Dentist mission part 1

I was sitting in a waiting room, waiting for an appointment to get a new night guard for my teeth. The type of mouth guard I needed was similar to the ones that boxers or rugby players wear to protect their teeth. This type of dental guard however is custom made, in order to fit individual mouths comfortably. I had been aware of grinding and clenching my teeth whilst sleeping, for at least 15 years, and had recently been waking up in the middle of the night with my teeth clenched tightly together. It was as though my subconscious was intervening and was now warning me when my teeth were engaged in this habit.

I already owned a mouth guard which I wore on my bottom teeth, and which had been made over 10 years ago, when I lived in England. I had worn this guard on and off for many years. In the past, when I went to the dentist, the only question I was ever asked about the guard was whether or not I had one. Nobody ever asked me how old it was. It had been expensive to have made, and I never thought about getting another one. It was only recently after my consultation with the Maxillofacial doctor; who seemed confounded that I had been using the same guard for over 10 years without having it adjusted, checked or replaced, that I realized perhaps I should get a new one. Of course, our faces change with age, as do or jaws and teeth.

The relationship between teeth grinding and clenching, and problems with the temporomandibular jaw joint (TMJ) causing problems with the ear are well documented. Curious that this connection was never mentioned by any of the many ear specialists I had consulted with. Typical symptoms of a TMJ disorder include ‘hearing loss, an earache, tinnitus, a sense of ear fullness, and vertigo’. Hmm I had experienced all of these, and continued to do so with all except the vertigo. I had even read stories of people who had suffered a hearing loss, and then after wearing a night guard for some months, their hearing had gradually returned. I was not hoping for this kind of miracle, but I did have some optimism that a new night guard could help reduce some of the pressure I was feeling in my ears and my head; this being the most difficult of my symptoms to tolerate.

The dentist surgery was in an old style apartment block. The waiting room felt as though it was probably once someone’s living room, many years ago. The room was square and dark padded sofa chairs lined three of the walls. There were no windows, and the walls were a plain dismal-cream colour. Around the bottom of the walls was dark brown skirting. There was a dark coffee table, situated in the space made between the chairs, with Spanish magazines arranged on top, in three piles. It was simply decorated, with two large framed pictures, one on each chair-lined wall. In the far corner, situated up high, near the entrance was a small box TV playing a Spanish soap opera with subtitles and low volume. As well as the low rumble from the TV, jingly-sounding elevator style music attempted to liven up the atmosphere. The surgery had looked so clean and white on the photos on the website. This definitely did not resemble the sterile and shiny images that had been advertised.

The receptionist called me to her office to speak with her. She had a confident, sociable and easy going attitude. I stumbled my way through the general health questions and she corrected my Spanish a few times, each time smiling with friendliness. She was the kind of person who made me feel like she immediately liked me. Perhaps it was the child-like Spanish I was speaking to her. For this appointment I hadn’t prepared any Spanish phrases or helpful vocabulary. I had become accustomed to meeting new specialists, doctors and receptionists, and the taking of basic details didn’t feel too scary anymore. I then went to sit back in the waiting room.

Shortly I was greeted by the guy with whom I had spoken on the phone, who had given me an appointment within 45 minutes of me phoning. He was younger than me, and spoke to me in a mixture of Spanish and American-sounding English, as he lead me to the dentists room. When I entered, I was met by a small old man, who was wearing a medical face mask, dentist overalls, glasses with magnifying mirrors attached, and whose bald head was covered in age spots. He muffled a greeting through his mask, and I wondered what he looked like under the medical disguise. He resembled a little mole, as he shuffled calmly around the room. He asked me why I was there and whether I had had a ‘ferula’ before. Ferula is the Spanish word for mouth guard – this was my new medical Spanish word of the day. He asked me to perform some jaw movements as he felt around my head and under my jawline. He also examined my teeth. He mumbled constantly into his face mask, directing his speech towards his companion. I could only hear and understand a little of what he was saying. The younger dental technician spoke to me in his broken American English and explained that they would need to do an X-ray to make sure the night guard would fit properly, and then they would be able to do the molds of my teeth. After that, the dentist left the room, and that was the last time I saw him during this appointment. The dental technician took me to a room to have the X-ray. Later he filled my mouth with pink putty to form the molds, chatting happily at me whilst my mouth was unable to move. I would return the following week…

Review of my new ear

Receiving my new ear was a positive experience. I was hoping my CROS hearing aid would give me some hearing ability on my left side. I was hoping it was going to give me a chance of hearing some elements of speech on my left side; to help me gain some confidence in communicating with others. I was hoping my CROS hearing aid would provide me with some support with hearing in situations with background noise.

Contra Lateral Routing of Signal (CROS) is a hearing aid technology for people with unilateral hearing. The CROS system is for a user who has relatively normal hearing in one ear and has hearing that can’t be aided in the other. The receiving behind-the-ear device on the deaf side transmits the sound to a device on the good side. The user hears the amplified sound from the deaf side in their good ear. The person hears the sound from the good side naturally in their good ear, without amplification.

I would be trialing the device for three months to see if it would be useful for me. If I decided that it wasn’t helpful, then I would be entitled to a full refund.  The CROS hearing aid technology was relatively new, and I’d read that some people really benefit from their CROS hearing aids. I even read someone’s account saying that, with the aid they were able to hear in background noise, and it was like they didn’t have a deaf side anymore.

I was very happy with the way my new ear looked. The aid components were a similar colour to my hair and if I chose to wear my hair down, they were almost invisible. However, I actually liked other people to see them. When traveling on the Metro for example, I would tuck my hair behind my ears so that they were visible. I liked that my disability could now be seen. Before I received my hearing aids, I had felt some frustration at the fact that people had no visible clue of any difficulties I might be having with communication. But with my new ear, if I failed to react to someone on my deaf side, or didn’t move out of the way for someone, I had a visible reason for my lack of response. This made me feel more relaxed on public transport, and in the city. I didn’t feel like I was constantly looking to my left to check if there was someone there, or if the lips of the person next to me were moving.

The main positive outcome of my new ear was that it was really wonderful to have some sense of hearing again in my deaf ear. If someone was speaking to me on my deaf side, the aid would make a high-pitched distorted sound, similar to a ‘beep’,  for each syllable spoken. These beeps would alert me to turn and focus my attention to my deaf side. Without the aid I would be clueless to the presence of anyone next to me on this side. It was comforting to know that if there was a sound on my deaf side, such as someone speaking, or a car approaching from the left whilst I was crossing a road, then I would be alerted.

I also had some frustrating experiences with my new ear. The component in my deaf ear kept popping out. I would fit the mold correctly inside my ear, and within minutes, the aid would have squeezed its way out, so that it was no longer fitted snugly. This meant that throughout the day, I would keep having to push the mold back into my ear. Also, although I was happy that I would be made aware if someone was speaking on my deaf side, the hearing aid didn’t help me understand speech. The high pitched beeping that occurred in time with spoken syllables became an uncomfortable sensation. After my hearing loss, I had developed a sensitivity to noise, and the aids job was to amplify sound; this obviously did not help my sensitivity situation. I became frustrated because I couldn’t make sense of the beeps. I knew they represented words, but however hard I tried I couldn’t hear any difference in the tones to identify letter sounds or words. My good ear was also hindered. My brain seemed to be paying so much attention to the strange sensations and uncomfortable noises brought on by the introduction of my new ear, that it struggled to concentrate and understand speech. So in effect, the aid actually hindered my ability to follow conversation.

One of my hopes had been for the aid to help me hear better in background noise. This was not the case. The mix of music and chatter experienced in a restaurant was overwhelming for my new ear. It would produce screeching sounds and amplify all the noise I didn’t want to focus on. Going out for a meal for a friend’s birthday with a group of people, was a confidence draining experience. I was only able to focus on one person talking, if I could get close enough to them with my good ear to hear them. This meant that I wasn’t involved in the dynamics of the group chatter. I felt isolated and I resorted to smiling and nodding at people to fake my following of any group discussion or jokes. This is a similar overview of my restaurant experiences with more than one person, when I am not wearing an aid. With the aid, the screeching noises also made it difficult for my good ear to focus on conversation.

The amplification of sound from my new ear of everyday city noise such as motor cycle exhausts, building works and sirens, was at times very uncomfortable. Therefore a walk around the city would result in me opening up my aids or covering them to stop them working when confronted with one of these overly intense sounds. My life in a busy city didn’t seem to be a suitable place for my new ear. The city noises when amplified were just too uncomfortable, and weren’t helpful in aiding me to decode speech or make sense of the noises around me. The only place where the amplification of noise didn’t cause too much noise discomfort was at home…but home was the one place I felt like I didn’t really need to wear my hearing aid. At home I could generally hear OK when speaking with my boyfriend in the relatively quiet environment of our apartment.

There were also some strange experiences. One day, I had fitted the right component of the aid into my ear, when I started to hear what sounded like a radio. I had no idea where the noise was coming from. I thought that it was maybe something to do with the Bluetooth connectivity of the aid. Later I thought that it could have been noise being picked up from the television that was playing in the living room. Another time, I fitted the aids into my ears, and I realized that they felt much better; The sounds being produced seemed more natural and I wasn’t receiving the uncomfortable screeching noises. Then I realized the reason they were feeling more natural, was because the battery had died – The aids weren’t turned on! I was hearing normally in my good ear, but without the interference of the beeping from the device into my deaf ear!

I had willed my new ear to work for me, but it hadn’t provided me the support I had hoped for. After three months of wearing it, I returned my CROS hearing aid. I felt some sadness when saying goodbye to my new ear as it had provided me with some hope.

 

Playing the game: another hospital appointment

Going to a hospital consultation, in a country where I only speak a little of the language, is not dissimilar to my time spent as a child playing adventure games such as Monkey Island, on my old Amiga computer. Yet instead of following the misfortunes of the hapless Guybrush Threepwood as he struggles to become the most infamous pirate in the Caribbean, the focus is on me, an English girl; half-deaf and with limited Spanish, trying to fathom her way around a Spanish hospital system. Yeah, it doesn’t sound as interesting, and it’s not, but it presents a puzzle in itself nonetheless. As in such adventure games there are questions, feelings of apprehension, and puzzles that must be solved before progressing with the story and moving forward in the game.

My game begins with the intense feeling of nervousness whilst sitting in the waiting room. I sit asking myself various questions: Will the specialist speak English? Will they listen to my Spanish and take me seriously, even though I’m obviously not fluent? Will they slow their speech down so I can understand some of the words? Will they be OK with writing down the names of any necessary tests, so that I can go home and Google them? Will I even hear them when they call my name!  My main hope is that they will be patient with me.

The next part of the adventure is the actual consultation. If I am not fortunate enough to meet a specialist who speaks English, I feel the difficulty level increase immediately, and uneasiness starts to claw at me. Trying to make sense of what a specialist is saying, involves me grasping at the words of which I know the meaning of, and putting them together as quickly as I can. Sometimes I find myself listening and trying to concentrate so hard, that I actually end up not concentrating at all. Sometimes I succeed in listening carefully and I manage to understand some words. However, in the time it takes me to make sense of the words, I end up missing the rest of what has been said. On occasions I am handed papers and may be told to take them to another department or area of the hospital, or to use them to inform another member of staff as to the nature of a follow up appointment. The next level follows my journey as I walk around the hospital following signs, and then coming to the realization that I have no idea where I’m going, or why I’m even walking around clutching my paperwork in the first place!

Four weeks after my appointment with the new ENT specialist, I went to the hospital for my referral with the maxillofacial doctor. The upper jaw is referred to as the ‘maxilla’, and the type of doctor I would be seeing, specializes in treating problems related to the hard and soft tissues of the face, mouth, and jaws. I went to the hospital by myself. As usual, my game began with me sitting and waiting anxiously in the waiting room. A mixture of questions were eagerly pushing themselves forward; fighting to be at the forefront of my mind. I scanned the faces in the room. There were people here of all ages. I had found myself sat next to an old man, who kept coughing loudly into a crumpled handkerchief. Whilst battling to ignore the interrogation of persistent questions in my mind, I couldn’t help but glance at a few individuals around me; studying their faces, and wondering why they were here. I’d focus for a while on someone’s features; looking at the shape of their jaw, and assessing the symmetry of their face, until I felt they had sensed my stare, and were about to look back at me. I’d then quickly move my eyes away from my subject.

My name was called, and I walked into a small room. Immediately the specialist started speaking in Spanish. Difficulty level up! I started to answer her questions, and I apologized that my Spanish wasn’t good. She reassured me by saying it was OK. The doctor had a young face, dark hair and radiated compassion. She listened to me as I explained how I had suddenly lost my hearing. She was writing everything down. Then she examined my jaw. She asked me to open my mouth as wide as possible and she felt the joint. She then asked me to close it. I repeated this a few times and she asked if I had any pain in the joints. She placed a tiny piece of card with measurements on, next to my front teeth, and told me my teeth were 3mm to the left, off centre. Then she told me that I was going to do a test. If the results of the test were negative, the treatment would be physiotherapy and wearing a night-time mouth guard. But, if the test showed that I have…then…Oh dear, my skills of following the Spanish conversation were dwindling. I had missed some important information. I told her I didn’t quite understand. She told me not to worry, and the main thing was that first I would need to do the test. I asked her to write down the name of the test and condition she was referring to, so I would be able to research it later at home. Then I was handed some papers and told to go to the receptionist.

Next I went around the corner to the receptionist. As she was speaking to me there was also another woman in the small room, speaking very loudly on the phone. I couldn’t hear my next instructions.  I apologized to the receptionist and said that I didn’t understand and that I couldn’t hear very well. She kindly accompanied me out of the door, handed me some more papers, and directed me to take them to a window down the passage. I thanked her.

Next level. I then walked forwards as far as I could go – which is the direction I was given, and wandered around for a bit. Then it hit me, the moment of realization that I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was supposed to go, or why! I spoke to a nurse who was talking to another nurse in the corridor. She directed me and told me I needed to get a ticket and then go to a window. I walked again in the direction she told me, but didn’t find a ticket machine. Hmm puzzling…I spoke to a man who was sitting at the Information desk in the entrance, and he printed me a ticket. Oh, there wasn’t a ticket machine – this man was in charge of tickets! Then he pointed to the first window and told me I was next. Next for what, I wasn’t sure! I handed the woman behind the glass screen my papers, and she was very patient as she spoke to me. I had to put my ear into the small opening of the glass, so I could hear some of what she was saying. I managed to make appointments for the test and also a follow up appointment. Then I went back to the receptionist in the maxillofacial area, and showed her my papers. She checked them. She seemed happy with my accomplishments and we said our goodbyes.

When I returned home I Googled the words the doctor had written down for me. The ‘gammagrafíatest was a ‘bone scintigraphy‘.  I would be having an injection of a dye of radioactive material. This dye would then travel around my body and emit radiation. Then a camera would take pictures of how much of the dye accumulated in my jaw bones. It was a test to rule out a condition called ‘condylar hyperplasia‘ which is a rare bone disease that affects the jaw bone, and causes asymmetry in the jaw amongst other things.

Anyway…Game over, for this day at least!

My first run – Starting to feel normal again

Six months after experiencing sudden sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear I decided I was ready to go for a run. My body had been through a lot during the past few months. The hearing loss had been a shock. I had felt frightened and helpless. My body had felt like a vessel used for experimentation; exploring the effects of different types of drugs on my condition: anti-inflammatories, nasal sprays, intravenous steroids, intravenous anti-viral medication, injections of steroids through my ear drum and different types of vasodilators. My body had felt delicate and vulnerable; I had experienced side effects of weakness, loss of weight, low blood pressure, tiredness and dizziness. But enough was enough; I wanted to start to feel more normal again. I love running. Running always makes me feel happy. It makes me feel strong. It is also a time where I can completely forget about any worries or unwanted thoughts. I wanted to switch off from the recent past.

I had asked my chiropractor, the week before, as to whether he would recommend that I start running again. I remembered that, when I first met him, nearly 4 months ago, he had asked about what kind of exercise I did. Due to the problems I was having with my neck, he had encouraged me to take a rest from running until my neck was feeling better. At this time, I was also dizzy and taking medicine that my body was struggling with, and so didn’t feel strong enough to able to go running anyway. Yet now I wasn’t too dizzy and I wanted to feel stronger. I missed running and thought it might help cheer me up, and help me on my road to recovery. It was also another thing that I would be able to do for the first time with unilateral hearing – another experience to say I have tried, since living with single-sided deafness.

I waited for a few days after visiting my chiropractor, to go for my run. I wanted my first run to be on a sunny day. I wanted my first run to be a good run. I wanted to wake up, see the sunshine, and be spurred on by the beautiful Madrid weather, to go outside and have a go! I did exactly that. I had checked the weather forecast beforehand and it was going to be a nice day. I got out of bed when my boyfriend had left for work, and I rushed to the window. The sun was shining optimistically in the sky, and I decided today was the day.

Putting on my running clothes, I noticed how my body had changed since I had last worn them in the summer before I lost my hearing. My legs were thinner and my bottom was flatter and my stomach looked small and weak.

I walked briskly for 15 minutes to the nearby running track. It is difficult to run on the streets of Madrid as there are always lots of people around, even during the daytime. I didn’t want to feel vulnerable whilst stuck in the traffic of people. I enjoyed the sun, and breathed the air; taking strong breaths to fill my lungs. I find that when I go running, I realize what a small part of my lungs I actually use during everyday activity. Shallow breathing is a habit of mine, as I am sure it is for many people. It’s almost like we forget to breathe, and it’s actually quite an effort to fill your lungs with every breath, when you’re not used to doing it.

When I got to the track, I was surprised at how many people were there enjoying their morning exercise. I immediately started to run; making sure I was moving slowly and focusing on keeping my shoulders slightly back and good posture. I was listening to a storytelling podcast though my running earphones. I didn’t pay attention to the noise of the tinnitus in my ear that resounds with increased stubbornness when the sounds of the outside world are blocked by ear phones. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I could only hear the story in my right ear. I was purely happy. I was running in the sunshine, enjoying listening to stories. I was feeling normal again.

The only time I thought about my hearing loss and the pressure and tinnitus in my ear, was when I actually realized that I hadn’t thought of these problems.  So the only time I thought about these issues was actually thinking about the absence of thinking of them! Exercise is well known to be a distraction from life’s worries. This was my proof. My first time running with unilateral hearing was a success.

I sent my sister a message later that day, telling her about my achievement. She replied and wrote that she was so glad that I had been for a run and that I was ‘getting my Carlyness back’ 🙂

Day four with my new ear

My boyfriend and I had planned to go to Cercedilla, a nearby mountainous town, an hour from Madrid by train. It is a beautiful town surrounded by nature, and is a perfect place for hiking. We were going there for the day to escape the busyness and noise of the city, and to enjoy a gentle walk in the mountains.

It was day four of wearing my hearing aid. I had already tested out my new ear whilst watching television and whilst walking outside. I was going to use this opportunity to try my new ear in some other, more challenging, situations; the Metro and on a train.

The first test was the Metro. I was standing with my boyfriend on the platform waiting for the train to arrive. Since losing the hearing in my left ear, and gaining a sensitivity to sound, the noise of the Metro approaching the platform can feel painful and unpleasant. I can feel it piercing deep inside my ears. Whilst wearing the hearing aid, this uncomfortable feeling was accentuated and my immediate reaction was to try and cover both ears with my hands in an attempt to soften the noise. When the train was approaching, a guy came to ask us for something. He was speaking to us and making animated gestures with his body. The noise of the train and his voice were processed by my hearing aid and were turned into a harsh series of beeps. I couldn’t understand what the person was saying. Every word he spoke made a metallic beeping sound when it reached my new ear. My boyfriend explained later to me that the guy had first spoken in Spanish. My boyfriend hadn’t understood the guy and had told him he was English; he hadn’t wanted to encourage conversation with the seemingly unsavoury character. The guy then replied in English, expressing to my boyfriend that he wanted to go to a café. I hadn’t comprehended any of this small exchange of words. I hadn’t even realized that the unusual character had spoken in two different languages. All the sounds of the Metro station were amplified in my new ear; the bell sound to signal the train approaching and the screeching noise of the decelerating train. My new ear was supposed to be helping me to hear better in the presence of background noise. This was not the case. The amplification of sounds and the accompanied beeping noises were dominating my listening skills, which in turn was distorting and obstructing the understanding of my good ear. Normally, without any hearing aid, I could have moved closer to the guy who came to speak to us and put my good ear next to him. I would have been able to hear some of what he was saying. The hearing aid had actually hindered any chance I had of following the conversation. I felt a momentary sense of deflation crushing me. Confusingly however, I also felt some optimism. Although the metallic noises I was hearing in my new ear weren’t actual words and although they were distorted and difficult, it was still comforting to hear something; anything in my deaf ear.

Whilst sitting on the Metro I also noticed something positive. I was sat next to a girl who was sitting on my deaf side. She was talking to her friend who was standing up next to her. Normally everything would fall into silence on my deaf side on the Metro, and I would be oblivious to the world to the left of me unless I turned my head to see the activity. But this time, with my new ear, I was faintly aware that the two girls were speaking. Although I couldn’t hear any helpful letter sounds or words, I was hearing a slight beep for each syllable they were speaking.

The second test was the train station. On entering the train station I simultaneously entered my bubble of noise. Noises of train announcements and the chatter of people merged together. In large covered spaces with many sources of noise, the sounds seem to bounce off one another and encircle me; forcing me into my bubble. It is a bubble of misunderstanding and bewilderment. It is a bubble of pressure that dominates the inside of my head and ears. It is a bubble of isolation. My new ear was supposed to be helping me to hear better in the presence of background noise. Again, this was not the case.

As to be expected, the train was also bustling with the chatter of adults, and with the weekend excitement of children’s voices. On the train I opened the battery compartment of my hearing aid on my deaf side, so as to stop my new ear picking up the train noise. I decided that I would prefer my left ear to be in its world of deafness; ignorant to the bustle that surrounded it. I played music from my iPod into my good ear. It was a beautiful sunny day. I’d been avoiding wearing earphones. I’d been avoiding music. It had previously felt too intense in my good ear. But on this day, above all the chatter and train noise, it felt amazing to be listening to music in my little world. On this day, although the tests of my new ear had proved somewhat disappointing, my body was showing me that it was starting to adjust to my unilateral hearing. Being able to listen to music for a short time without too much discomfort was a small but wonderful improvement. It was some encouragement. Small triumphs were spurring me on. During the train ride, with my music playing and the sun shining, and with my view of Spanish countryside whizzing past my window, I was holding back little tears of contentment.

My new ear

A week later I returned to the private hearing healthcare centre to receive my Contra Lateral Routing of Signal (CROS) hearing aid; my new ear!

The audiologist came to greet me, and she took me into the room with the desk, where I had previously had my consultation the week before. She introduced me to another man who was going to be my translator. On meeting him, I did not feel the immediate sense of trust, or reassurance that I had felt with my previous translator. I asked him if he would like to sit down next to me, and he declined; choosing to spend the entire time standing up near the door, where he paced around a small area of floor, occasionally pausing to lean against the wall.

Immediately I was shown the hearing aid. The CROS hearing aid helps one ear, yet comes in two small parts: a single microphone and a single receiver contained in two individual devices. They were the sandy brown colour I had chosen with the guidance of the audiologist. They were very small with clear little tubes and buds on either end to fit into my ear. The first thing the audiologist showed me to do, was how to insert the batteries. She opened a small compartment, pulling gently at the bottom of the aid, and carefully placed in the circular battery. She peeled off the protective sticker that was covering the battery and told me that as soon as the paper was off, the battery would start to use power. I then took the other hearing aid to insert the battery, and copied her demonstration carefully. She told me to open the battery compartment when I take the aids out at bedtime, so as to reduce the power drainage. She fitted them both into my ears, and they were connected to wires and her computer. She then played sounds into my good ear and I had to do the usual test of putting up my hand when I could hear the beeps. Then she did the test of my deaf ear. There was a constant noise that sounded like a fan in the room coming from somewhere I couldn’t identify, and also background noise of people talking outside. It was difficult to focus. I could hear some of the beeps. I occasionally put my hand up when I thought I could hear something but wasn’t sure; due to the background noise distractions. But I could hear some quiet beeps, which was an improvement. She asked me how the hearing aids felt, and I told her that the sounds seemed to be a little too loud. She adjusted the program on the computer and the volume of the hearing aids reduced.

The audiologist then challenged me to insert the aids into my ears, without help, and she handed me a mirror. The right hearing device fitted easily into my ear. The left side however proved much more difficult. Since losing my hearing I have noticed a change in the shape of my left ear. If I put my finger in my ear as far as the little piece of cartilage that covers the entrance to my auditory canal, it feels as though the bony floor of my ear is raised. Hence the small hole that leads to the rest of my ear seems very much reduced in size. I used to wear foam ear plugs in my ears at night to sleep with, as I am a very light sleeper. The ear plugs used to mould and fit easily into my ears, and would stay in place all night. Now, when I try to put a plug into my deaf ear, it is difficult to find a successful position to insert it, and it almost always very quickly pops back out. I failed twice at trying to fit the ear mould of the hearing aid into my left ear. My ear was now red and my hands were shaking nervously as the audiologist and translator watched me intently. I figured out that I had to push the fitting down and then upwards whilst twisting it at the same time, to make sure it was fitted correctly inside my ear. When fitted, the hearing aids could hardly be seen, and the audiologist told me they were invisible.

The translator asked me how I had lost my hearing, and I told my story yet again. He asked the usual questions: Why did it happen? Was I receiving treatment for the pressure? How long ago did it happen? He asked me what my expectations were of the hearing aid: When are my difficult times? How do I think the hearing aid could help me? He commented on how I wasn’t a ‘typical’ customer, who he described as old, with some hearing loss in both ears. He kept telling me to not expect too much. I know that it would have been unprofessional of him to raise my hopes, but he was doing the opposite. He was making me feel naïve in my understanding of  the magnitude of my situation. I wonder if he realised how far I had come in my story. I wonder if he realised how much effort and courage it had taken to walk into the audiologists, make the appointment and talk yet again about what had happened; all in a foreign language… and still keep a smile on my face whilst speaking to them.

With my hearing aids in place, I said my goodbyes and thanked the audiologist and translator for their help. I was to contact my audiologist if I had any questions or needed any help with anything. My next appointment would be in a months time. I was to use the hearing aids for 2 or 3 hours each day for the first week, unless they felt OK, in which case it was fine to wear them all the time through the day.

I left feeling less optimistic than after my first appointment, but I was still hopeful.

The walk home was a noisy adventure. The beep of the traffic lights sounded uncomfortable and distorted. I walked past a big group of students who were all talking and who sounded like screeching bells. At that point I remembered what an old friend of mine told me when he first received his cochlear implant. He told me that the chirping of birds sounded like bells, and the noise of peoples voices sounded like Mickey Mouse. I knew this wasn’t exactly the same type of circumstance, but it was similar. I was sure it would take time to adjust to the new types of sounds I was hearing through the hearing aid. I spent my time on the walk home, pressing the volume button up and down to see which level felt most comfortable.

When I arrived home I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I think I was feeling a little bit in shock. I was also feeling some disappointment due to the fact that the sounds from the aids were making me feel very uncomfortable. I was scared they weren’t going to help me. I was still hopeful though. I was home alone, and wanted to test my new ear by talking to someone.  I kept trying to test the hearing aids out. I clicked my fingers near to my ear, but couldn’t hear the sound. Then I tried playing a YouTube song on my phone – Don’t Think Twice Its Alright, Bob Dylan – holding it to my deaf ear, as if it was a phone call. I could hear some of the song, but I wasn’t sure which ear I was hearing it in though. I wanted someone to call me on my phone to try out my new ear. I waited for my boyfriend to return home from work, eager to have a conversation with him.

Silly Deaf Moments

I am taking another pause from my story to talk about the amusements of being deaf. I am not saying that being deaf in one ear is funny; it’s not – it can be difficult and frustrating. But, if I am able to see some humour in difficult situations, surely it is much healthier than finding distress in them. This is not always easy, as everything still feels very raw to me, and I am still in the process of accepting that I now have unilateral hearing and am coping with the issues this brings. But I aim to start smiling and laughing more, and to see the funny side in what I have started to call my ‘silly deaf moments’; silly things that happen in reaction to everyday occurrences, because I am unable to hear in my left ear. So, here are a few examples of these ‘silly deaf moments’…

One of the first days after experiencing sudden sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear, I was at work and a colleague called my name. My classroom is connected to another classroom by a sliding door. When this door is open, the two rooms turn into one long classroom. I was standing in the middle of both rooms, where the sliding door is situated; talking with two other colleagues. When I heard my name, I turned around to my right, to address my friend who was calling me. Hmm, she wasn’t there. Then I proceeded to look around in confusion to try to locate my colleague. I was spinning around baffled, trying to locate my friend. After a few seconds I found her. She was standing far across the classroom from me, to my left. By the time I had realized where she was, my other colleagues were giggling at me. I started to laugh too, but I felt bewildered. Why hadn’t my colleague been to the right of me, where I thought she was? – after all, that was where I had heard her voice coming from. I later realized, that since I can only hear in my right ear, my brain now assumes that sound is always coming from my right. So, calling my name from any direction will now confuse me, and I will spend a few seconds scouting the area to identify where the voice is coming from. Oh, and if my name is called outside from across the road or street, well I don’t stand much of a chance of having any idea where you are. It would be quicker to come over to me instead! I actually thought that maybe my brain could learn to identify where noises are coming from; maybe using the tone or volume as a clue. But, after understanding my situation more, I realize that sound localization is the job of two ears, not one.

One day, I was sitting on a seat at the end of a row, on the metro. I was thinking that I could hear someone playing the accordion somewhere far down to the right of the train from where I was sitting. I was sitting and feeling relaxed as I tried to focus on the tune that was being played. I saw a woman opposite me looking at something next to me, so I turned to see what had caught her attention. I turned to my left, to where she was looking, only for me to jump up in my seat and letting out a little yelp; startled to see the accordion player was actually standing right next to me, on my deaf side!

There are moments where I fail to respond when I’ve been spoken to, because people have addressed me from my deaf side. I have been seeing a chiropractor recently (something I will talk about more in future posts) and one morning I was standing in the waiting area; waiting for my name to be called. The waiting area is a small corridor and serves a few small private practices; each one occupying a single room. It was busy, and there was a low rumble of chatting voices. As all the seats were occupied, I had positioned myself so that I was standing near my chiropractor’s door. I had waited a while, and turned around and was surprised to see my chiropractor standing there next to his door, looking a bit awkward. I hadn’t expected anyone to be there and my body jumped up slightly in surprise.  I could see his mouth moving, and as I turned so that my hearing ear was facing him, I realized he was calling my name. I have no idea how long he’d been trying to get my attention! His office was to the left of me, and so I was never going to be able to hear him call my name.

Another time where I didn’t respond was when I was in England and I went to get my eyebrows shaped. I was with my sister in a busy shopping centre in a department store. We were surrounded by a disarray of sounds. There was loud nightclub-style music playing and the sound of people talking too. I was greeted by the lady who was going to shape my eyebrows, and I sat down in the chair. My sister went to look around the shop, and so I was alone with the lady. A few seconds later I turned to my left and realized the woman was talking to me! She looked exasperated and was asking me to sit further back in the chair. I immediately shuffled back and out from my mouth the words, “I can’t hear in this ear!” burst out apologetically. In the moment I felt quite upset, but looking back now I wonder how long she had been waiting for me to move back in the chair. I wonder what she must have been thinking about me when I not only failed to respond to her instruction, but didn’t even look at her for quite some time!

One of the most ironic situations is that of waiting for an appointment with an ENT specialist in the hospital. It is a small waiting area that is usually bursting with people. When you approach the waiting area you are greeted by the loud roar of an industrial-sounding fan. In this waiting area, the sound seems to be bouncing from wall to wall; sounds of the fan, people’s words, shouting from nurses, and the slamming of consultation room doors. The patients sit on the edge of their seats. If the patients have similar struggles to me, I am guessing they are all trying desperately hard to hear the nurse when they call their name above the muddle of noises that surround them. Nobody wants to miss their name being called. Usually the wait to see a specialist is at least an hour and appointments are scarce. This is the chance to speak about issues that may be ongoing, painful, upsetting, frustrating – you don’t want to miss your name being called and miss your chance to speak with the specialist. One day an old lady asked me to tell her when her name was called. I explained to her that I too was also hearing impaired and finding it difficult to hear anything. We both agreed to tell each other if either of us thought one of our names may been called! I wonder why the ENT specialist rooms are positioned in the corridor with the fan. I wonder why they chose such a small enclosed space.  I wonder why the nurses haven’t thought of writing the next patient’s name on a piece of paper which they could then display as they shout the names; so that people with hearing impairments could read their names if they fail to hear them. Or even better, invest in a LED message sign display with the patients names displayed.

More recently, I went for lunch in a restaurant with my boyfriend.  I went to the toilet and was washing my hands. It was a small bathroom, and there were two toilets side-by-side and a sink positioned slightly in front of the entrance to one of the toilets. I was alone in the bathroom…well, so I thought. I spent some time washing my hands and looking at my teeth in the mirror. After a couple of minutes, I thought I saw something from the corner of my left eye. I turned around, and was startled to see that there was a woman watching my sink routine! The poor lady must have been in the toilet cubicle, and was now trapped in the doorway, unable to leave the cubicle because I was unwittingly blocking her way out! I hadn’t known she was in that toilet. I hadn’t heard her open the toilet door. I hadn’t heard if she had asked me to give her space to exit the cubicle. I hadn’t even acknowledged her until the moment I turned around in bemusement!

My life is now full of these ‘silly deaf moments’, and there are obviously going to be many more of them. I wonder when the next one will be, and what will happen?!