When I first met my husband he mentioned that he was brought up in a terrorist house. That simple statement spiked my interest and I decided this was a guy I’d like to get to know. I was brought up in New Zealand South Island manses, absolutely tame compared to his London childhood I thought. By the time I figured out that he’d said terraced house I was in love with him which just proves that a hearing loss needn’t be construed as a negative disability!
My hearing loss was very gradual and only picked up at work when we had a health check. Still in my thirties, I chose to ignore all advice as I was ‘too young’ to be ‘deaf’. Some five years later, after receiving strange looks during conversations, I realised that I was providing answers to questions people hadn’t asked. Feeling stupid and embarrassed I withdrew from social encounters. It wasn’t until I realised that the whole world couldn’t be mumbling that I followed up and booked in for a hearing test.
The results from the tests were conclusive: I had a significant hearing loss. After shedding a few tears and I’m too young to have hearing aids statements my audiologist convinced me to give them a try. Several weeks later I walked out of his clinic into an unknown world. On the way home I pulled over to the side of the road as my car was making an intermittent strange noise – I’d never heard the indicator before! I heard birds singing and wondered if it was a storm warning but no, my family said they always sing like that. My brain was being assaulted by all these sounds. It was wearying. I’d wear my aids for ten minutes and then take them off to retreat into my old world, but would then pop them straight back on as I didn’t want to miss a single sound.
I still find social functions difficult as I hear everything in general and nothing specific. If people are talking to me with their back turned I have to ask them to face me and repeat their words. I don’t lip read but I need the sound to come towards me. My second set of hearing aids are tiny. Older now I couldn’t care less whether they are ‘seen’ or not and wear my hair however I want rather than having a hide-my-aids hairstyle.
I’m not confident about hearing a smoke alarm at night and I miss the night rain on the roof when my props are having a bedside break. I do wonder how I will cope with replacing the fiddly batteries as I get older. But I wouldn’t be without them and I love being in control of my own surround sound. And as for love, long may terraced houses reign.
Ruth Arnison is the editor of Poems in the Waiting Room (NZ). She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is the founder of the city’s Lilliput Libraries project, and (with “Step Sister” Sheryl McCammon) founder and co-ordinator of Poems on Steps.