Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why I'm Wearing My Hearing Aids

This morning I will act in an independent film called Neutral. I, like all the other actors in this, have a small part. It is a pastiche of some 100 lives. I play a mother who waxes surreal freely with her son then suddenly blocks his flow. I am wearing a black dress and heels because I'm supposed to look like I've come from a teacher conference to discuss my son's behavior. I'm also wearing my Phonak hearing aids.

I gave birth without wearing my hearing aids. I went through my pregnancy without them. When I was actually in labor, though, I realized I couldn't hear what the doctor was telling me to do. I was strapped to a table, or it felt I was, by these electrodes guaging my and my baby's heartbeat and I couldn't hear what people were saying to me (except my mother, who always talks carefully to me). It was a feeling of being out of control because I was so controlled--by the machinery (the electrode belts), by the absence of the machinery (the hearing aids).

In the final hour of 16 hours of labor the doctor spoke orders to me from behind the blue blanket stretched between my legs. My mother translated what she said, meaning she repeated them so I could read her lips. But I was exhausted and eventually just closed my eyes and let the voices go. Inside the dark, I asked my daughter to tell me what to do. An idyllic forest scene appeared and in it was a little rabbit. The rabbit hopped to the left, I pushed to the left. The rabbit hopped to the right, I pushed the right. And in this way, following this little rabbit, I delivered my child 45 minutes before the doctor had predicted.

I'm wearing my hearing aids today so I can hear the directions I'm given.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Speech Banana

There are things I don't hear anymore. Some of these are bird songs, the wind in the trees on a balmy day, and rain. Also on this list are weedwackers more than a hundred meters away and the sound of my name spoken by someone who isn't looking directly at me. I don't hear music in my yoga class. I don't hear my teacher's voice.

If I put in my hearing aids I can hear these things louder than you can. Especially the weedwacker, and the music in yoga class is often louder than my teacher's voice.

I cannot communicate without my hearing aids in. But I can still hear the sound of the human voice. I can hear a few of the words, but this is not enough to follow the flow of what someone is saying. On my audiogram, there are three frequencies in which I dip into "severe" hearing loss. There are three in which I am mildly or moderately deafened. The marks on my audiogram fall just below or far below something called the speech banana. This is a gray area between 30 and 60 decibels at which speech sounds occur. I can make out some of the speech sounds and not others. When I lipread, or speechread, my imagination and experience with mouthspeech compensates for my loss of the speech banana. When I am wearing my hearing aids, I lipread very well. It's fatiguing because it requires so many different ways of paying attention, not the least of which is a kind of telepathy.

When I first heard my audiologist talk about the speech banana, I cracked up. But it was the first metaphor I'd learned pertaining to hearing loss. The other metaphor is "cookie bite" refering to the audiogram of a sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve deafness. Audiology is a very abstract science, and I am very a concrete thinker. I was grateful for the metaphors. My hope in writing about this transition is to create more metaphors about it, so losing this particular sense will make a bit more sense.

The Sound of a Particular Music

I am thinking of my favorite listening experiences. I have not thought of this before, of breaking down my life experiences into the sense they pleased. In terms of gustatory experience, a particular bowl of potato leek soup served me in a restaurant on a rainy day in Montreal comes to mind. Visual experiences: Lauterbrunnen valley in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland in June. Tactile? a particular rain I felt in Florence one night I was locked out of the Ostello Camerata for coming back too late, having spent the evening romping with Jorn and Russell (from South Africa) and Maritza (from Chicago). The rain was thick and almost warm. Jorn kissed me in it; that might have helped drive it into my "best of" memories. Olfactory and Auditory are a bit more specific, more difficult for me to name. Olfactory? Best smell ever? Something about when the Spring temperature hits a particular feel and mixes with a perfect kind of blue in the sky, more specifically, that one morning after my 8th birthday in Toronto and Bethy and I walked to school wearing our matching white capes. Best sonic experience? Now, I can name it.

I was in London in the Fall of 1989; the Berlin Wall was coming down but I was in London. I'd wandered into St. Pauls to kill some time (and I hear Sam Beckett retort: but who wants their time dead?) between lunch at Whitbread and evening curtain at the Barbican. I sat in the pews of the choir stalls, thinking that was a place other tourists were sitting. But they weren't other tourists. They were people there to attend vespers. All the tourists, I realized as men in robes began to appear through secret little doorways facing our stall, had been ushered out. And Midsummernight's Dream started in 20 minutes. So I broke all protocol--stood and made my apologetic way back to the black and white marble of the nave. I was a third of the way to the door Christopher Wren's masterpiece when the choir blocked the light of the exit. Men, countless men, draped in black and white robes and processing in two collumns, all singing the deep baritone of the Gregorian nature. Their song filled the dome, filled the engravings of John Donne's tomb, pressed into the grooves of the wood of the pews, and I stood there in the aisle, the opposite of a bride, headed out in my green woolen coat, my blue wool hat, and these singing men walked past on either side of me.

Outside again in the gray chill, it took a moment for me to recognize all the other sounds of the world, which in that moment, meant nothing.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Dawn of Deafness


I found out I was losing my hearing when I was 31 years old. Later that year, I broke off with one boyfriend, met another, traveled to China, came back, got pregnant, got married and the next year I gave birth, got divorced, and started to accept the fact that I was going deaf because now I was a parent and I was terrified I couldn't hear my daughter cry.

It can turn your life around, this losing a sense. And although I know the teachings of Buddha and Christ and so many other great teachers tend very much in favor of overcoming our attachment to the senses, I never realized how attached to hearing I was.

There are dimensions I hadn't thought about. The first, the second--what are they? and the third? I know the fourth is time. Is one of the others sound? It ought to be. Sound ought to be one of our dimensions because as I lose it I feel the world has grown thinner. A layer has come off.