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What did you say? Nevermind!

By Mike Braswell Better Hearing and Speech Month is recognized every May. This is something I just recently became aware of. However, I am very aware of at least some of the concerns associated with hearing loss. My wife and her entire family suffer from severe hearing loss. Linda can barely hear at all, even with the hearing aids, which she has been dependent on for over ten years now. She has managed to keep working by becoming very adept at reading lips. That has now even begun to fail her as she needs to at least hear some of what is said to determine what she is hearing. Seeing her world close down around her is heartbreaking as more and more of her world is silenced. To see her struggle to even hear the voices of our sweet grandchildren.

Since I am not the one who suffers directly from hearing loss, I am not qualified to fully assess how frustrating it is to miss out on conversations. To have to ask people to repeat what they say, sometimes more than once. I can tell you how hard it is to live with someone with hearing loss. I am sure many of you don't have to be told because, like myself, you live with someone who struggles with hearing loss. Or you are dealing with it personally.

So when you live with someone who can barely hear, it is natural that you become a go-between or even a translator of sorts for them. Linda and I like to go out and eat at excellent restaurants when possible. Background noise is challenging for people with hearing loss, especially when wearing hearing aids. The hearing aids amplify the background noise along with everything else. It is difficult to have an enjoyable evening out because of this. Having to scream over the crowd makes it almost impossible to have two-way communication. Definitely not going to have a private conversation that way.

It is easy after saying something repeatedly that isn't heard at all or heard entirely wrong! It's easy to give up and decide it wasn't worth the effort. "Never mind," you say and realize you said it too forcefully. Uh oh, now she will get frustrated with you for getting frustrated with her. All over, some stupid off-the-wall comment you may have said to the characters of whatever show might have been on TV. It could be you saying, 'Dang, old Skipper is way bigger than Gilligan,' just to make conversation. Lame conversation, but nonetheless, it beats silence. Maybe you didn't even mean for her to hear it. Perhaps you were just talking to the television, but she heard you say something. Naturally, she is going to ask. "What did you say?"

Like the fool that you are, you make the mistake of trying to tell her what you said. Having no reference at all to what you were talking about in the first place. Well, having no idea why you would say, 'Dang, old Skipper is way bigger than Gilligan.' Why would you blurt that out just out of the blue? Remember, she has no clue that Gilligan and Skipper are on TV in your room, although she does know that you are a nut that often talks to TVs and Computers.

Well, since she doesn't trust her hearing, and for good reason, she can't convince herself that what she heard is what you said. There is a pause before she responds. You know that pause because it wasn't there before her hearing failed. She is trying to put the puzzle together. She has always excelled at puzzles of any kind. This puzzle is fabricated in the mind of someone who has poor hearing.

It is the puzzle that is often solved by combining the pieces of what you think you heard with something that makes sense and sounds a lot like it. 'Dang old Skipper,' for instance, could have been. 'How bout Chipper? Where are my slippers? Let's watch 'Flipper' or 'There's the Big Dipper.' Split-second calculations in the brain quickly eliminate most of the options. The only possible alternative to 'Dang old Skipper' is 'There's the Big Dipper.' A quick glance outside would eliminate even that because it was hours before dark. Yes, it must have been, 'Dang old Skipper.'

I didn't create the above scenario strictly from knowing what she thinks. As I said, I am not the one who is hearing impaired. I only base this on the statistics I have observed over these many years of loving my wife and her family. In my little tale above, there was a successful recognition of what was actually said. That is only sometimes the case. In fact, statistically speaking, that is different from how it works most of the time.

Most of the time, I say one thing, and she hears something completely different. I end up repeating what I said to her several times. Out of frustration, I give up, throw my hands up, and simply say, 'Never mind.' Now we are both frustrated and a little angry with each other. She is mad at me for being unable to make her hear, and I am with her for being unable to hear. Now anything either of us says could make the situation worse. We could easily slip into 'the silent treatment' stage that could last two or three days. I am not telling this to reveal my personal life but to show how hearing loss can alienate the sufferer and affects every aspect of their personal and private life.

I could go on for quite a few pages revealing more about how hearing loss can be such a struggle, and not only for hearing-impaired persons in a household. When frustrated, it is very easy to take advantage of the fact that you must shout to talk. To talk very loudly and to shout are two entirely different things, or they very much need to be. My most common error is just giving up after repeating something three times and yelling, "Oh, never mind!" Somehow she always hears that which doesn't help because now I am frustrated, and she is mad at me. I know deep down that it is her deafness that she is really mad over.

There are so many challenges in every life, and the little glimpse I provided above may not seem such a difficult thing to live with. This was just a tiny sampling of how hearing loss can add difficulties to life. This should serve as a reminder to those who suffer from hearing loss that the people around them are adapting along with them. We could all benefit from more patience with one another. It has been my experience that would make everyone's life more pleasant.

Better Hearing and Speech Month might not be the most exciting thing to write about, but it deserves our consideration. Learn more about it by visiting the American Speech Language Hearing Association website at There you will find many resources on alternatives for improving communication for those who suffer from hearing loss and other issues. We all need to be aware of this information because statistics show that we will all deal with some degree of hearing loss as we age. Many are treatable, and there is always a better chance for improvement if caught early. Unfortunately, my wife's hearing loss is severe, and being hereditary, there is no real chance of finding a perfect solution. Still, there is always hope, which is precisely why the ASHA exists.


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