LIVING IN SILENCE

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry removed 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 consider hearing loss a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend. I 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 being deaf in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. With so many people talking at once , it is impossible for him to hear one 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 before, 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, 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 has been lost.

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 quite 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 at all. 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 important.

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. A cry for help from a distance.

Garry can’t hear any of that. He could, years ago. So he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes which 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, little sounds? The explosion, but not 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.

LIVING IN SILENCE

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.

CLOSE TO THE TREE

Mom-May1944It occurred to me one day I needed to see my spine specialist. When you deal with chronic pain, you learn to ignore it most of the time. Unless you want to wind up addicted to pain killers, it’s the only option. It’s not bravery. It’s a practical decision. Do I want to keep participating in life? Then I have to deal with what I have to deal with. That’s the way it goes.

Long time ago, I was doing my mother’s hair. I liked fixing her hair. It was easy to style, thick, silver and just a bit wavy. I asked her to turn her head to the right, and she did. When I asked her to turn the other way, she said “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Why not?”

“Because my head won’t turn that way.”

That seemed a curious answer. “What do you mean by that?”

“My neck is stiff.”

“Um, mom? How long has it been like this?”

She thought for a while. “Fifteen years? Something like that.”

That stopped me. Fifteen years? “Have you seen anyone about it?”

“No,” she said. “I figured I was just getting old.”

At the time, I thought her statement was bizarre. It turned out she had treatable but advanced tendonitis and it got better. She hated doctors.

Time marched on. I’m older than my mother was then. I totally relate to her response. When I called the doctor for an appointment, I discovered the last time I saw him was more than six years ago. To be fair, I’ve had a few medical crises since then and I got distracted. Besides, I know what’s wrong with my back. It isn’t going to kill me. I’ve lived with it most of my life. I’m used to it and do my best to ignore it.

Recently, though I’m having trouble walking, even on flat surfaces and going up and down stairs is especially difficult. It crossed my mind there might be something he could do — some medical magic — to improve me without major surgery. I already know surgery isn’t an option.

My doctor is wonderful. The best. The only doctor who can look at my spine, not gasp with horror and immediately decide I need to be rebuilt with screws, pins, and bolts. He’s a minimalist, medically speaking. I like that.

I made an appointment and got lucky because there was a cancellation. It usually takes five or six months to get to see him, but I only had to wait a few weeks. He’s the king of spines in Boston, maybe in the country. I would have willingly waited six months if I had to. Of course, as soon as I made the appointment, I had to make another appointment because I need new films of my spine. I also haven’t had a CT scan or MRI in six years and he isn’t going to be able to do much without new films.

I wondered how come I hadn’t processed the fact I can’t walk normally? I suppose I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy ignoring pain.

I was being my mother. She taught me to be a soldier. She didn’t use Novocaine when she got her teeth worked on. I asked her why. She said “Pain is good for your character.”

Tree Silhouette in B & W

She meant it. I grew up believing giving in to pain was a weakness. To a degree it serves me well, but sometimes it’s dangerous. If you ignore the wrong stuff, it can kill you. One needs to find balance, but it isn’t so easy.

Watching a documentary on Ethel Kennedy reminded me of my mother, minus all the money. Mom was an athlete. I’m sure she wondered how she wound up with such a klutzy daughter. She had been a good tennis player. She rode horses, she played ice hockey. She went bob sledding. She painted, sculpted, designed and made her own clothing. She also never got past seventh grade, so she made up for it by reading everything. She had a truly voracious appetite for life and knowledge.

After a radical mastectomy, she couldn’t play tennis anymore, so she played a ferocious game of ping-pong. She played savagely. She served so hard it was more like a bullet than a ping-pong ball. As a family, we vacationed in dinky little resorts in the Catskills where there was no entertainment. The one thing they always had was a ping-pong table. So I played against my mother.

I'm in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.
I’m in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

She didn’t believe in any of that “let the kid win” stuff. She was a competitor. You won or lost. Trying hard was irrelevant because she expected nothing less. She slaughtered me. As I got older, I played better but she always beat me. She told me she was giving me an advantage by playing with her left hand. I knew she wrote with her right hand, so I assumed she was a rightie. Until the day my aunt told me she had always played tennis with her left hand. My mother was psyching me out. Her own daughter.

I never beat her, but I beat everyone else.

She passed me her determination to never give up, to do everything I could as well as I could. Later in life, I realized I didn’t always have to be the best. Playing a game for fun is worth something too. Another lesson learned a bit late.

The older I get, the more I remind me of my mother.

So I went to my doctor and he told me there was nothing he could do except reduce the pain. Temporarily. No fix. No drug. It is what it is. Progressive. Irreversible. I sighed and accepted it. I had hoped there was something he could do. Not to be.

We all miss stuff. Some of it intentionally, more accidentally. Sometimes, I miss important something because I’m busy ignoring something else.

I am an apple. Mom was my tree. I fell, but not far.

For The Promptless – Qualia – Sounds of silence

Qualia (single form, quale) is a term that refers to the individual, conscious, subjective elements of experiences. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky.  In other words, qualia refers to “the way things seem to us.”

One year, I had a terrible case of flu. My ears were totally clogged. 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 if it’s not your problem.

The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.
The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.

It’s interesting how many people seem to think a hearing loss isn’t a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk well or 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” and none of them are visible except by x-ray. 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. It’s years later and I’m still angry. How dare she make such a judgment?

People make those judgments 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 on the scene, I take them aside and explain that Garry cannot hear them, that they need to make sure he sees them and knows they are talking to him. I consider it one of my important jobs in our relationship because it’s hard being out there in a hearing world when you can’t.

Mostly I can hear. Usually. Most things.

I depend heavily on catching the nuances of human speech to interpret the true meaning of spoken words. Garry used to be able (with the help of hearing aids) to do that and it was important in his work as a reporter. In courtrooms, while interviewing people, it’s not just what they say, but how they say it.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “that” whatever “that” is. Sometimes “that” is me. He will often act like he heard me even if he didn’t. Sometimes, he didn’t hear me or notice I was speaking  … or only heard a part of what I said but thinks it was everything I said. And then, there’s the “what?” factor. How many times can you say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before you feel like an idiot? I’ve been in places where I couldn’t understand people because of their accent or background noise. The answer is three.

You can ask someone to repeat it three times. After that,  we all give up.

Human speech is all there is to hear. Music, soft and loud. That funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog accidentally locked in the bathroom (oops). Garry can’t hear the birds singing or me if I yell for help from down the hall. He won’t hear if I fall … so I had better not.

He also won’t hear the warning beep of the truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes to warn him someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or the alarm clock ringing. All the little noises that form the background, a tapestry, the sounds of life. They are not there for him.

What does silence sound like? When you hear noise, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur?

To be in that silence always. It’s a different world.