holding it open for me. We all go back to the waiting room and then down the hall to where the elevators are. I look sideways at mom and she is crying. Dad says nothing and the baby looks at me. I wave at him. I wonder if he knows to wave. His parents are silent and miserable but he isn’t. He is being a baby.

I head to the bathroom. When I come out of the stall, mom is changing baby’s diaper. It is silent in the bathroom. The baby placid and happy. But I know mom is still crying. I think about talking to her but I know she might say things that are important that I won’t hear. She is a new person. New people take so much time for me to learn to hear. A second in a bathroom wouldn’t be enough.

So I leave the bathroom and I see dad waiting. He is solemn, his hands on the baby’s stroller like he is a taxi driver waiting for a tardy fare. Sadness covers him like a sheet. Is he sad for his boy or his wife? I don’t know. I have no way of knowing.

At that moment, I want to be their mother. I want to wait with him until she comes out of the bathroom. I want to hold their hands and I want to tell them, “Pull together or you will pull apart,” a lesson I’ve learned from a long marriage that has had some hardships. “The silence will kill you,” I want to say to them.

“Don’t let the silence kill you.”

22 Comments on “Life This Morning

  1. Goosebumps as I read this! I saw the insightful comments by Rowan in her Editor’s Pick and rushed straight over to read this. You wove so many elements in so skilfully that I was drawn into the scene completely. Well deserved Editor’s pick PLUS Crowd Fave.

  2. So glad you’re in a good place with the surgery. My father had it and doesn’t regret it. He often talks about what all he missed in the days “before.” This is a beautiful piece, Jan, and I am still wrapping my brain around the significance of that last line in all of its meanings.

  3. Powerful story and powerful writing. You hit on an unspoken sort of community that can only come when you know you’re sharing the same pain with others.

    I hope all goes well with your surgery. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. When I read about hearing loss, especially when the writing is as evocative and moving as yours, it makes my heart beat faster. I’m a musician. My living, my life is made with my ears. I truly hope the implant gives you the gift of children’s laughter, a loved one’s whispers, and the ability to look away when you speak with someone.

  5. Lovely writing, Jan. You conveyed that sense of empathy with the couple so beautifully, and you’re spot on with your advice of “pull together, or you’ll pull apart”.

    Incidentally, my eldest brother was heavily involved in much of the research that went into developing the cochlear implant. It always delights him when someone benefits from something he spent so much of his life working towards.

      • I will indeed, Jan. I’m excited for your improved hearing and quality of life.

  6. This is such a beautiful piece of writing. And I’m so happy you have this option available to you!

  7. Hey Jan. Great piece. I have a deaf friend with a cochlear implant and he says it has helped a lot. Your writing here helps me imagine what it’s like for him. Sometimes I am very urgently talkative with him, and I know he must be exasperated. Anyway, It’s obvious you are a brilliant and very compassionate person. Warm regards and kudos.

    • Thank you. You’re really kind. It’s good to hear that reading my blog might help you in communicating well with your friend.

  8. Jan, you do such a good job of pulling me into your world. My husband has hearing loss but within normal range of loss for someone in his early seventies who worked in noisy environments. You have taught me how to be patient and understanding when he can’t hear normal conversations or can’t understand what people are saying over the the phone. Thank you. Do you think you will go with the surgery? Adjusting to a different kind of hearing can’t be as painful as adjusting to not hearing and then living with the silence. But then, only you can weigh the pros and cons. It doesn’t sound like an option someone should jump into without careful thought. Can your doctor connect you with people who have had the surgery? Have I asked enough questions? 🙂

    • Hi Pat – I am pretty committed to going ahead with the surgery. The risks are minimal, the surgeon very experienced and the surgery will be at Milwaukee’s teaching hospital (Froedtert). I’m not keen on having a hole bored through my skull (lol) but I am really out of options. The narrowing of my world has been extreme in the past few years and this holds promise of opening things up again. I’m feeling very positive about it. Grateful in advance. 🙂

      • Good for you. I couldn’t image you not doing it. Please keep us posted.

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