It’s About Attitude

Ten years ago when my hearing dropped suddenly and severely, I despaired of ever living a hearing life again. Despite a cochlear implant and a sophisticated hearing aid, that despair seemed justified. I could hear, but I could not function in a hearing world

Some terrible times are burned into my memory.

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Taking my daughter and some of her friends to a restaurant for her 21st birthday. My daughter sat next to me and helped with handwritten notes and clearly enunciated explanations, but that wasn’t enough. I was never even sure of her friends’ names, although I do know three of them were named Sarah.

Going to a college friend’s funeral in Cambridge in a beautiful Harvard chapel with terrible acoustics. Several old classmates were there but I didn’t recognize them and I couldn’t hear names clearly enough to know who I was talking to.

My children’s college graduations – both lovely occasions, of which I heard nothing, from start to finish. But even the milder hearing loss I had from age 30 on meant that I never really heard any school event, pre-k to graduate school.

The daily morning meeting of editors in my department at The New York Times. 15 to 20 people planning a daily section, of which about a fifth would be content I was responsible for. I delivered my information but I never heard the responses, or questions about it. I cringe at the memory.

Most of the 2008-2010 theater seasons. As theater editor I was expected to see as much as possible. No one said anything about hearing it. I remember going to a play with Ben Brantley, the theater critic. Not only could I not hear a word of the play but I couldn’t hear him in the intermission either. Did I tell him? Vaguely. Maybe. At that point in my career the stigma of hearing loss and aging was terrifying. (Readers of my memoir, Shouting Won’t Help, know that that strategy did not work!)

Now a mere a decade later, technology has delivered the tools I need to function in a hearing world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some that I personally use. Some allow me to hear at the theater, some at the movies, some over dinner in a noisy restaurant, some in a gym class, some to hear music again. I can go hiking and hear my companion ten feet ahead of me. I can hear everyone at my book club (as long as they speak one at a time). I can communicate with friends who are even deafer than me, friends I used to “talk” to over our computers sitting side by side. I can understand on a windy cold morning when someone asks me my dog’s name. (Oliver.)

Ollie on bed
Oliver

But it’s not just technology that allows me to hear better now. It’s attitude. I ask for CART captions. I ask for a seat in the front. I ask people to repeat themselves slowly and clearly. I ask my Pilates teacher to wear my clip-on mic so I can hear her. I make myself tell everyone that I have hearing loss, and explain to them over and over again how to talk so that I can understand them. I credit my friends at the Hearing Loss Association of America, #HLAA, for showing me the way.

In addition, instead of giving in to my hearing loss, I make myself hear better. I make myself listen. I did auditory rehabilitation – that is, I practiced listening — in both informal and formal programs, and part of what I learned was how to listen.

I accept my hearing loss – I use my devices, flawed as they sometimes seem, I ask for help. Most of all, I demand respect. It’s surprising how successful that is.

Next week I’ll write about how technology has allowed me to  love theater again. The week after, I’ll write about the new live captioning devices that me possible conversation in a noisy place. And the week after that I’ll write about how a new hearing aid can completely change the way you hear, even if the one you already had was top of the line and cost more than you’ve ever spent on any one thing except maybe a car or a house.

 

For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health.

Smart Hearing_Cover_highres

You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.

 

 

 

 

 

34 thoughts on “It’s About Attitude

  1. I loved reading this. Loved reading the perspective it gave me on all the challenges we face. The critical reminder that courage, honesty with oneself and with others, and mindfulness are in the toolbox if we choose to employ them

    Xxk

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that lovely comment. I use the term mindful sometimes in relation to hearing loss. Mindful listening means pay attention in a really focussed way that allows you to hear a whole sentence or passage and then fill in the blanks, the parts you didn’t hear, based on the context.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My iPhone set up with voicemail translated voice messages to text with good accuracy . Person to person voice text also works well. There are many voice to text apps.
      If you can read, you can hear. This technology is the future for us.
      Look for projected voice to text glasses being developed, next.

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  2. Yes Katherine. The only times I find that I am socially suffering is when I fail to ask for – even calmly demand – the considerations I need to hear and understand. Obviously there are situations that are, sadly, impossible. We’ll just have to keep working on that. Thank you.

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  3. Katherine, This piece is so brave and beautiful! It brought me to tears, sitting here in my spot in the Newton Free Library, working on the power point slides for our stigma workshop on re-writing the narrative.

    You are one of my most powerful role models.

    Peggy

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am a big advocate for myself – I wear one hearing aid and a CI – but my biggest fear is when I fly. It is difficult to hear anything the captain says – I basically don’t hear it at all. And I’m challenged when the staff comes around with the food choices. But my biggest fear is an emergency that I know nothing about. I generally notify the airline in advance that I’m hearing impaired, but usually I get a wheelchair when I’m coming off the plane. On only one flight did I have someone come to my seat to see what I needed.
    I went to jury duty once and could barely hear the person in front of the room – I had told them I am hearing impaired. All of a sudden, everyone was getting up to leave – they had dismissed us and I didn’t hear it.

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    • I’ve been there! I’m also lactose intolerant so need to know what food choices are dairy free. Try asking! I just don’t eat.
      But seriously, airlines are one place you do need to hear. Make sure to tell the flight attendant in your section that you cannot hear announcements. And also tell your seat mate.
      As for jury duty, you can say you can’t serve without accommodations — in the case of jury duty that would be CART. Since court reporting is a similar skill, you might be able to share court reporter’s text. But most of the time it’s probably not possible.

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  5. I agree, airports and airplanes are a challenge. My experiences with them have been awful. I do keep complaining to the airlines. Now I can’t wait to learn more from Katherine about the tools we can use to help us hear. I am no good with gadgets, keeping things charged up and plugged in, etc., so as my hearing gets worse I need to learn more. Thanks for your help!

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    • It’s all basically voice to text in one form or another. As Roger Garceau said, above, if you can read you can hear. But these tools and aoos are actually very new, and something many of us are just learning.

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  6. Your two books are awesome. Even though I am in a different category ( born with loss but incorrectly diagnosed as Asphasic and mentally challenged until 16) books are helpful and I tell folks to read them as well as Deaf Sense by Lodge ( novel butt so real I checked up on the author -yes like you – )
    Since you are out there more; how can we get the 911 system to be text accessible. It is scary how it is hard for me to. Communicate. I am working on accessaby in medical care ( got hurt recanty – Penn care one of the best yet they messed up last week) and captions system in theatre .
    If you have advice, appreciate it. Barbra Kelly ( former director of Hearing loss group ) got new position in Washington D C. Might be helpful. Police in Philly have so little patience so it is even more scary.

    Sorry for the long bit
    Sue Farrell

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    • Sue Farrell, I thought I had answered this but don’t see it anywhere. I agree with you that Text 911 is a very high priority. It could easily be a matter of life and death. It does exist in certain localities. I don’t understand why it doesn’t exist everywhere. We just have to keep pushing for it.

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  7. Congratulations, Katherine! You have a lot to be proud of. You have made enormous strides in accepting your hearing loss. You keep working to improve your hearing skills and best of all, you have learned to say
    “I need” in advance. I look forward to reading your future columns on technology and useful skills.

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  8. Thank you! I am about 5 years into sever hearing loss and three into cochlear implants. Like you I have discovered many strategies to hear in the world. After discovering your blog I have the courage to make my hearing needs known to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As a retiree and widow, I am home alone a lot..Easter weekend proved to be v revealing tho as I traveled to DC for the holiday w family. Got a little of every kind of test. Was instructive. Airplanes r hard. The flight attendant stopped by and asked if I wanted a refill on the ginger ale. I assumed she wanted the cup and I said no, I would keep it. she looked at me funny. I explained the hearing loss and she said she suffered too. I have no qualms about telling family and friends and instructing them about talking to me. I speak more than one language and have a natural facility that way. I am not one to abide a stigma nor feel defective. We all have something. I feel no need to b perfect. I expect to b accepted. And if not, it’s their loss. However, I realized after sitting thru the beautiful choir and organ music at the National Cathedral Easter service that I am losing music. This will break my heart. Once a president of school glee club and piano playing enthusiast, I found it hard to stay in key. I wasn’t sure which verse we were singing (although my dau said neither was anyone else-haha), and when all the organ stops were out, I felt a little queasy. Right now I am mildly to moderately impaired and often blocking my bad ear helps clarify sound. Noisy restaurants were the worst. My ENT says hearing aids will not help me. I plan to investigate them anyway for my better ear. Good luck, everyone.

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    • You sound like you have a good handle on all this, but why does your ENT say hearing aids won’t help? If hearing aids won’t help, would some other kind of technology? There are also a lot of tricks those of us with hearing loss teach ourselves to hear better – listening strategies that range from something as simple as making sure the speaker is looking at you to as complex as weighing the context of what you have heard against the sections you missed and then filling in the blanks.
      As for music, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks so won’t go into detail, but there are ways to make the most of what you have. Thank you for writing!

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  10. I am a retired Speech Therapist with a hearing loss. I have given many talks at my senior center on hearing loss and have spoken about the need to be proactive when they have hearing loss. There still are many seniors that are in denial about their hearing loss, and don’t advocate for themselves. Do you think the time will come when more seniors will take their hearing loss seriously?

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    • I do think seniors will be more proactive about their hearing loss as the baby boomers age into that demographic. Hearing loss has become more visible and less stigmatized. I think it will continue to move in that direction as less expensive hearing-aid devices become available. And reliable — that’s why we need the FDA’s Over the Counter Hearing Aid regulations. Keep talking, though, and maybe some will listen.

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  11. Re Nancy’s story, above. I always identify myself to the clerk as having hearing loss when I arrive at the airport gate. In my experience, they always respond with friendly support. I ask for early boarding and they always say “of course.” This makes everything just a little easier. Last time I flew, being early on board, I fell into a chat with a man in the next row who was in airline uniform, an off duty pilot. I told him I was returning from a hearing loss conference, and he quickly told me “we’re all deaf”, meaning his fellow pilots and others who have worked for years in aviation. I have been told the same thing by a long-time subway/transit employee. Here’s a story that should be publicized more widely!
    This is a great column….thanks for it, Katherine. I have great uses for my little ‘external mic’; today my physical therapist wore it around his neck, so I didn’t miss a word. I also use it when visiting the MD.

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    • That is a good story. Most subway conductors wear noise cancelling headphones and have for as long as I remember. Pilots seem to as well — more for getting information from the tower and others than for protection. But I guess just being around airports a lot can really damage your hearing. The flight attendants don’t even get to wear headphones. I wonder what the rate of hearing loss is among them?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Re headphone protection and subway workers. . . many work on platforms in various ways and they typically don’t wear headgear. The man who talked with me (on the BART line which has just installed loops in new trains) had worked 40 years for the system, was about to retire, and was wondering where to go for hearing aids.

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  12. Your column and comment discussions are very helpful. I am looking forward to knowing of suggestons for hearing others in a single line while hiking a trail (especially with the crunch of snowshoes or sound of a trailside stream.) An external mic helps with one companion but not a group with constant switching of those in front and behind me. I will watch for your upcoming entries. Thank you.

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    • You’re right. A clip on mic would not work with a group, although I think there are some receivers that can get signals from up to 4 transmitters.
      My suggestions will probably not be new to experienced assisted-listening-device users, which it sounds like you are. I’m going to write about existing devices, nothing futuristic — and only about the ones I know how to use.
      Thanks for writing!

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  13. I could not agree more. Attitude is often the key that allows us to
    Utilize our technology to help us effectively move forward in the hearing world. I would add that s sense of humor helps a great deal too. I’ve learned to
    Laugh at myself. Sure my hearing loss is frustrating and has dramatically changed my life. However, honesty, a positive attitude and a sense of humor, along with support and education from HLAA have helped me move forward and utilize the available technology to function in a positive way in the not do kind hearing world. Excellent post Katherine

    Like

  14. Wonderful post!!! I have just started revealing to patients with hearing loss that I have hearing loss, too. A big leap to share a personal challenge, but of course it is good to be transparent if it can help the patient feel less embarrassed and to seek an assessment. xo, Helena

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Like

  15. It always amazes me that people wear glasses without embarrassment, but treat hearing loss differently. In both cases, you’ve lost some functioning of a sense and glasses are much more obtrusive then hearing aids. Definitely need to get over this!!

    Like

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