Hearing and Believing
I made a trip with Grandma Lila and Mom Turner today to have Grandma's ears and current hearing aids tested. I've been noticing over the past few months that Grandma is having a harder and harder time being able to hear - specifically, she can't hear the pitch my voice is at. For a while I started compensating by dropping the pitch of my voice and speaking loudly and slowly, but it's gotten to a point where she can't hear most things clearly anymore. She used to watch TV at a semi-loud volume; but now it has to be blasting at full in order for her to hear it.
The thing about this is that hearing aids are expensive. So if the loss of hearing even with them just means people have to speak up...well, people can do that. But the loss of hearing is beginning to intrude on Grandma's life. When Kim calls on the phone, Grandma can't hardly hear a word she says. Even her sisters - who have a pitch of voice she normally can hear fine - are having to shout and repeat themselves for her to hear them.
Through my brother Jonathan, I became aware of what it's like not have good eyesight. In his case, he didn't try to stand or walk until he got his new glasses: his eyesight was so skewed he had no depth perception and therefore no balance. Would he have walked earlier than age three if we'd just gotten his eyeglasses? We don't know. But it did occur to us all to wonder when we watched him stand unassisted for the first time two days after getting them.
Through Grandma, I'm now experiencing the frustration of not being able to hear. It's no light matter. Your family can be sitting around you at a little family gathering chatting and laughing and you have no idea what's so funny. People have to repeat even little things over and over while you struggle to piece it together, things as simple as, "It's dinnertime, Grandma!" If you need some help and call from the bedroom, you can't hear someone responding, "I'm coming, Grandma!" so you continue calling and calling hoping someone somewhere can actually hear you and will be arriving presently.
It's a very isolating, infuriating, generally annoying problem: and when you're someone who loves music and wants to be able to teach kids - who have high, soft, indistinct voices - it's debilitating.
According to the testing done today, Grandma has "severe to profound" hearing loss. She isn't deaf, exactly; but she has almost no reception for higher frequencies and even the low ones have to be boosted significantly for her to hear them clearly.
The thing is, she doesn't believe us that she really can't hear.
She figures everyone has problems hearing everything all the time. All those little annoyances and frustrations I mentioned earlier are troublesome to her at the time they happen, but when we discussed them today she brushed them aside as no big deal. She's being cut off from the life going on around her and she only recognizes it once in a while when something really hard to miss intrudes on her. She does not put her fear of someone not coming when she calls together with her inability to hear them responding to her before they can physically get there. She feels lonely but doesn't realize it's because when conversations are going on around her, she can't join in because she can't really tell what's being said. She gets frustrated watching TV and movies because she can't tell what's going on; but she doesn't realize it's because she can only clearly hear one or two words out of every ten.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this the past few days, about what it means to not be able to hear and not to recognize that you can't. I can recognize - even if Grandma can't - how far her lack of hearing is causing her to retreat from what's going on around her. But because it's happening a little at a time, she gets bothered for a moment about not being able to hear this or that, but then just shrugs and moves on.
I think a lot of us are like this about other things. Looking in from the outside, people can see how someone else has a handicap that's causing them no end of trouble and frustration: but the person who has the problem doesn't recognize it the same way. "So I lose my temper now and then," someone like this might say. "That's no big deal - people do it all the time, right?"
They don't see that the little moment of losing their temper caused their husband or wife to be upset the rest of the day, taught their children that it's okay to let anger get the best of them, and ultimately causes all kind of little rifts and unpleasantnesses that just grow and pile on each other until they wind up divorced with children who don't speak to them.
In my family, we have a problem called Feeling Sorry For Myself. One of my great-grandmothers died from this problem. Do the rest of us take it seriously as a life-threatening disease? Of course not. To us, it's just a little problem. Everyone does it now and then. What's the big deal?
We don't see how feeling sorry for ourselves saps our life of joy and contentment and causes us to totally ignore what is good in our lives until we're miserable and making everyone around us miserable. And all the while, we barely even notice we're doing it. Just like with Grandma's hearing, we notice it now and then when it gets particularly obnoxious; but otherwise we just live with it getting steadily worse and worse while our friends and family look on and say, "This is a serious problem! Something needs to be done!"
Thankfully, Grandma can get hearing aids; and whether she believes us now or not, I'm confident she's going to receive a very happy surprise when she puts those new little computers in her ears next week. In the meantime, I'm going to be listening for the little hints people give me that I have annoying or even dangerous problems I'm overlooking just as completely as Grandma's overlooking the problem with her ears.
Because there's nothing worse than a problem you don't even believe is there.
3/9/2012 12:16:20 am
I'm glad you got to take Grandma in! When she told me not to hold back on the high notes, it made me wonder....:D :D I hope it helps a LOT!!!
3/9/2012 05:15:54 am
Great post, Lauren. :)
3/10/2012 09:13:04 am
Yeah, she really can't hear high pitches well - there was one they were playing in the headphones for her to say "yes" when she heard it: it was hurting my ears from across the room through the headphones and she didn't respond at all. It was just the right pitch that she couldn't hear it.
4/11/2012 12:40:50 pm
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Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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