I am quite hard-of-hearing. I am not deaf. With the help of today's improved hearing aids, I function perfectly well in everyday situations, although I admit there are a large amounts of "Excuse me's"?, "What did you say's"? and "Huh's"? involved. In many cases, although I can hear what you are saying, I can't understand it. This is especially true on the telephone. Voice-mail messages are often just gibberish which I have to ask someone to interpret for me. ("Hello? This is Mr. Szchiwrovjg's office calling. Would you please return this call as soon as possible? Our telephone number is txe-kwp-vrzn") Any one with an accent or one of those high-pitched little-girl voices might as well be speaking Swahili.
Needless to say, all this is very frustrating, but there are worse handicaps and I deal with it as best I can.
Social situations are another thing. Where groups of people meet and converse, the hard-of-hearing are often lost. Conversations become a blur of murmurs and whispers and mumbles. It is like sitting in front of a plate glass window watching the action and hearing only a distant hum. This can mostly be avoided if the person speaking faces you and speaks distinctly, but in an animated discourse this can be difficult and restricting. You focus intently, you smile and nod when it seems appropriate, you sometimes offer a comment if you have managed to pick up some thread of the conversation, but essentially you are just a spectator watching other people talk. It can be very lonely.
Helen Keller once observed that if she could have just one of her senses restored, she would choose her sense of hearing. It is the thing that connects us most of all, that ability to communicate and exchange opinions, ideas, news, gossip, joy, grief. The loss of it is profound.
But, there is a bright side! The decibel level of most modern pop music has receded somewhat. Background music, which I have always detested, has mostly disappeared from my consciousness. The Saturday night car races here in Lakeport are a distant buzz. The bullfrogs in the lagoon, which keep my neighbor awake at night, pose no problem for me.
I have to say that, given a choice, I would put up with the elevator music and lie awake listening to the bullfrogs. But I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I can move about in daily life without problems, that I can mostly hear the voices of the people I love, and that my hearing loss in more of an inconvenience than a handicap.
What was that you said?