A deaf person is like a computer in someways. We are never at our best in the morning and you can almost see the blue circle over our heads going round and round as we boot ourselves up in the morning! It may seem strange to people who aren’t deaf, but us deafies do actually require a short amount of time to spark into life. I’m not talking about the usual morning grogginess everyone has when waking up, that is shared by people whatever their disabilities or non disabilities may be. But from a deaf persons perspective, our brain actually needs a bit longer to adjust from sleepiness to alertness. This is because during the night when many hearing aid/cochlea implant users take out their devices, we enter into a world of complete silence.
I’ve mentioned before in an earlier blog how I love this as it means I pretty much get a decent nights sleep (as long as I’m not worrying away about life and can’t sleep as I am currently! 🙄). For me this silent world at night is the time for me to wind down for the day. It’s hard to describe to people who have no hearing problems because it’s second nature and something you just do naturally, you hear sound,process it and react accordingly. But for me and other deaf people it works differently, because hearing aids (or cochlear implants) are not perfect and we know this, when I hear a sound, I’m trying to make an instantaneous guess to what the word was if it’s someone talking, harder than you think with a lot of letters and words sounding the same to me. Because of that I have to replay the conversation as a whole in my head and hazard what a word or words were which makes the most sense in the context of the conversation. Bare in mind the other person may not know about my deafness (it’s not something we tend to open conversations with on meeting new people!) and they are stood there looking at me expectantly or in a strange way wondering why I’m stood there with a glazed look on my face! Sometimes if the person is a clear speaker (pronounces their words well with their lips) this conversation lag (using the computer analogy deaf people’s hearing and talking is like the old dial up compared to broadband people who aren’t deaf!) is normally not so bad and I can get away with it. Other times it is a real struggle,especially in a group conversation when I’m trying to process different overlapping voices and lips at the same time,which has in the past led me to entering the conversation about two subjects back! Think the funniest time (we have to laugh at our disability and not let it win even though it can be hard!) is when me and a bunch of friends were on a night out and had got talking about how we eat takeaway food, I.e. Do we use our fingers or do we use cutlery. Now lots of people were talking during this question so I in my head had to process what was said before coming up with “well I use forks personally” not realising the conversation had moved onto another topic entirely! I can’t remember fully but I think it had moved onto the state of all our relationships and whether we had any current girlfriend/boyfriend and general state of our sex life. So for me to come in on that topic of conversation with “I use forks personally” must have had my friends thinking I had some kind of freakish sexual fork fetish! Luckily after the complete look of shock on their faces and the gales of laughter they had realised I hadn’t heard that part of the conversation and after realising my faux pas I was able to join in with the laughter (this was an evening which would actually be remembered for years after 🙄). But this is my life every day, and having to take that bit longer to process sound and analyse it is more tiring then you think. As well as the sound I’m lipreading so I’m constantly straining my eyes on the persons lips (have been given strange looks for that but that’s another story!) to match the words to the lips (if you ever want to know if a movie has been dubbed, no matter how good they may have done it ask a deaf person because we will always spot it!). While talking we also have the general sounds you get outside so I’m having to try and concentrate on the conversation while simultaneously hearing sounds around me to make sure I’m safe I.e. People approaching me from behind or cars etc etc. This inevitable fails though, which is why if you do approach me from behind and tap me on the shoulder while I’m not looking I will let out a scream and jump in the air (handy deaf awareness tip here, if you know someone who is deaf or spot someone wearing hearing aids and wish to get their attention, where possible come from the front or side so we can see you in our peripheral vision know someone is coming. If this isn’t possible then tap..the key word being tap.. the shoulder whilst being at arms length. Banging a shoulder is a sure fire way to nearly giving me or that person a heart attack because we are obviously not expecting it,but at least the tap is the lesser of the two evils. And I say be at arms length because if we get tapped/banged on the shoulder and turn around and see someone close to our personal space,the first thing we’re going to think is that we are on the verge of being mugged! The distance will go someway to reassuring us the opposite).
All of this though means by the time evening comes, I’m shattered! I can almost feel my brain whirring away, and when I wear my hearing aids for nearly 16 hours or more a day (proves how little sleep I’m getting lately) by the time I get to bedtime I’m relishing the time to take my hearing aids out. The sudden silence is almost equal to a sudden explosion of sound in a strange way. From the creaks of the house, cars driving by,sirens blaring pass to nothing in one fell swoop.
Which brings me in a very convoluted loop (always got told at school I spent too much time explaining stories or theories without getting to the point!) to waking up in the morning. After a number of hours of silent sleep, when I wake up, my brain has again adapted to a silent world overall. So my normal process which I can currently get away with as I live alone, is to wake up and walk to bathroom or make breakfast etc and then put my hearing aids in. This is so my visual and physical senses have had the chance to wake up without the added shock of having sounds suddenly rushing so I’m having to process too much information straight away which is completely disorientating.
Instantly though like a computer, I analyse the sound coming into the hearing aid in order to assess if they are working correctly. My modern hearing aids normally lets off a long drawn out beep (only I can hear it) which warns me when the battery is running low but gives me time to find some batteries in which to replace them. But I do occasionally (ok..regularly!!) forget this warning and the hearing aid sound quality will get worse. There are other elements to the hearing aid workings and what may affect the sound quality coming in, from the mould tube connecting the round the ear device to the mould in the ear having got blocked with moisture (or more yucky..ear wax..rare for me thankfully as I’m religious about cleaning my ears every day,something everyone should do!) which traps air and stops sound getting through to the weather filters having got grimed up through everyday usage. So as well as being computers running our own diagnostics on the hearing aids we also have to be technicians in being able to try and make a lot of repairs ourselves.
A couple of weeks ago though my hearing aid on my left ear developed an inferiority complex and wouldn’t immediately turn on upon switching on. So one day it took only a few days longer to turn on,the next day it too about 10 minutes! There was one occasion when I was on the phone and it switched itself off mid conversation which was a panic as the other person was still talking and I had to quickly turn the headset over to the other ear! Needless to say I recognised this wasn’t anything I would be able to “fix” myself so had to set up an appointment with my audiology department. These days this is a lovely quick process. On the old analogue hearing aid days I’d have to take over half a day off from school/college because the process usually want getting the hearing aid checked in a small machine for feedback levels, getting the technician to take it apart and finding any obvious faults and then getting a new aid which would then have to go through the process of being put in a machine to get feedback levels before a lot of faffing about making what seemed endless adjustments with a tiny screwdriver until the sounds seemed ok! These days the hearing aids are digital and the hospital has a record of your most up to date hearing levels based on recent tests. So upon my describing the problems I had been experiencing, the audiologist simply went to the storage room, got two brand new aids, plugged them to the computer which downloaded my hearing details and adjusted the levels to my requirements and it was done, total time taken? 15 minutes from entering the hospital to leaving! Compare that to the 5 hours in the past!
However and this is the crux of today’s post, it once again is my hearing aid woes. Guidance stipulates that the average behind the ear hearing aid normally should last 5-6 years. The hearing aids I have just been given? They are my 3rd set in a year! Just to make clear,I’m not on a self destruct mode with them,seeing how many I can break in a certain period of time, I recognise that they cost the NHS a lot of money and that I’m very lucky in that I am able to currently get them free. However once again my hearing aid woes comes from the fact the manufacturers seem to think deaf people lead sheltered lives and that we must sit down all day not moving! I’m your typical bloke who loves running, and loves going out walking in the countryside etc etc, basically leading a normal life. But because the hearing aids aren’t waterproof I have to adapt,which is understandable, I don’t go swimming in them or have a shower in them for example. But I think it’s unfair I can’t lead a normal life with people who aren’t deaf. When I go running I want to keep the hearing aids in without fear that once I start sweating the hearing aids are just going to crash. I want to be able to just go out without having each morning to do a full day weather forecast research to determine whether I need to wear my hoodies or need a hat to carry round on the off chance of it raining. Because doing that winds me up daft as it seems. It makes me feel less “normal” because I’m having to go outside “normal” behaviour just so I can try and do thugs with friends. I still find it amazing that we have technology which can film under the sea in small go pro yet still can’t design any hearing aid which doesn’t cut out at the slightest bit of water!
Although I do feel a bit guilty at going through so many hearing aids, I’m afraid right now Phonak if you read this,I shall not be changing my life for you! I already told the audiologist at the hospital “see you in another few months” in an ironical manner! And although my hearing aids don’t last long at all, at least I know they have been part of a normal fun life, running across amazing countryside and being with great friends! Maybe I should invent some tiny umbrellas to fix onto them in the man time??