I’ve been half deaf this past week, from an ear infection; probably not even half, more like a quarter. Not so much deaf as ‘hard of hearing’ - and it’s much harder than I imagined.
Monday morning: zipped into office persona, click-clack efficient, not really me, but I’m good at pretending. When I pick up the phone I hear a muffled murmur. What? sorry? could you…? Tired from a night of sleep disturbed by pain, I drop the phone while transferring it from my blocked right ear to my good left ear. I NEVER hold the phone to my left ear; it feels all wrong. Every reflex of automatic, easy functioning in the world protests.
My friend, my good friend at work, comes in looking anxious and intense. Closes the door behind her. Something on her mind. It’s often not easy to move from professional mode to ‘really talking’, but today it’s much more difficult than usual. Unclear consonants slide away and I keep saying: what did you say? I can see she thinks it’s her strong Russian accent, that it must be extra strong today for some reason. She peters to a halt, embarrassed, undermined. It’s not you. It’s me. My ear’s blocked. She’s unconvinced. Meaningful conversation fails to flower.
So, here we are, in the early evening, at the Buddhist Centre. Diamonds of sunlight blink on the carpet inside the circle of cushions and dapple the Buddha’s bronze belly. I want to breathe softly and stroke all of it, all of us, with gentle fingertips. After meditation, we move into pairs to talk about a rather deep, subtle issue raised by the teacher. I haven’t met this woman next to me before, and I like the look of her. I’d like to say something warm and perceptive that sends her home feeling heard, attended to, with food for thought. But here, surrounded by half a dozen other sotto voce conversations, I can barely distinguish her words at all. So it’s mostly what? again, drawing all her puzzled, sympathetic attention to myself, and having to explain: it’s my ear… I’m not comfortable introducing a stranger to my ear. It provokes all kinds of vulnerable, embarrassed feelings.
What? - the week’s refrain. Think of it as the Zen koan: what is this? Many answers; no answer. Well, it’s more than I thought; a small thing, but its impact far from small. Coming up hard against habits and emotions, it’s been one of those fleeting, interesting glimpses the sick or injured able have of disability. We say we didn’t realise, we’ll remember this… and usually we don’t.
¶ 12:04 pm
How awful! Whenever people pose the rhetorical question "Would you rather be deaf or blind," I always think I'd prefer to lose my sight than my hearing. Hearing is so vital to human interaction, and unlike sight it's a 3-dimensional sense, bringing clues from all over one's environment.
Hope you're hearing better soon, Jean. In the meantime, take a lesson from my dad who uses his hearing loss to tune out my mom pretty effectively. Sometimes it can be a blessing not to hear everything. ;-)
Yeah. It does have a huge impact on what I do and try to do socially and professionally, and my hearing is not very bad; in some ranges (including that of most women's voices) it's as close to normal as no matter. But it makes telephones and softspoken men very difficult to deal with. I basically understand about every third word from them. So I do a lot of guessing. I'm good at that sort of guessing, (and also at making non-commital noises of encouragement), but even so I'm bound to guess wrong a lot. Much of the work of my company gets done in phone conferences -- I feel really crippled in that regard.
Thank you for writing this. It was a relief to read it.
Lorianne and Leslee, thanks! My ear has stopped hurting, but is still rather deaf. It's not been serious, just, well, interesting...
Dale, I'm glad you appreciated what I wrote. I didn't know you had poor hearing. I guess it's not something that comes up when you get to know someone on line, is it? You have mentioned that you hate the phone, but not that that was the reason. I have poor eyesight and good hearing, and also had a relationship with someone whose sight was deteriorating seriously, so I'm much more sensitised to issues of sight, and hearing is something I take for granted and have little awareness about. Maybe we should all talk about these things more. But there is a limit to how much we want to talk about our own problems - it can both be difficult and get boring. A higher level of general awareness - not just that various common disabilities exist, but of their implications and variations, is also important.
The sensitive and beautiful way you describe what having an ear infection is like in regards to being-in-the-world, connecting to others in the giving, quietly radiant way that you do, the frustrations with it, sensitizes all of us to what being hearing-impaired might be like. I do hope, however, that your hearing returns soon. Though it sounds like you've been doing a much deeper listening and hearing on a much larger scale... xo
Brenda, hmm, sensitive is not the same as giving. I rather felt, really, that my strong reactions to this experience were not particularly to my credit. All the incidents I described were about how invested I was in making the 'right impression' on someone! I guess, though, that that's as much too hard on myself as you're too kind. Most of our impulses are a wondrous mixture of self-centred and generous.
As someone with major hearing loss since early childhood, I can really empathize with your experience, Jean. And with what Dale says - the new phones, especially cell phones are the bane of my life. Hearing aids are pretty good thee days, but never replicate real hearing exactly. Another reason I like blogging and email! And I value eyesight far far more, though I have a deep seated fear that one day I'll be both deaf and blind.