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.