Birds on a Wire

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.

18 Comments on “Birds on a Wire

  1. I love hearing about your progression. We take so many things for granted until they are gone. I’m glad you are getting your hearing back.

  2. Yay, Jan! I’m so happy to read this and grateful that you shared your joy with us. I imagine the world is opening up a little more each day, though I’m sure you navigated it as widely and bravely before. Now you don’t have to work so hard to experience it. I’ve missed you around these parts, so I’m especially glad to see you back with this deeply human, triumphant essay.

  3. I read the first sentence of this post and smiled so big it hurt.

    I didn’t have to read on (but I did) because that first sentence said it all. I sat for a couple of seconds trying to imagine what it was like for you with the phone up to your ear, listening, listening, waiting for the sound of your husband’s voice.

    Dammit, this is joy.

    • It is pretty amazing. Sometimes, I just can’t believe it and I try to remember what it was like just a few months ago. Pretty lucky.

  4. Thanks for your description of sensorineural hearing loss; my father and I have both lived with it for decades (mine is not yet so profound as yours), and it can be difficult for people to understand. It is wonderful to read about the level of improvement the implant has provided. What a success story.

    • I really encourage you to look into cochlear implants. The change in just this short time (6 weeks) has been dramatic.

  5. IF you have it — hearing — you most probably just take it for granted. Until you don’t have it. I’m so thrilled that the medical advances and technology of today are able to give that hearing back to you, and I bet you won’t ever take it for granted.

    • Thanks Ellen — and it’s so true that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. It’s an amazing thing to have so much hearing restored. Incredible.

  6. Lady you gave me the feels. This line really got me: It became my little private yelling, self-pity and truth in capital letters.

    I hope your world just keeps getting clearer 🙂

  7. I *might* be crying right now. Although I have never had the experience of communicating with someone on a regular basis who has a hearing impairment (I don’t think my husband’s selective hearing counts?) I always taught my students how to spell their spelling words using ASL alphabet. It was a “hands on” approach to spelling because a lot of them didn’t get it. I still get emails from kids who could communicate (albeit slowly) with hearing impaired acquaintances, and sometimes strangers, using their knowledge. I imagine their excitement at getting through to someone blanches in comparison to your newfound connections, however, I love to hear a story about people finally understanding one another.

  8. It’s wonderful news and it’s very heartwarming knowing that you don’t have to write in capital letters anymore.
    Happiness abound!

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