Sunday, October 2, 2011

This is What It's Like

Plumbago photo used with permission; Carol LaBorde 2011

Little G and I were having a girls' day a few days ago, and she asked me (as she often does) if I could hear the song that was playing in the background in the noisy food court.  Not really, I said, and then I thought I should explain what I DO hear.

What is it like to have a moderate to severe hearing loss?

What would I like people to know?

Well, first of all, yes I do wear hearing aids and they are pretty new and they work very well.  That being said, hearing aids are not like glasses and cannot make a person have "20/20" hearing.  Once there is a hearing loss, it's usually forever.  The sound can be clarified and emphasized and all that-- but the loss is still going to affect hearing in myriad ways.

Second, it's not just a matter of making sound "louder".  I wish it were!  Hearing loss usually affects one's ability to process sound in some way or another, as well as the volume at which certain sounds can be heard.

What this means is that I might hear your voice, but I have no idea what you've said.  And sometimes hearing it again isn't enough.  And that can be embarrassing as heck for me.  I know it's frustrating for those around me.

Some days I just have "bad hearing" days.  It makes me want to retreat and just be in a quiet place.

People might be surprised to hear that loud noises are really hard to cope with-- I think it's because there is so much effort to hear, that my ears are more sensitive and thus more likely to be affected by noise or loud, sharp sounds.

I can only speak for myself.

In the food court, I could hear the following:  Little G talking.  An occasional baby cry.  A slight bit of music coming in and out -- no words, no melody, just a here-and-there (hear-and-there?) "tinkle tinkle la la".  And the ever-present rush-rush-whoosh sound that comes in very noisy environments.

The rush-whoosh also comes in quiet rooms, sometimes-- that is extraordinarily frustrating  in a way I cannot fully describe here.  Quiet rooms seem to bring out the quietest, softest, gentlest voices in people.  Which means I can't hear you.

So this is what it's like-- some days it feels like there is cotton batting in my ears, and the world is muffled and somehow gray.  Those days are exhausting both physically and emotionally-- trying to listen, trying to hear, through that fog wears me out in every way possible.

What I heard a lot of on those days, growing up, was "you should pay better attention" and "listen more".  It's not that simple.

Other days I can hear better, I can understand more, and there is music and laughter and chirping birds.

I wish I could choose which day I'd have, or do something.

Most people can't.

I can only speak for myself, of course.

But that is what it's like.


  1. You know, I have never heard anyone really clarify what it's like to hear, or not hear, even with hearing aids. Thanks so much for posting this and helping me to understand better what it is like. You are such a strong and inspirational person my friend!!! <3 LA

  2. Thank you! Talking to Little G, I figured that most people can understand "blurry"- but probably wouldn't quite get what it's like when your hearing is "blurry".