Becoming Normal

For over a year I’ve been deaf in my right ear and hard of hearing in my left. I have this extremely nasty disease called Meniere’s Disease that eats your inner ear. As you can imagine, I have a difficult time understanding people when they speak to me. And if they have an accent, forget it, I won’t catch most of what they say. When it comes to watching movies, I’ve needed the subtitles on for years. Of course, I did adapt. I learned to make up a conversation by the few words I catch, and to laugh or nod or look sad depending on the other person’s facial expressions. I feel horrible about doing that, but I can’t ask someone to repeat every single thing they say eighty times.

This past summer my doctor finally told me that I needed hearing aids. That I really had no choice anymore. Problem is that insurance doesn’t pay for them and they aren’t cheap. At $2,500 a pop, I’d have to come up with $5,000. As an indie author whose debut novel wasn’t even coming out until October (and let’s face it, you don’t make money with a debut novel, even if you have a publisher), and with a job as an office manager for a start-up biotechnology firm, I just don’t have that kind of money. However, my audiologist mentioned to me that perhaps Vocational Rehab would be willing to help. I wasn’t sure that they would, but I made my appointment.

I remember the moment I got the letter that told me I qualified for help from them. I honestly started crying I was so happy. I had hope. Hope that I would be able to hear again. You see, my biggest fear is going completely deaf where not even hearing aids will help. It took months, but finally last week I got my hearing aids. The first moment I put them on, I could already hear. In fact, everything was extremely loud. All I could pay attention to was my audiologist’s chair squeaking. It was like someone was bashing my head with a hammer, the sound was so explosive.

At first the sound also had a robotic quality and I remember thinking about how if that’s what things were going to sound like then I wasn’t going to like having hearing aids. But that only lasted a little while. Everything was still loud, but at least it didn’t sound electronic anymore. My audiologist kept telling me that my hearing was at the “normal” level, even though it sounded as loud as fireworks. That’s how deaf I am. That “normal” hearing made me dizzy and gave me a headache.

I forgot all the little sounds that my brain tuned out the more deaf I became. I forgot that my pants make a sound when I walk. I forgot that my dog belches when she eats too much. So many little things and now I could hear them all. It overwhelmed me. I was sitting in my house and I thought someone was ringing my ancient doorbell that buzzes instead of rings, but it was someone opening a garbage can thirty feet away. I thought I hit something with my car, but really it was only a CD case sliding across my backseat. So many things stimulating my ears now bombarded me from every direction. I thought I’d go crazy. But just as I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it, my brain started adapting. Yes, everything is still loud and my own voice sounds odd in my deaf ear, as though I’m plugging my ears and speaking, but they say that will go away as soon as my brain relearns how to process sound.

I don’t know how long it will take for me to completely adapt, but I’m really excited for it. So far my life has changed so much in just a few days. It’s nice to hear all the things that make your life worthwhile. Like hearing my dog make her cute little noises as I pet her. Hearing music and TV, since those both inspire me in my own writing. Being able to hear what my boss is saying to me since he speaks in this tone that I always had a difficult time understanding. Not getting yelled at when people get frustrated that I don’t understand them. My life is changing for the better. I’m becoming a normal person again. And for that I can’t wait.

(I actually wrote this in January of 2013 and will write a follow-up post soon).

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