I made a phone call today.
And when my husband answered, we had a three-minute conversation during which I said the word “what” only once. He seemed a little flummoxed. It has been at least five years since we’ve talked on the phone. Since I’ve talked on the phone. With anybody.
The type of hearing loss I have is an awful combination of conductive (things not being loud enough) and sensorineural (things not making sense even when I hear them). The latter has always been the killer, particularly not understanding what people are saying even when they are speaking loudly. So deciphering speech gradually became impossible unless I was seeing someone talk. Yes, this means I was speech reading although I was rarely conscious of that. Disembodied speech (as I call it) was impossible to understand. So bad that I couldn’t discern whether my husband said Yes or No to a question when he was in the next room. If he came down hard on the Sssssss, then I might get it.
You can see what a problem this was from a functioning, having a life, doing anything with other people, making a living perspective.
Anyway, enter my cochlear implant. It has, in the space of about six weeks, increased my comprehension of disembodied speech (in the form of sentences) from 21% to 85%. Essentially, my ability to understand people without looking at them has quadrupled.
Sometimes I’m startled by what I hear and sometimes I don’t notice. Today, walking into the grocery store, I thought about how I didn’t need to dread the once inevitable dunce act at the check-out where the cashier would say things and I’d ask her to repeat herself a dozen times. I could just chitchat with her or not. You know, depending on how I felt and whether she was the chatty type. I didn’t have to prepare for the encounter.
Today the audiologist, trying to figure out why the new phone attachment wasn’t working, asked me whether I wanted my phone to still be on vibrate or did I want it to ring when someone called. “I want to do what a normal person would do,” I said. And for the first time, I felt like I was suddenly becoming normal again. Even with my hearing aid in one ear and my cochlear implant receiver on the back of my head, I feel like I’m rejoining the normal world. But then what is normal, if I’m more normal now, was I abnormal before? I don’t know. They’re just words I’m using to describe. The ethics/politics of it is a finer slice that I’ll take later.
I so remember this feeling – so dejected and worn out. Walking out of meetings or social gatherings where, because of the number of people or the height of the ceilings or that there were glass windows, I couldn’t understand anything and saying to myself “I AM SO FUCKING DISABLED.” It became my little private yelling, self-pity and truth in capital letters. It was killing me, I’ll tell you that. This hearing impairment thing, hearing loss, going deaf. It was all fucking killing me.
So when I got home, I decided to make a second call. I called my daughter in California. She didn’t pick up. I kind of knew she wouldn’t because she’s in wall to wall meetings every day. So I left a message. A brief message because I wanted to finish before I started to cry.
It is, I guess, my new normal. That I can call my daughter on the phone and talk. It seems incredible.
What other people have, I have again.
I can’t believe it.