I am more than 60 percent deaf. That’s not a real thing, just so you know — percentages of hearing loss. In reality, hearing loss is a spectrum that no clear-cut percentage can explain.
The last time I heard this explained in-depth to me, I was six years old — repeating the word “hot dog” watching my mom’s face lose all of its color because the test administrator was saying “airplane.” It was a frightening experience, actually, to genuinely want to “pass a test” that you are incapable of preparing for.
I remember asking her afterward if I “did it right,” and she just smiled and said, “you did the best you could.”
So the closest thing to a scientific explanation I could give you is that in the tone ranges where speech happens most often (mid-range frequencies vs. high-pitch or low-pitch sounds), sounds have to be at 60 decibels of volume for me to process and understand the sounds I am hearing.
It’s called “moderate-to-severe hearing loss” on my chart.
I’m sure an audiologist out there would freak at the inaccuracy of what I just said. But that’s the best I can do.
The point is … I can hear sound just fine. I just can’t process or separate distinctions enough to understand what I’m hearing. So when you yell, “Do you understand the words that are comin’ outta my mouth?” like Chris Tucker, I will say, “What was that?”
My hearing loss is genetic and degenerative — meaning she got it from her mama and it’s gonna get worse. Eventually, I’ll hear constant sound or white noise, but won’t be able to distinguish words or separate sounds.
That’s all fine.
It’s happening slowly, so I have time to adjust, as it gets worse.
Despite all of what I just said, I am a high functioning human being. I do okay on the phone. Some people I hear better than others based on the way they annunciate or the tonal quality of their voice. Sometimes I say, “yeah…” and hope that I won’t receive a pop-quiz on what was said later.
But I hear best, like most people, in-person and face-to-face.
Even at my best, in the most ideal situation, however, there are non-verbal cues that are completely lost on me:
- Eye-contact. I can guarantee you that I don’t know what color your eyes are and I’ve likely never seen them, not really anyway. I spend 97 percent of conversations staring at people’s lips trying to string together phrases between what I see and what I hear.
- And another thing — I’ve noticed I have the ability to make people very self-conscious when they’re talking to me. They think they have something in between their two front teeth, their lips are chapped, their teeth aren’t straight enough, or they have a peanut butter schmear in the corner of their lips. And maybe sometimes they do. But I’m not looking for that. I don’t judge people based on what I see when I’m trying to make up for my own deficiencies. I’m not thinking about that cracked pepper wedged in between your fangs … I’m concentrating on sound.
- Hand gestures or other visual things happening outside of people’s mouths. I can’t multitask that way. I’ve got one prerogative — and it’s listening.
On the other hand, and the reason I don’t freak out about the loss at all — I pick up on some non-verbal cues like a sleuth:
- Slight changes in tone. I am really listening to you. I pick up on slight elevations of tone or drops in tone … I realize quickly when people are nervous, uncomfortable, dishonest, interested in what I’m saying, lost in what I’m saying, sarcastic, etc.
- You have my full attention. There is no multitasking when I’m listening. I can’t do anything other than listen and process what you are saying to me. You have both of my ears, however dysfunctional they are.
I can read lips from across a room. People who know are often more deliberate in the way they communicate with me — saying only what needs to be said and only after they’ve thought about the most concise way to say it.
People can be bitches about it. I hear the phrase, “What are you, deaf?” on a weekly basis, at least. Yeah, I’m fucking deaf. Who’s the asshole now?
It is really, really hard to have patience when you have to repeat yourself. I see people losing patience quickly with me when they have to repeat themselves. And I lose patience when I have to repeat myself. My thought is — oh no, not you too. Between the two of us having to repeat everything we say, we’ll be done with this conversation sometime in March.
I miss things. It’s just going to happen. I’m going to not hear something. I’m going to sound rude when I don’t respond to questions directed at me that I didn’t hear.
The only real downfall is that someday I won’t hear at all. People who have hearing loss are significantly statistically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. That sucks. But there’s not much I can do about it now.