Alex Writes About My Hearing Loss


I am happy to bring today a guest post by Alexandra Robin. She is my soulmate.

At this moment starting to write this I’m distracted by the television with the volume turned way up. A rooster is crowing outside. My fingers are bouncing away on my keyboard and I hear the tapping on the soft keys. I pour another cup of coffee, hear the slurp of the French Press and the sound of my cup filling like notes moving up a scale. Very faintly I hear the fan on my laptop, a sound that I generally tune out. Someone is running water and I easily place its location in the bathroom down the hall. Birds twitter outside the open window somewhere. The stretched spring of the kitchen door out to the garage squeaks open and closed. The door of the car thunks closed out there.

My life has always been filled with sound. Mom and Dad met at the The Juilliard School of Music, where she studied classical piano and he was the sound engineer. Mom taught piano while she was pregnant with me, I still imagine the muffled sounds of Brahms and Rachmaninoff, Chopsticks and Hot Crossed Buns. As a kid I remember days lying on our blue couch, tired from a day of playing outside, listening to Mom accompanying Dad on his viola.

Dad’s career moved onto writing, producing, and directing educational films. When I was about eight I got to be in one. It is called “Forces Make Forms,” and it introduces junior high school-aged children to physics and the concept of how the energy of a physical force creates a form as its result. It is a beautiful montage of many examples of this such as a child moving arms and legs to create an angel in the snow, and an ice cube dropped in a hot pan bouncing from side to side finally disappearing with a sizzle. It won a film festival award for “Most Educational.”

My voice ended the film. My dad recorded me and an oscilloscope got center stage. He had me say the words, “Forces make forms” using three different styles of emphasis: “FORCES make forms.” “Forces make FORMS.” “Forces make forms?” The audience watches the oscilloscope change form with the inflection of my voice.

In college I studied broadcast communication. I worked at the college radio stations at both universities I attended, then went on to work in television production for a few years after graduating. I could spend hours in those college days, going around town and recording every-day things as sound effects, mixing tracks back in the control room putting radio shows together for class, creating Public Service Announcements, and doing endless on-air radio shifts. I got very familiar with the sound of my voice through headphones and how loud to speak to someone in the room when the headphones muffled my hearing.

Enter the love of my life: my soulmate Kenny McCarthy, a man who is essentially deaf without his hearing aids.

Dad taught me a sense of wonder mixed with the intelligence to think about the nuances that may result in the physical world. As I type this last sentence, Kenny has sat down across the table from me without his hearing aids and he started to watch an YouTube video on his iPhone and the music is blasting! Not until typing half-way through this do I realize he doesn’t even know there was sound let alone realize that I’m now dealing with the distraction of the blasting TV behind me and his music in front of me! Had he known, he would have shut it down immediately. He is a writer himself and knows distraction. With grace, not frustration I smile. How apropos.

So imagine not being able to hear your own voice, your own cough, blowing your nose, a knife slicing an apple, or walking through the gravel. I know I use my hearing to have a sense of the heat of a stove burner when I’m cooking. If I couldn’t hear, I’d have to retrain myself how to fry an egg.

Now imagine the people closest to you not considering anything deeper than a surface reaction responding to your lack of hearing with with statements like, “I told you yesterday!” or “You never listen!” or after asking what was said being told, “Forget it.” or even, “You heard me… I know you heard me!”

People have told me that thought Kenny was arrogant, yet knowing him personally I know this is far from the truth. He will continue talking in conversation when hearing people would stop and allow the other to interject in the pace of conversation. The other day I realized that the moment a hearing person hears the other start to speak and allows the conversation to flow is probably shorter than the time it takes Kenny to process that sound, so he’ll continue talking. His voice then covers up the sound of the other’s voice and he never heard the interjection in the first place. Hearing people consider this rude when there was no intention of such.

Try sticking earphones in your ears and have every sound amplified through them for an entire day. Not only to experience what hearing loss feels like, but to experience just having something stuck in your ears for an extended period of time. Go outside and listen to the birds and the wind chimes on your back patio, the truck driving down the street a block away. Go to a trendy echoing wine tasting room and have a conversation when another group of four or five loud adults are celebrating one of their birthdays. Ride a bike. Kenny is a rider. He rides in rain, hail, snow and wind, but he won’t hear it. I can’t fathom this.

Kenny doesn’t use sign language. He taught himself to read lips. We were having a summer dinner on the patio last year when I told the kids so and they didn’t believe me. At the time I had known Kenny for less than a year. So they tested him and they were amazed. They had no idea. What this told me was these kids had never been educated nor given a sense of compassion to understand what it was for their dad to be deaf. I hear their frustration, yelling at him as if he were a hearing person who was ignoring them, negligent, or didn’t care. I’ve heard them complain when he asks to have a window closed in the car as if he’s being mean or bossy when it only has to do with not being able to hear the conversation with the wind blasting. To their credit they will use a louder voice as needed if his hearing aids aren’t in, but I see that they have little sense that not hearing isn’t as simple as turning up the radio. This isn’t their fault. I just see it as a loss of learning about a caring love for a parent; not sympathy, just taking the time to step outside of oneself.

About twelve years ago a co-worker of mine was given a cochlear implant. He was 32 years old at the time and had been deaf from birth. He said the first thing he heard waking up out of surgery was his wife saying, “Hi Honey, I love you.” I was able to witness the before and after of this amazing event. He explained to us how he had to educate his brain to hear, to learn how to place sound in a noisy room. He said it was exhausting.

I remember things by saying them out loud. If I want to remember a phone number I say it aloud and then I can rely on my ears to remember it. I may even say something in rhythm to help this along. The same goes for speaking Spanish. Mexican friends say my accent is perfect. I’ve always figured this was a result of my well-trained music brain. Kenny is a voracious reader and has been his entire life. His reading speed and rate of comprehension would put Evelyn Wood to shame. His vocabulary is huge, yet he has to memorize how to pronounce words. Words like “conscious” and “conscientious” get mixed up. It’s not that he doesn’t know the definition of each. It’s sound. The two words are very similar. And when we can hear the difference he has read the difference and has then has to memorize the definitions and phonetic pronunciation rules of each.

At the end of the day, Kenny will remove his hearing aids and exhale a huge sigh of relief. He’ll give his head a little shake as if to clear out the last rattles of distraction. He’ll lean back, open the MacBook and read in the peaceful quiet of his own mind.

The Audiology test you are seeing was done in 2003. I’ve lost another 15dB since then.