On being Deaf……

I have nerve deafness. I inherited it from my Father, who inherited it from his Mother, who inherited it from one of her parents. I have Tinnitus in both ears ( a whistling in my right ear, a hissing in the left ), and a type of adult glue ear which necessitates a visit to the ENT department at my local hospital every three months. I began to realise I was deaf at the age of 11, when I couldn’t understand completely what my excellent form teacher Mr Williamson was saying. So as not to appear an idiot I would pretend to understand, and as a result when questioned further I would either evade the issue or invent an answer sometimes to hysterically funny results. I can recall my class mates laughing heartily at some of my responses, I greeted their reaction with a mixture of delight(at being the centre of attention)and dreadful embarrassment. Amazingly I passed my 11 plus and was deemed bright enough to go to Grammar school, much to my great chagrin, because all the kids I went to primary school with called me “Swot” and “snob”, and felt it their duty to give me abuse, some physical.

I unconsciously developed the ability to lip read over the early part of my adult life, and despite nagging from both family and close friends I chose to ignore my deafness, fearful of  a proper diagnosis. It wasn’t until the late 90’s when my then girlfriend coerced me into seeing an Audiologist, via a recommendation from my Doctor. I went to the ENT at my local hospital, and my hearing test was conducted inside a wood and glass booth. You’re given what looks like a pair of lightweight headphones, with an extra arm which sits on the front of your skull, to test bone conduction. I sat there for a while, with a “panic button” type device in my hand, which I was told to press when I heard a sound. I waited and waited but couldn’t hear anything. Then various tones came through which I was able to hear. The upshot being I was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss. The Doctor said he’d expect a person of eighty to experience my type of deafness! So what is “moderate” hearing loss? And who decided it was “moderate”? Not a deaf person I bet! Moderately good? Or moderately bad? I suppose the best definition I can find for moderate is “not extreme”.

I tried hearing aids, but it’s so odd being able to hear things that I never had before, like the rustling of my clothes, my foot steps, children playing on the field a way from my house. It changes one’s perceptions dramatically. I simply couldn’t get used to the additional noise, and walking down the street wearing both aids was a nightmare. My balance felt altered, and all the noise and extra sounds disconcerted me so much I couldn’t use them.

Nowadays all of my friends and family understand how deaf I am and are very considerate, tho’ still take the pee from time to time. And I’m no longer afraid to appear stupid by saying “I’m sorry I didn’t hear that”. I don’t feel disabled and realise I’m very lucky compared to some poor souls, but of course my hearing loss has been a serious impediment at times. I realise now my college studies just couldn’t happen, because at Art school the classes were pretty big, in shiny, glassy rooms that clacked and clicked but weren’t conducive to hearing a hapless, struggling and possibly quite pissed lecturer.

It’s remarkable, when you’re deaf people have no qualms about calling you “deafy” or “deaf bastard” or some such. But you never hear them say “you blind bastard” to a blind person or “you disabled bastard”! to the disabled. It’s like being deaf isn’t so much a physical problem but a mental one. As my Pa used to say “I’m deaf, not daft!”, because that’s how a lot of people react to deafness,  it’s something they can’t see so they assume it’s in your head. It’s like deafness is an invisible disability. It’s as if you’re not actually deaf, you’re just being arrogant and can’t be bothered to respond. Or you’re just stupid……

We are the invisible cripples, us deaf folk. I asked a work colleague if she thought deaf people were disabled and she said no. And when I visited the Audiologist recently, I asked her if she thought I was “disabled”, and she said she thought the question was “difficult”. I would say to any body who has doubts, wrap a pillow round your head, so it covers your ears, gaffer tape it in place, then go about your normal day. Then tell me deafness isn’t a disability……


Well I had another hearing test recently with a very nice(and not unattractive!) Audiologist called Barbara. Incidentally if there’s any NHS bods reading this, please let it be known the fitting of hearing aids in a non sound proof room, with every single surface being reflective, is a total no no, a bit like open heart surgery on a rubbish tip. And whoa! be aware, Broomfield hospital is really big and scary. Huge, like MIA or Heathrow, Jumbo jets could easily park in the foyer. It’s “Land of the Giants”! But anyway the upshot of the visit was I now have two very small hearing aids, with tiny earpieces.

Barbara explained that the volume and eq of the aids is totally matched by the computer with your hearing loss. And I’ve got to say, they’re great! I’m still getting used to hearing a ton of top end, but generally they’re fab. Only trouble is, whether I copped it at Broomfield I don’t know, but I have a raging infection, which has just about closed my right ear…….

3 Responses to “On being Deaf……”

  1. You’re amongst good company, notable musicians with a hearing impediment:

    Johnny Ray
    Pete Townsend
    Ryan Adams
    George Martin
    Lars Ulrich

    and of course….

    Brian Wilson!

  2. You’re not alone Tev as Sarah is in the same boat, and like you we have had deaf people around us, Great Nan and my Dad’s Mum were deaf too and as kids we had to learn at quite a young age to sit and face who we were talking too, but I agree quite strongly that being deaf IS A DISABILITY!!

  3. Here’s an update: I recently saw another audiology nurse who described my hearing loss as “severe”, make of that what you will!
    And under orders from Sister Ray, I’ve had my aids fine tuned, and I’m using solid ear moulds now.

    When I had my aids connected to the computer, for the first time in living memory I was shown what it was like to have normal hearing: I nearly jumped out of my skin!

    And the very perceptive audiology nurse said it was fairly obvious to her that I had an aversion/sensitivity to certain sounds and noises……

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