Confessions of an HOH Mom

I’m going to wager a small bet that a good amount of people read the title and said to themselves, “HOH? What’s that stand for?” HOH, or Hard of Hearing, gets a lot less attention than Deafness does. It’s an odd phenomenon because most people have at least one person in their life that drives them crazy with their, “What”s? and “Huh”s?

 There is a running joke among audiologists that goes like this:

Two old men are walking in the park. One man looks at his friend and says:

“I got a new hearing aid yesterday! It’s amazing! I can hear so much better now!”

The second man says:

“Oh really? What kind is it?”

The first responds, looking at his watch:

“Oh, it’s about one o’clock”

This sums up not only HOH, but also what people envision when they hear the terms, “Hard of Hearing” or “Hearing Impaired”.

Older People.

However, this impairment can affect many different ages and types of people.

I am a youngish 50, but I have been hard of hearing since my mid 20’s. No, I didn’t go to a lot of rock concerts or listen to my music too loudly, as people are always want to ask. I was born with a genetic disorder, a defect in my cochleas, that caused what they call “a Cookie Bite” loss bi-laterally. Around 24 years of age, I started with the “Whats” and the “Huhs” and when my friends and family got frustrated with repeating themselves, I just yelled at them to “Stop Mumbling!” and to “Speak Clearly!” until they finally convinced me that I REALLY needed to get my ears checked, they weren’t just being sarcastic! The doctor explained that it could have happened at any time, 6 years old or 60, with enough stress to trigger it. (“See?”, I told my family, “It IS your fault!”)

Speaking of sarcasm, yea, that doesn’t work so well on us. Either we can’t hear you at all, or we miss the tonality that expresses the sarcasm. A lot of meaning in speech communication can be interpreted by tone, and we don’t have that natural benefit of normal hearing people. We can miss a LOT and also look pretty dumb. We respond completely inappropriately in everyday situations, so much so that we start to slowly withdraw in fear of making idiots out of ourselves AGAIN. I can tell you, my 14-year-old daughter just LOVES it when we are in the drive-through and they ask, “What drink would you like?” and I respond with, “Barbecue sauce please!” She has tried to hide in the back seat more than once.

I can’t count the number of times people have become frustrated with me, or worse, judgmental, because I could not understand them. When I am feeling a bit more courageous, I tell them, “My ears are broke, not my brain”, but mostly I just get frustrated with myself too. I interrupt people because I don’t realize they are speaking. I change the subject of conversations because I have no idea what the subject is.  I sometimes talk too much because I want to feel connected to people and trying to just sit back and listen to people talk, or for the correct pauses in conversation to be able to enter into them, or read their facial expressions and pretend I know what they are saying, is near impossible for me. And exhausting.

Hearing aids are an option of course. I do have a pair, and they cost about as much as a used car. Actually, they cost MORE than many used cars! Most insurance plans do NOT cover them either. They will cover the hearing test though. The last time I got my hearing checked was about a year ago. I went in because after many years of just being plain old hearing impaired, I got the added luxury of Tinnitus, a relentless buzzing and ringing in my head. Fun.

I walked to the desk and told them I was there for a hearing test because I thought my hearing may have gotten worse. They gave me instructions on the paperwork, where to go, etc., all in normal hushed voices; I had to guess what they were telling me because I had no clue what words were coming out of the receptionist’s mouth, but it was pretty straightforward. After the hearing test I knew my hearing had really gotten worse when the woman approached me and yelled, “YOU NEED TO BRING THIS PAPERWORK TO THAT WINDOW DOWN THE HALL”. I showed them! Lol.

Hearing aids, unfortunately, are not a magic cure. You can hear better with them, and they are worth having, but they do not bring you back to perfect normal people status. I still require people to get my attention, talk straight at me, not too fast, and to enunciate their consonants. What I don’t require people to do is to talk to me like I am mentally challenged or to yell in my face. Please, for the love of GOD, do NOT yell at me. Volume increase can be extremely annoying, as with a hearing loss you lose certain TONES, but others are fine. So, when watching a movie for example, if I just increase volume, the background sounds are so LOUD that they drown out the mid-tones (speaking level) that I can’t hear anyway. I just watch with the subtitles. My reading speeds are faster and I am an amazing speller now! Plus…I READ the little stuff going on in the background that YOU can’t hear!

Another benefit of the hearing aids is that when I am alone, or it is quiet, it helps cut down on my attention to the high pitch ringing in my head. I also have taken to humming to myself when I don’t have them in…a lot. However, this little unconscious method of trying to keep myself from GOING insane can make me SEEM insane to people in public! I don’t even realize I am doing it until I am in the grocery store, looking at the produce, and notice the person next to me giving me the side eye and steering their children clear of me….

Good. That way they won’t try to talk to me. I’d rather look crazy than stupid!

Well, I hope you learned something from this. Or at least had a little giggle at my expense. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it because it takes a LOT less energy for me to write than to have a conversation (or to order in a drive through)! Please remember to have patience with people. Everyone is fighting their own battles, some more silently than others! The next time someone ignores you or answers you completely wrong, remember, they might not be mean and stupid, they might just be HOH!

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