I suffer from an all too common affliction that effects roughly 35 million adults in the US alone. It has no pink ribbons, no foundations, no telethons or advertising campaigns, and no one is even doing anything to cure it. I’m talking about Can’t Hear Shit Syndrome.
As an infant, I had pneumococcal meningitis, a bacterial inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It is among the most life-threatening major forms of meningitis. Serious business. My heart stopped many times and I nearly died forever. From the link:
Damage to the brain and other parts of the nervous system can also cause severe learning difficulties, problems with movement and coordination that can be as severe as cerebral palsy and paralysis, speech and language problems, epilepsy and visual impairment. Hearing loss is probably the most common serious physical after effect. Approximately 21% of children who survive pneumococcal meningitis have some degree of hearing impairment.
When I was a baby, the mortality rate was nearly 50% for pneumococcal meningitis and the main course of treatment was penicillin, which I am allergic to. It’s amazing that I’m alive at all and even more amazing that I survived without most of those side effects, but I am among the 21%. I am nearly deaf in my right ear and partially deaf in my left ear. I have no idea what regular hearing is supposed to sound like, but it seems to me that the rest of you can hear a lot better than I do. I almost wish I was entirely deaf in my right ear, because the hearing that I do have is terrible. My right ear only hears background noises.
The absolute worst situation for me is sitting in a busy restaurant with background music. I cannot hear at all what the people at my table are saying, but I can hear Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time or whatever the hell unnecessary music you’re playing just to mess with me, you stupid restaurant, as if I’m wearing headphones. Why do we need music in restaurants anyway?
I can’t hear conversations at my table and I definitely cannot hear the waiter. If the waiter asks me a question, I’m done for. Usually, I have to ask the person I’m seated with what the waiter said. If I ask the waiter, I still won’t be able to hear him because he’ll just mumble it again, and the people I am with are probably more familiar with my particular brand of FAIL hearing so they can cut to the chase better.
When I was a kid, they tried fitting me for a hearing aid, but it just made it worse. With the hearing aid, I could hear background noises from three miles away instead of one, but I still couldn’t hear what was going on right in front of my face. Well, that’s just great. Throughout school, I had to sit in front of the class like a total suck-up, because I couldn’t hear the teachers if they turned their backs to write on the board.
Being partly deaf, you’d think I’d be really awesome at lip-reading, but I am not. In fact, I am so terrible at it that I’d rather people just send me a paper airplane or text message. I think my family either forgot that I was deaf or they just didn’t want me to feel/be abnormal, because they basically ignored it and I never got any assistance with lip-reading. I wish I had taken a lip-reading class or something. Life would be a lot easier.
It is universally agreed that, even if you are stone deaf, you are only allowed to ask someone to repeat themselves three times. I don’t think this is quite fair since some people are bad at repeating things. Some people, when asked to repeat themselves, don’t increase the volume or up the pronunciation. These people will just repeat the same thing I couldn’t hear the first time again in the same, impossible to hear tone of voice.
Other people will selectively guess which part of their sentence you didn’t hear. “It’s crowded in here tonight.” “What?” “I said, in here tonight.” Gee, thanks, Sherlock, for sniffing out the only part of your sentence that I did actually hear or could probably have inferred by the rest of it.
Other people will rephrase. “It’s crowded in here tonight.” “What?” ” I said, it’s very busy.” “What?” “Never mind.” Oh, how I hate “never mind.” That means the person has decided you are not worthy of hearing whatever it was they said. You are a deaf outsider now, unwelcome in the hearing world, because whoever was talking to you refuses to speak up.
Anyway, It’s not that I don’t understand what the sentence “it’s crowded in here tonight” means. I do understand the meaning of all of those words. Really, I do. The problem is not comprehension; it is that I did not hear you. I’m sitting here, trying my very hardest to hear the word or words I did not hear. In an effort to refrain from having you repeat something three times, I will skip over words like “it’s” and “in” and try my damnedest to hone in on the word “crowded.” When you go rephrasing the sentence and skip the word “crowded” altogether, well, that doesn’t help me, because now I have to start over from scratch, yet somehow the three-repeat rule is still in effect. I now have two strikes, even though the first pitch didn’t count.
Being deaf isn’t all bad though. It has given me something I like to call Creative Listening Skills. For example, one of my coworkers just called me on speakerphone. Oh, how I hate the speakerphone. My background hearing kicks in on speakerphones, too, so that I can hear the other person breathing and typing on a keyboard, but not at all what they’re saying. Hearing what is being said is kind of the whole point. They’re not called “Breatherphones.” Do not put me on speakerphone. I cannot hear anything.
Anyway, my coworker asked me if I had “the blue locals that flew Afghanistan.” “What?” “Do you tan the glue focals?” I asked her to repeat it the three allowed times and when I still heard something like “nude go-gos,” I said I’d just walk the ten goddamn feet to her office.
“Do you have the new logos that you’ve been working on?” Ohhhh, not nude go-gos, glue focals or blue locals, but new logos. That makes so much more sense than asking me about Afghanistan!
Creative Listening Skills can sometimes be hilarious. Using CLS is also a sly way around the three-repeat rule. If I still can’t hear what the person said the third time, I’ll just repeat what I heard using Creative Listening Skills. “It’s crowded in here tonight.” “Fifth clouded adhere indict?” It usually elicits a laugh, clues them into the exact part of the sentence I missed and makes them repeat it again, thereby forgoing the three-repeat rule. Sneaky fish.
Do me a favor, if someone asks you to repeat something, just assume that they’re partially deaf and repeat the same words with the same intonation, but slower and louder. Thank you in advance.