Reality Checking Hearing Loss

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Let’s try an experiment. Find a really pretty photograph or painting, one that is not on your computer or TV. Stand back and look at it so that the entire image is clearly identifiable. This is Position A, or normal reality. Now step closer so that you can see only the middle of it clearly. This is Position B.  Step closer a third time so that only one thing is clear and everything else is blurry—enter Position C. Now step closer again, which may mean touching the tip of your nose to the image itself depending on how close you are already. It’s all blurry isn’t it? All you can see are the grainy pixels of a photograph or the sharp brush strokes of a painting. You can see a muddled mess of colors and shapes, but you can’t actually identify what you are looking at anymore. Your brain is now faced with a distorted view, an alternate reality. You are in Position D.

You are so close to the painting that you can longer see it for what it really is. Position D is where many with hearing loss are at. We get to D and stay there because accepting hearing loss is hard, and over time, we’ve slowly and unknowingly moved from A to D without question. Hearing loss comes on gradually, slowly and often creeps like a silent burglar in the night. It inches slowly forward until one day we wake up and realize our ears have been robbed. And by the time we get to Position D, we don’t know it because we’ve subconsciously adapted our lifestyle for it already. For those of us with hearing loss, Position D becomes our Position A—we are so used to the distorted that we’ve forgotten how to identify the reality.

In Position D, those of us with hearing loss can’t see the bigger picture anymore. We can’t see how bad our hearing loss has become, because we have created coping mechanisms for it. We can’t see how our hearing loss affects others, because we are used to the way they adapt for us. We can’t see that the problem has or is getting worse, because our coping mechanisms aren’t compensations anymore but are simply how we know and like to do things. We get used to having hearing loss and consequently are no longer aware of how bad it really is.

Enter the Third Party Survey and somebody who still resides in Position A.

When you go to an audiologist’s office for a hearing evaluation you are often asked to bring someone else with you—a friend or family member who is around you a lot. I was my dad’s “A” and he was mine. And when I finally got my first set of hearing aids, I had two “A’s”—my father and my boyfriend. The A’s allow for audiologists to get the bigger picture and can relay things the person with hearing loss, Position D, cannot. They also may help those in Position D to stop, step back and get back into Position A.

Here’s a real life example regarding communicating and hearing while driving:

My version (Position D): I can hear pretty well while driving and it’s only when the road is bumpy or we have music playing that I have difficulty. I don’t read lips that much while driving, and I only do it while we are stopped.

My boyfriend’s version (Position A—and an exact quote from my own third-party survey): “I’m actually worried about driving with her. She always has to turn to look at me to understand what I’m saying. It’s dangerous because she can’t pay attention to the road and talk at the same time.”

When I read his answer the first time, I scoffed. When I read it the second time, I remembered how I’d almost rear-ended someone after a Rams football game with my two-week old, brand new Jeep. I read his answer again and again, and each time, I remembered more and more instances where I’d ended up slightly out of my lane, had gotten too close to the bumper of another car or had almost sideswiped someone because I was simply trying to hear a stupid, single word.

Then I read the rest of his answers.

Does the patient have difficulty hearing on the telephone? YES.

(True, but I already knew that)

Do you think the patient’s hearing is getting worse? YES. 

(Seriously?!…Wait is it really?)

Have you noticed any change in the patient’s ability to remember? NO. She remembers EVERYTHING! 

(Hah! This is true. I remember every single detail, even meaningless ones. Glad to know the dementia I’m expecting to happen hasn’t set in yet.)

Do you ever hesitate talking to the patient because they won’t hear you anyways? Sometimes.  

(Wait…what?…Really?…Wow, that’s just…wow. Cue sadness, tears and defeat.)

Does the patient’s hearing loss ever use you stress? Yes, I’m afraid we are going to die sometimes when she drives. It’s also really frustrating to repeat things all the time. 

 

(Yeah, well you try having hearing loss buddy. It’s hard!)

Are you ever embarrassed by the patient’s inability to hear? No.

(Aww…I love  you!)

Would your life be more enjoyable if the patient wore hearing instruments? YES.

(I guess I can see how…)

Any additional comments or observations about the patient’s hearing? I can see it’s hard for her sometimes when we go out with friends or when she talks to certain people, and it makes me sad for her. I know how frustrating it is for her, and I just want her to be able to succeed at work and in life. She shouldn’t be embarrassed to get hearing aids…no one cares. 

 

And as I read his final answer, reality set in. It was dangerous to drive with me reading lips and taking my eyes off the road. I felt guilty for putting him in that position. I was having trouble at work talking to clients on the phone and in meetings. Every day of the week, I’d come home stressed and exhausted from trying to hear and understand…from trying to function.

My hearing loss was holding me back, and I was letting it. Instead of marveling at all the Louvre had to offer, I was pressing my nose against The Mona Lisa, and Da Vinci has more to offer than a fairly ugly woman painted atop a very unfitting background. I was wasting my time staring at a conflicted portrait when I could’ve been marveling at Michelangelo’s ceiling on the Sistine Chapel where the figures seemed all to real, moving as your eyes traveled from scene to scene. Degas’ ballerinas could’ve grabbed my hand and pulled me into the world of dance. I could’ve laughed at the absurdity of Picasso, been emboldened by the brashness of Pollack, calmed by the serenity of Cezanne and awed by the beauty of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.  

I thought I would have been angry for what he wrote, but I wasn’t. It wasn’t easy to see or accept the truth, but to see my hearing loss, my life, through his eyes…well I couldn’t have asked for a faster way to get back to Position A. It’s not easy to admit when we need help or when we have a problem, and often it is because we are too close to see it.

That survey. His answers. Those inescapable truths. Well, you can’t get more real than that. You can’t escape from that. You can’t go back to D from that.

And, I didn’t.

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