This may come as a surprise to people who know me: although I am profoundly hearing impaired, I do not think of myself as deaf. Call it denial but I have made a point of trying to pass as a hearing person and live in the hearing world all my life. I think of myself as a wife, mother, and author and I consider my hearing impairment a big nuisance.
My ears have always been my weak link. My grandmother was deaf and my great grandmother was deaf and whoever came over on the boat from Ireland 150 years ago was probably a champion lip-reader. As a child, it seemed as if I had ear infections almost every weekend, even after a tonsillectomy at age 5. The pain in my head would grow until it became unbearable and I would then tell my mother who would drive me (unawares) to the doctor’s office where I would begin screaming as soon as I saw the Laundromat shingle that hung near the doctor’s office, a dripping wet shirt outlined in neon, an icon I still associate with the pain of a penicillin injection or lanced ear. I survived the agony of my last ear infection in graduate school thanks to Jack Daniels.
During my first winter as a self-supporting college graduate, a raging upper respiratory infection left me worse than it found me: my left ear could no longer hear clearly on the phone. A doctor smiled as if he were slightly embarrassed, something they do before delivering bad news it turns out. He told me that I had lost hearing in the highest frequencies. I would be able to hear in the range of normal speech but hearing aides would be of no use to me. Yet. After the appointment I walked back to my Washington, DC office, not sure whether I should cry for my lost hearing or return to my desk and get back to work.
I worked around my hearing impairment until age 26 when it made my new job as a Bank Officer in a large regional Dallas bank difficult. I bought hearing aids and continued to live in a hearing world, as a hearing person, but my impairment went downhill from there. I explained a 5 decibel decline on a hearing test over the course of a year to a co-worker and she remarked, “well, we can see where that’s going.” And indeed it did go, year by year, decade by decade, slowly at first, manageable through advances in hearing aid technology and sheer effort on my part, but gradually declining over the course of my nine year banking career, my marriage, the birth of four sons, and the launch of my debut novel, until my bad ear was almost useless. I depended on my good ear more and more until five months ago when even my good ear could no longer understand my husband’s voice without reading his lips. My hearing loss became so hard to work around that I decided to consult a new specialist.