Say again…?

You may have noticed references in my blog to the fact that I have problems with my hearing. Because this condition has developed gradually over a period of time, my hearing seems normal to me but, of course, it is not. I hear the traffic thundering past in the street and people calling to one another but I may not hear the birds twittering in the trees or the squeak of the front gate opening. My directional sense has also suffered: I sometimes jump at what seems like a loud noise just behind me when in fact the sound comes from further away, perhaps in front of me or to one side. My greatest difficulty, however, is in understanding speech.

As one doctor I spoke to about this said, “People mumble.” That’s what it seems like. This means that if I am in a group, I very soon give up trying to join in the conversation or even to follow it. One-to-one conversations are easier and I can usually manage a phone call without any trouble. What helps is the fact that the brain is a marvellous deciphering machine and often manages to complete a message from a few fragments. Human speech also contains a lot of redundancy and even if I don’t understand immediately when someone starts talking to me, I often catch up as they continue speaking. On a number of occasions, I have failed to understand what someone has said, only to have the phrase pop up in my mind, clear as a bell, minutes later – my brain has obviously been working on it in the background and finally cracked the code. By then, of course, it may be too late…

If someone speaks clearly, I am usually all right. When people speak in a low voice or have a heavy accent, I have no hope of understanding. It seems to be the consonants that suffer most, especially at the beginnings of words. Thus “pander” may be confused with “Santa” or “Where’s my shoes” might sound like “Here’s a goose”. Once when I was working in the library, a woman asked me – so I thought – for books on “nothing”. That was puzzling, as you can imagine. It turned out that she wanted books on “nursing” but she pronounced the word like “nossing” which my brain interpreted as “nothing”.

People with normal hearing are not very aware of their mannerisms when talking. I have become very aware of these because it can make the difference between understanding and not understanding. For example, it’s surprising how often people turn away from you while speaking. Sometimes, the reason is obvious. Someone may say “You see that man over there…” and turn to look at him. On other occasions it’s less obvious why they do it. They may glance casually out of the window or turn to look for something. Being unaware that they do it – or that it renders their speech opaque to me – they are likely to be irritated if I mention it. Even if they promise not to do it again, they usually do, just a few seconds later.

Even the most patient people become irritated after a while when you have to keep asking “Sorry, what did you say?”, so quite a lot of the time I adopt the “N & S Method”. That is to say, I don’t follow what the person is saying but just nod and smile as if I do. Sometimes I get caught out as when they suddenly ask “What do you think about that?” Busted.

When we watch DVDs, Tigger selects subtitles, if they are available. There are often two sorts, simple subtitles (which are useful, for example, if you don’t understand the language being spoken in the film) and EHH, “English for hard of hearing”. This is fun because it gives you incidental information as well as speech. So you will see “Dog barking wildly” or “Upbeat music playing” or “Car engine revs noisily”. The subtitles necessarily give only a précis of what is actually said so I try to use them as a prompt to understand the dialogue. Concentrating on the text is distracting, of course, and I often miss some of the action or other visual details.

The reason I mention this is an appointment I have on Saturday. About two years ago, my doctor proposed contacting the hospital with a view to assessing me for a hearing aid. I waited and waited but nothing happened. More recently I mentioned it to the doctor and a repeat letter was sent. Again I waited for months but on Tuesday afternoon, while we were checking out our purchases at ASDA, my phone rang. I was asked if I would like to come to a clinic for assessment this coming Saturday. Of course, I said yes. I am a little nervous about it, to be honest, but I obviously must go and see what they say.

I am not getting my hopes up because I do not know what, if anything, can be done and there is no point in expecting wonders only to be disappointed. Either way, I will report on my auditory experiences here.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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4 Responses to Say again…?

  1. athinkingman says:

    I can empathize as I too have suffered from hearing loss. I hope your visit to the hospital proves to be as positive as mine.

    I went, somewhat reluctantly, after my family started to complain about the volume I needed on the TV and radio. After an examination I was fitted with a hearing aid and given plenty of batteries. I was very pleased with it – nothing like the huge and awkward thing I had imagined. In my health authority, I was loaned the £2000 device for free, and I get free batteries whenever I need them.

    I did experience some difficulty during the first month. I got a chirping sound everytime I listened to music (budgie in ear during Bach). A return visit to the hospital soon fixed the problem, and now I am so grateful that I have it (as are my family). It is so comfortable to wear that sometimes I forget I have it in and go to bed with it. It is only the loud rustling on the pillow that reminds me that I need to take it out.

    The only real problem I have found is wearing it on windy days. It is awful then, so I just pop it out until I get back inside.

    I found it a relief to have it confirmed that I did have a problem, a relief to find that it could be alieviated, and a relief to know that I am now not so much of an inconvenience to my family.

  2. Oh I do sympathise. My father suffers with poor hearing and sometimes we all forget not to get exasperated when we have to keep repeating things. I know he relies a lot on lip-reading and he stuggles a lot in groups in noisy settings eg the pub or when he has a cold.

    My sons have selective bad hearing – they seem able to hear the word “biscuit” from a considerable distance but the words “tidy your room” have to be shouted very loudly indeed.

    I hope that your appointment is useful and that they give you something which works for you – and I don’t mean a megaphone for Tigger.

  3. emalyse says:

    Hearing loss is another of those less apparent disabilities .I lost my perfect hearing on one side some time(in my late 20’s) ago as a result of menieres so I largely have no stereo hearing, can’t pinpoint the location of sounds (fun when the misplaced mobile rings). I partially lip read but am rubbish hearing speech in noisy situations such as by the side of roads, a hubbub of people (supermarkets, pubs, meetings etc) but am OK in a quiet one-to one situation.My partner grew up with a mother with poor hearing and forgets about mine (people always do) ,regularly talking to me from upstairs (I can hear a murmur but not what’s being said) or talks to me when I’m on the phone when my one good ear pressed to the receiver. I’ve gotten used to it and perfected that vacant nod look when somebodies talking at me and I can’t make out what their saying and unable to lip read them (some people insist on talking to you when not actually facing you. I pretty much learned to totally focus on the lips when people talk to me after a did a lip reading course back when my hearing 1st went. I have surround speakers for the telly with the rear set just behind the sofa at ear level which helps me hear without needing excessive volume. My worst experiences are door entry phones on a busy roadway and those bank teller windows. Sadly the expensive digital hearing aids are in a different league to the NHS freebie models though they can help selectively. Hope the appointment goes well.

  4. SilverTiger says:

    To athinkingman: Thanks for your sympathy and encouragement. If ever I receive some sort of audio assistance, I will watch out for windy days! They will be “Speak up, young man!” days 🙂

    To Reluctant Blogger: I understand what you say about your father as even those closest to me sometimes become irritated by me consistently missing jokes or catching a request for help.

    As for “selective deafness”, I have been accused of that too. It is usually unmerited but occasionally justified in the sense that I have a definite “absent-minded professor” mode that I sometimes slide into when thinking about interesting problems.

    People with normal hearing do not always realize that they say different things in different ways. For example, if you know that the other person won’t like what you are about to say, you may adopt a “quietly reasonable” tone of voice and the listener doesn’t hear properly. The listener’s genuine incomprehension may then seem deliberate.

    To emalyse: I see that you experience the same problem with spacial location of sounds that I do. It happened again this morning when Tigger’s phone alarm went off. I wanted to switch it off for her but couldn’t find it. It was in her handbag under some other things, out of sight, and I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from.

    Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes embarrassing, when I completely misunderstand what someone says and my brain obligingly provides the wrong interpretation! (Watch out for “Freudian slips”!)

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