A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. “That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.

Many people don’t think of hearing loss as a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them. “You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough out there in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. When so many people talking at once , it becomes impossible for him to hear a single voice.

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than it was. But I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms and while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech is gone.

The silence of the woods after a heavy snow

The profound silence of the woods after a heavy snow

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing entirely fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said or notice I was speaking. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was critical.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing or a cry for help from down the hall. Garry can’t hear any of that. Once upon a time, he could and he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes that means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator. All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

– – – – –

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers, and people who speak too fast or too softly.

Categories: Anecdote, Challenges, Disabilities, Marriage, Relationships

Tags: , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. I don’t bother after the second time these days. The person i am thinking of has no excuse – e.g. difficult accent, speech defect etc – he just can’t be bothered to speak to me properly


  2. This is so good! I have hearing loss myself, probably from years of listening to a cranked up set of head phones, and I can empathize with Garry to a degree. Sonja

    has become my ears out in public, where it’s hard to distinguish the different voices at a table or in a waiting line.

    Keep up the blogging. You are “il miglior fabbro.”


    We have got to stop confusing Jesus Christ with the church, and remember that the church is just a building. ……Nephoske Residue


  3. Silence. Even hear God speaks to us, Whispering.

    I have stood in the deep wood … in winter … and heard the trees ringing.
    And on quiet ocean … in the mist … I’ve heard the waters singing.

    I am here …


  4. What an important piece on silent disabilities. When I was still working and received special accommodations so that I could CONTINUE to work, people were just downright nasty, because ya know, a mental illness can be invisible. This past year, as you know, I went through a patch where my hearing was messed up due to fluid in my ears. I could barely hear anything for months and then finally, after much prodding and cajoling (by you and many others), I saw an ENT and it has been better ever since. Better, yet. Good or back up to my original level, no. People get so irritated with you when you have to keep asking, “What? What? What?” I totally understand spoken word being a puzzle that you have to put together, and oftentimes not getting it put together right. I see my ENT again in a few months and hopefully there is more that can be done.


    • Many — maybe MOST — disabilities are “invisible.” Everyone really needs to learn to stop judging books by their covers. It’s terribly frustrating. I’m glad you had your ears worked on and I hope you get your hearing all the way back. Garry has learned to live with it, but never to accept it. He still rails against fate.


  5. I’m not looking forward to the point where my body starts to fail from old age and abuse.
    I hope I can face it with any kind of grace at all.


  6. I don’t think it’s fair that us hard of hearing get the same number of repeats as regular hearing folks, especially when the repeats are said in the same mumbled tone or the person is facing away. I’m not trying to be rude; I just didn’t hear what you said all three times.


  7. Huh?

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Wow can I relate to several of the items you have shared. I had a fairly mild case of polio as a child. I’ve dealt with after-affects all of my life. I have learned to deal with the physical pain (same as you stated); but sometimes insensitivity of others can be much harder to deal with than the physical pain, as bad as it is sometimes. Now that I’m older, I wear braces and use a crutch for balance and endurance all of the time, so it isn’t hidden. But years ago I had the same situation of a person yelling at me for using a handicap parking space (even though I had a visible tag) … on one of my really good days (before I had to use a crutch all of the time and before I wore braces). Sometimes I’ve had people make comments about when I used to have to wear orthopedic or otherwise ugly shoes. Those things are difficult to forget even after having forgiven the person.
    My mom is living with us now (since Sept.), and both my husband and I are learning to live with someone who has trouble hearing when we don’t speak loudly enough, or talk too fast, etc. She is having to learn to live with my husband’s limitations (blindness), too. .. as well as with our oldest son and his wife who have physical /health problems too. (But that is enough here.) Back to the silence issue … I am learning to be more aware of things that I need to do to make myself heard. I’m 60, and we have always had a more or less pretty quiet home, so now we get used to loud t.v., music, phone conversations, etc. 😉 It’s all good. 🙂


    • I remember being teased about wearing orthopedic shoes. They were responsible for the one and only physical fight I had in school. Kids can be very mean … but adults who ought to know better can be — in a less obvious way — even worse.

      No one today would say I don’t look handicapped. Time will have its way with all of us and now I walk like a little hunchback. I haven’t quite given in and gotten a scooter or something … as long as I can stay on my own legs, I want to though when we go someplace where a lot of walking is required … well, one day at a time.

      I talk too loud now and don’t even know I’m doing it. Just habit. Garry’s had to learn to deal with the stuff I can’t do and I’ve had to learn to deal with his. Everyone around here has some kind of physical problem or other, though blindness is one we have not had to deal with. It sounds to me like you have a full plate and the one ingredient that makes it possible to live with it all: a sense of humor.

      Let me offer you a single suggestion: Get your mother earphones for the television. Sennheiser makes wireless ones — not expensive — and I bought two pair, one for the living room and another for the bedroom TVs. They have changed Garry’s world. With the earphones, he can hear everything … for the first time in his life.


  9. Really special use of the prompt. Not enough of us understand hearing loss… really nice!



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