Hey! What are ya? Deaf in one ear?

13 06 2009

The long and short of it
I’ve had about a 20% overall hearing loss since I was a toddler, and although my parents bought me a hearing aid when I was about seven or eight years old, I wore it just a few times and gave it up, much to their dismay. Then I lost the hearing in my right ear in the spring of 1993 due to some known and unknown causes (years of scar tissue build up in the ear canal caused the stapes to no longer work or something medical-technical-ish). It most certainly wasn’t an easy row to hoe at first (have you ever seen an x-ray of your skull? Talk about surreal. Gone are fantasies of immortality when you witness your skeleton).

I eventually adjusted to life without hearing in that ear. So now I had a 20% loss in the “good” ear and no hearing at all in the other. The biggest problem I have with the complete loss in my right ear is that when I do hear something, I can’t tell what direction the sound is coming from. I assume it’s coming from my left side! This causes me to do a lot of spinning around to locate the source. And this happens regardless of whether I’m wearing a hearing aid in the “good” ear. People with normal hearing can talk on the phone and when one ear gets tired, they can move the phone to the other. I haven’t been able to do that for 16 years.

Imagine what it’s like when someone wants to share a secret with me and starts whispering in the “bad” ear. Yep, it will remain a secret that way, that’s for sure. If I don’t hear it, I can’t spread the word anyway, now can I? It’s foolproof! (And a note to all my friends—Sue, in particular—who are sensitive to my hearing loss and always accommodate me by being on the left side or facing me when they’re talking without my asking—I sincerely thank you for those thoughtful gestures.) I also get overwhelmed if there is too much noise because I can’t block any of it out as a normal-hearing person would—there’s just too much distraction and I can’t focus on what I do want to hear.

Humor on the high seas
Fast forward just a few years after I lost the hearing in my right ear. I’m on a Caribbean cruise with my friend Norma and we meet two gals and end up spending time hanging out with them at dinner and other social events. One evening we’re sitting around in a semi-circle in the piano bar and I’m listening to Norma, who is on my left (the good ear), talking away. One of our newfound friends is trying to talk to me on my “bad” side and for obvious reasons I can’t hear her. (#1. Got no hearing in that ear, lady and #2. I’m engrossed in conversation with Norma, so I’m focused on that task). She knows I’m listening to Norma, though.

Eventually she taps me on the shoulder and asks, “Hey! What are ya? Deaf in one ear? I’m trying to talk to you!” I realized she phrased the question that way in jest, of course, but imagine the look of horror on her face when I turned to reply, “Ummmm…yes, as a matter of fact, I am deaf in one ear.”

What are the odds of that happening again? She spent the rest of the evening apologizing profusely.