Late Deafened - A Personal Story of Hearing Loss

Pat Carter began life as a hearing person. interviewed her about her journey going from being fully hearing to being deaf. It was not an easy journey for her, but it has certainly been an interesting one.

Able to Hear

Q: What was it like being able to hear?

A: I used hearing not only for communication but also to distinguish activity. I would stop and listen to determine what was happening or being said.

I remember how hearing caused reactions before the reason was known. I remember laughter would make you smile even though you didn't know why. On the other hand, I remember how fear and concern could come from screams and cries.

In the hearing world, words take on different meaning with sound. "You don't mean that" can mean "I am sorry that happened" when said with a low somber tone, or "you are teasing me" when said with a lilt to the voice, or "you know you really don't feel that way" when said with concern. Sound was the base for establishing atmosphere and the emotional direction of my communication with other people.

Q: When you were hearing, did you know any deaf or hard of hearing people?

A: As a child, I had a grandfather who wore hearing aids connected to a box in a halter. If I wanted something, I put my hands on his face so he would look at me. He reached for that box and "turned us off" when were too noisy or he wanted some solitude.

While still hearing, I had the opportunity to meet and make some new friends, and these wonderful friends just happened to be deaf. They taught me how to speak with my hands. As long as I was able to hear, I acted as a "personal interpreter" for all these friends. My friends would have me tag along even when a certified interpreter was doing the actual translating.

From these friends, and from civic activities, I made more friends within the deaf community.

Q: What were you able to do when you were hearing that you can not do now?

A: Most things I did as a hearing person, I continue to do now. There are some "little things," though, that I really miss. I miss being able to do my banking or order food from a drive-in window. I miss waking up to birds singing. I miss being able to hear the sirens on emergency vehicles.

Most of all, I miss the ability to function in large groups. My family and friends always teased me because my pet phrase was "let's get a group together to do ...." Now, because communication in groups is so difficult, I shy away from events where many people gather and prefer the company of just a few at any time. I miss going to the movies or theater with my family and friends, or being able to hear my grandson in a school program. I miss hearing store Christmas music.

Hard of Hearing

Q: When did you start having a hearing loss?

A: I started noticing a hearing loss around the age of 35.

Q: How did you react to beginning to lose your hearing? Do you know what caused it to start?

A: When I was 31, I had my second bout with cancer, and this time radiation was used.

I was told my hearing might be affected "ever so slightly." Each time, I was treated with both cobalt implants and x-ray radiation treatments. Studies soon found that deafness was occurring at an earlier age for people that were treated with cobalt implants.

When my hearing started to deteriorate about four years later, my reaction was frustration. I accused my young son of not answering me when the problem was really that I could not hear his soft voice. I felt my husband was shutting me out because he was "talking under his breath in mumbles" in order to keep from talking to me. It was hard for me to distinguish that there was anything different about my hearing.

Looking back, I realize now how short-tempered and irrational it made me at times.

Q: How long were you hard of hearing?

A: I started with a very mild hearing loss at around age 35, and it continued to deteriorate until I lost my ability to comprehend voices at about age 52. For approximately 17 years, my hearing passed through all the various hard of hearing stages of adjustment and decibel loss.

Q: Was there any impact on your social life when you began losing your hearing?

A: The impact on my social life was tremendous. I was an organizing, planning, meet-the-challenge extrovert. As my hearing deteriorated and my responses often did not fit conversation, I became embarrassed, self-conscious and introverted. I stopped expressing my opinions at work, and withdrew from family members and friends.

Accepting Being Hard of Hearing

Q: What were your first steps in accepting this new reality?

I [attended] a class on hearing impairment and American Sign Language. Dr. Laurence Hayes of the deaf services and interpreting program of Eastern University conducted the class. The first day, he told me I needed to sit where I could see him, and said nothing else. The second day, he started asking questions about my hearing loss, which I was embarrassed to answer. That afternoon, before class was over, Dr. Hayes asked me in front of everyone, "What are you doing about your hearing loss? What changes are you making yourself to make your life better?"

I never realized that I had a responsibility to make my life better. The next day, I announced that I had a hearing problem, but if they gave me a chance, they would find I was a terrific person. The extrovert was back!

Hearing Aids

Q: Did you get a hearing aid? Did it help?

A: By the time I decided I needed hearing aids, I was already starting sentences with "Huh?" I was missing conversation, and it was hindering me socially and at work.

I had lost so much hearing that I was shocked the first day of wearing aids. Driving away from the audiologist, I thought I would go nuts from the traffic noise. I sat outside that night until the wee hours listening to the birds and then the night sounds of insects, frogs and barking dogs. I again loved being around people but hated eating in restaurants at first, because I was so conscious of the background noise of plates clanging and silverware striking dishes.

Read More of Pat's Story:

Part Two: Becoming Deaf and Seeking Support
Part Three: Life As a Deaf Person

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