In late October Nigel and I were on holiday in Ethiopia. It was a group holiday, which isn’t a great idea when you are really struggling with your hearing, but it had been booked and paid for prior to the hearing decline of 2017 described in earlier posts. Overall, we had a fantastic time, but mealtimes were a nightmare. I could talk to one person at a time in a quiet location, but when other people joined the conversation I was lost. Put me round a table with a dozen people chatting to each other and it was utterly hopeless.
One lunchtime, it all became too much. I was desperately trying to get a foothold in the conversation…..well actually not even that….things started to go badly wrong when I tried to order a soft drink. I wanted a Coke, but the waiter seemed to be saying they didn’t have any, so I said I’d have a mineral water. Nigel asked why I’d asked for water when he thought I wanted a Coke. “Because they don’t have any”, I said, but, just then, Cokes started arriving for other people. The waiter had been saying they didn’t have Diet Cokes. This was obviously not the end of the world but, on top of days and days of misunderstandings, endless repeats and sitting mute at mealtimes, it felt like another kick in the teeth.
Still, I gathered myself together. A few minutes later I made an attempt to respond to some conversational gambit, completely misunderstood what had been said (again!) and burst into tears. Yes, readers, I cried. Of course, it’s not the first time my hearing loss has made me tearful but it’s only Nigel, or occasionally very close friends, who see it. I have never before started crying in a public place with a group of people I barely know. I’m just not a bursting-into-tears sort of person. To be honest, most of the tears on this occasion were shed in the restaurant garden, beside the toilets, whence I fled in an attempt to regain composure. My famed resilience (I’m proud of my doggedness) had gone. Just gone.
Now it’s December. A week after switch-on it was the archaeology group’s Christmas lunch. I’m a committee member of this group; archaeology and local history are big passions of mine. I’d not booked a place at the lunch, because it seemed absurdly optimistic that I could cope with a group meal so soon. However, I was keen to see my friends again (I’d missed a couple of meetings because of the operation) so I arranged to meet them at the venue for coffee. I arrived, a place at the table had been left for me, I sat down and……I started talking to people. I could talk to the people on either side of me, and the person opposite, and those at 45 degrees, even amidst the hubbub of twenty five people conversing happily away.
I couldn’t understand greetings winging their way to me from further down the table, I had to ask for some repeats and I was lip reading BUT people said things to me and I correctly deciphered them and said sensible things back. I had quite long conversations, about fairly complicated things. Believe me this is the most massive breakthrough (just compare Ethiopia). Coming only a week after switch on it was extraordinary.
Back home, I’ve got lots of homework to do. Some of the homework consists of Nigel helping me to practice differentiating certain sounds (especially the consonants I’ve not been hearing) without lip reading. So, to differentiate the “f” sound, for example, Nigel will read out a sentence including one of “say” or “safe”, or “fight” and “might”, from a long list provided by the Speech and Language Therapists, and I have to say which it is. I find it very hard work; after about 15 minutes I’m exhausted. Then there are websites providing similar exercises. These are even harder because Nigel will pronounce the words very clearly whereas the people on the websites are sometimes talking more naturally and rapidly. I suspect that my brain is also rebelling against not being able to lip read. It’s so used to lip reading I think it panics when it can’t see a face.
So there’s a long way to go yet. Nigel is still having to repeat himself quite a lot (although, we think, less than before……). In a shop with him the other day I couldn’t follow the quick chat and banter between him and the people serving us. Passing dog walkers sometimes say things that mystify me (nothing new there).
But I’ll leave you with a happy story. Last Saturday afternoon, Nigel and I were sat at the kitchen table writing Christmas cards. Interspersed with writing messages and addressing enveIopes I might say “do you have Andy and Jenny’s new address?” or “are we still sending one to your cousin Rodney?” Nigel might say “right, I’ve done these, pass me the stamps”. After a while I looked at him and said “hey, look at us, we are writing cards, and chatting, and I’m relaxed and I’m hearing you”. We had a little hug (and our eyes were a little wet). Slowly regaining the ability to do what everyone else takes for granted is the best thing of all