Saturday, December 01, 2007

Can You Hear The Crickets? - a short autobiography about me

The following is a short article I have written to submit to the ALDA Winter 2008 newsletter issue. It is a true story of when my hearing loss started. Submissions for the article are about how denial played a part in my hearing loss.

Can You Hear The Crickets?

By Rebecca Dufek

By the time my hearing loss became apparent I had been suffering early signs for months but passed them off as something else. I remember I was only 26 years old which is the age of my baby sister 10 years my junior. It was inconceivable to me at the time that someone so young could lose his/her hearing. After all, only the elderly succumb to hearing loss as some do failing eyesight as we age, right? Wrong! As I came to find over the next 2 years how mistaken I was.

It all began rather slowly where it was easy to attribute my hearing loss to another source. Reaching way back in my mind the first sign of my hearing starting to fade was while on the phone. I worked in a lab and sometimes I would talk to my husband from the lab’s cordless phone. Every so often I would misunderstand what he said and my reasoning would be a poor quality phone. We also owned a cordless phone which I had trouble hearing on prior to that experience. My thought was that the technology just was not perfected yet for cordless telecommunications devices and that is why I could not make out certain words here and there.

After that I have a vague memory of people telling me I had a hearing problem or was not understanding them. I cannot get into detail because that was part of the denial. The denial was so deep at that point that my specific recollection of those instances have been nearly erased. When denial happens one just wants to forget about it or hope that it goes away. I remember the few times when it was brought to my attention that I did not believe it. I probably though the person was nuts.

I grew up in the rural Midwest where there are summertime fireflies buzzing around and nighttime crickets chirping. The chirping was so loud that the sound could pierce right through my closed bedroom window. From listening to their high pitch music over all those years it was a normal expectation for me to hear which I did not give much thought to. Subconsciously my mind anticipated the loud hum of chirping crickets with my normal daily routine. Then one summer evening at our rental in West Seattle (the city) it became apparent to me that it was unlikely I was hearing crickets in the rain. I began to search around in the bedroom apartment leading out into the yard to see if a cricket had found its way inside to seek shelter from the soggy outside. None were to be found! It then dawned on me that I had never seen a cricket in Seattle since I had moved here a year prior. So what was the chirping sound that I was hearing all the time?

After that experience it was sort of forgotten again until one day I noticed a volume fluctuation while watching TV in the same apartment. I was lying on the couch with my right ear mashed into a pillow. Because I was having difficulty hearing the TV, I turned up the volume. I had to turn it pretty high and therefore concluded that the volume on the TV must be broken. Eventually I tired of the position and it was time to switch to the other side. When I did so, I noticed that the TV was now really loud. I was absolutely shocked! I now had confirmation that there was something wrong with the hearing in my left ear! How could this be? I was only in my 20s. I was still a spring chicken.

That was the year 1997. Even with the very obvious TV volume incident I still did nothing for a couple years. During those years I recall things that were easy for me to understand getting more difficult (people with foreign accents, soft spoken women, and phone conversations). At one point I was required to apply for my own job (which I did not get) when I worked as an office temp downtown. It was incredibly embarrassing as I was interviewed by 3 female directors who were all soft spoken it seemed. If one of them happened to be rustling with the paper the interview questions were on, I could not understand what was asked. I had to request them to repeat the question and then they all gave each other “the look”. You know what I am talking about. The look that says you are not on top of your game or playing with a full deck.

After that humbling experience I realized there was a problem and was slow to take action. First thing I needed to do was get insurance which I did at the end of that year. Then it took me another year to get a hearing test and yet another to get my one and only hearing aide in April 2000.

Basically my hearing loss was in both ears (left worse than right and the sound signal so distorted it could not be improved with a hearing aide). I came to learn that the hearing loss was due to tumors in my brain on both acoustic nerves which would continue to grow killing the nerves until I reached inevitable deafness. That was a rather large blow to accept. Not only did I have hearing loss at a very young age but I also had a bunch of tumors in my head to worry about.

Once I got over the 3 weeks of hating wearing a hearing aide and accepting that I needed it at that point to function with society, things moved rather rapidly. Yet I still went through another stage and phase of denial. Back then I could handle being hard of hearing but deaf I could not. If deafness was mentioned it was a sad time for me. I cried often and could not tolerate it if someone mentioned learning sign language. I was introduced to an ALDA group but I did not feel I needed it because I was not deaf. Further, how could those without tumors understand what I was going through?

It took a good year before I finally started to warm up to the idea of learning sign language. My husband convinced me that sign language would be a good skill to use so we could communicate under the water while scuba diving and we could also have our own “secret” language while in the midst of hearing people who do not know sign. Seeing I was young and still in career age, I found a counselor and decided to go back to school. In fall 2001, I took my first sign language class with my other classes at the community college. Interestingly, there was only one other hard of hearing lady in the class with me. All of the other students were hearing and this is how it has been for the 7 sign language courses I have taken over the years.

My choice of study this time around was teaching. I had planned to apply for graduate school at the University of Washington. One of the prerequisites for the program was to have volunteer teaching experience. While I was actively assisting with high school science programs, I also decided to explore working with kids who have hearing loss. I met a teacher who had a similar fate to mine and had made the transition from being an elementary teacher of hearing students to a kindergarten teacher using ASL with deaf students.

The teacher and her commitment were wonderful. However, it was too much for me to bear in that phase of my hearing loss. One young boy in particular had just lost his hearing and so frustrated with his grief of his former hearing self that he acted out. For him, communicating in sign language was so painful and the loss so new that he would not sit and learn. Several times the teacher’s assistant had to take him outside. I could feel his anguish and hurt like a piercing dagger to my heart as I could see aspects of myself in him and relate. It was hard to sit through the class as his emotions brought out mine and tore me up inside.

When I finally did go completely deaf (not profound with residual hearing), it was sort of uneventful as I had grieved about it for so long. It was kind of relieving that it was finally here and I could get on with the next phase of life. What was hard was dealing with the denial of other people grieving my hearing self and not accepting the now fully evolved deaf me. As I had to adapt when I was hard of hearing, I had to learn to become deaf with the new me. At one point my husband told me “Life is going to go on. It does not stop for you.” At first I was kind of mad but it was true. Time does not stop. Life does not stop. You can choose to accept it, deal with it, and forge ahead or you can sit on the sidelines while life passes you by. The point is that life is actually rather short. You have once chance in life to make it the best.

1 comment:

Have Myelin? said...

That is so true what your husband said-“Life is going to go on. It does not stop for you.”

I am deaf and was diagnosed with MS a year and a half ago.

It seems life both speeds by like a speeding train, yet at the same time slows down as if frozen in space. Odd.