By Karen Putz / Lipreading Mom Guest Blogger
I was born with hearing in the so-called “normal” range. I started losing my hearing in elementary school and received my first hearing aid when I was nine. I hated the thing. No one ever saw it, because I kept it hidden under my long hair, or stuffed in my pocket. The hearing aid didn’t help much, it merely amplified the scrambled sounds into my brain. My lipreading skills began developing as a survival tactic when I was a teen.
I hid my hearing loss every chance I could get. I played the bluffing game, feigning complete understanding when I didn’t have a clue what was said. I nodded, I laughed, I smiled in group situations while missing jokes and friendly banter. It was a lonely existence at times.
Shortly after celebrating my nineteenth birthday, I went out for a barefoot water ski run. I loved barefoot water skiing. Nothing could compare to the feeling of skimming on top of the water on my own feet. I turned to cross the wake, caught a toe and went slamming into the water.
In an instant, I went from hard of hearing to deaf.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be a blessing. Of course, at the time, it was anything but a blessing. I was heavy into denial. It’s just temporary, my hearing will come back. I remember the morning that I realized it wasn’t coming back. I was loading the car, preparing to leave for Northern Illinois University and I went back into the house for a final time, to grab my purse. I stood near the door and it hit me.
What if my hearing never comes back?
My mom asked me if I was ready to go. I started to cry. I didn’t know what to do. I told her how I felt and the tears kept pouring down. My mom started to cry too. “You don’t have to go, you know. You can stay home and get a job.”
But I knew that if I didn’t walk through that door, I would never have the courage to face life. Staying home would be the easy way out. Staying home was safe. I wanted more out of life.
So I dried the tears, walked out the door and when I arrived on campus, I faced another challenge: I discovered that they put me in the “deaf and hard of hearing” dorm. “Oh, that’s not for me,” I told the front desk. “I want to be in a ‘regular’ dorm.” It was too late to change it.
“Give it a try,” my mom said. “You might meet someone and make new friends. Go into this with an open mind.”
I was terrified. I didn’t know American Sign Language (ASL) and now I would be surrounded by it. A stranger in a foreign land, I thought. But from the first day, I found some friends, kind souls who took me in gently and introduced me to this new world. Nighttime was a different story.
Cloaked in the darkness, I cried myself to sleep.
Every single night.
I struggled in my classes. Trying to lip read a walking professor across a stage was an impossible feat. I took to borrowing notes and studying books to get through each class. My grades suffered, not only from lack of communication access, but from the excessive partying that accompanies a new student. I discovered that I could catch bits of American Sign Language much easier after a few beers.
Then one day, I had an epiphany.
I could either continue to be miserable and grieve over the hearing loss—or I could move on and become the best darn deaf person I could possibly be. I pulled my hair into a ponytail, slapped on the hearing aid, and went out in public display for the first time in my life. I marched into the disability office, returned the useless FM equipment and scheduled interpreters for every class. I decided to lipread the interpreters until I could become fluent in American Sign Language.
That day, being deaf became a blessing. That was the day I learned to accept myself. That was the day I learned to rejoice in the journey and celebrate the new path that had opened up: a path filled with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing friends– a path filled with the beauty of American Sign Language.
And at the age of 44, I finally came full circle: I took up barefoot water skiing again.
Internationally known author and speaker Karen Putz blogs all over the Web at Deaf Mom World, Deaf HHCareer, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Now, and Disaboom. She is a sought-after public speaker and founder of the hearing loss advocacy group Hands & Voices. Visit her at KarenPutz.com.
Do you have a comment for Karen? Post it below.
Karen has and always will be an inspiration to me in the deaf world. She continues to inspire me to become a better deaf woman. Thank you for this post. And thanks to Karen for being awesome!
Kym – I agree with you. I had the good fortune to meet Karen last year at a speaking event. She is bright, sincere, and motivating…a definite role model.
Thank you, Kym–inspire it forward! 🙂
Reblogged this on Another Boomer Blog and commented:
This is an absolutely “must read” for anyone who is hard of hearing, a late deafened adult or the family member or friend of an individual who is seriously hard of hearing or a late deafened adult. Brava to Ms. Karen Putz!
Thank you so much for sharing on your blog!
You’re welcome. And thank you so much for the article! 🙂
Fabulous blog. Facebooked. Reblogged.
Marsha – Thanks for reblogging. Karen Putz is amazing.
OK, I normally read and don’t say much but his discussion is drawing me out. I need some advice. I have progressive hearing loss that is at a level now it is really becoming a problem. Tell me about your experiences with T-Coils and FM systems. Positive and negative. It looks like you have already walked through the valley I am entering.
I am getting conflicting stories from my “team” of professionals. I just received new upgraded hearing aids and they are much better than the old ones. They are FM compatible and they have a T-coil installed to help me with the phone but it was picking up RF noise and making all kinds noise. The audiologist just said yeah sometimes that happens so she just turned it off and told me to hold the phone on top of the hearing aids and that should help. Well it doesn’t and I look like an idiot when I’m on the phone in public. It looks like I am beating myself up with my phone. Up. Down, Up, Down, on my face.
[ when you finish laughing read on ]
I have a real problem with woman’s voices. My loss is more pronounced on the high frequency end and I have tinnitus also.
On the flip side of this conversation my councilor at the state, “Who is Deaf” found out and got upset and not only wants them to fix the T-coil, she wants me to get an FM loop to carry when I am working for the speaker to wear. (I am an Interpreter in education).
When there is ambient noise it is a problem not to mention when the speaker is across the room and there are others talking between me and the speaker then their voices cancel out the speaker.
It seems to me like all this technology is not helping as much as I’d hoped. I can see both sides of the story. Either struggle through or walk around looking like R2-D2 from Star Wars. I think I have reached a frustrating level of this journey. Advice?
Terps Tube – You have my understanding and empathy. Finding the right technology for your hearing situation can be daunting…but there are plenty of resources to help you navigate through. I would suggest first visiting the Hearing Loss Association of America site (www.hearingloss.org) and searching its listing of chapters in your area. You can connect with other people with hearing loss and find out what technology worked best for them. Connecting with local people who are hard of hearing has been so important in me understanding my hearing situation.
If any blog readers have additional comments, please share them here.
I hope you find the info you need soon, Terps.
terpstube, have you considered a cochlear implant? My daughter’s loss is like yours and she received one implant for her deafer ear three years ago. It has helped her considerably when the hearing aids sort of stopped working. She considers it part of who she is now. (I have to say, phones–still–don’t work for her. Sooner or later I suspect she’ll use a cell phone to text like crazy but she’s only 9.) While I have not experienced your situation I have limited understanding of it, and I do know it is hard. Good luck.
Ah, the frustrating dance of technology! Have you tried an iComm plugged into your phone? You may want to get a second opinion from a different audiologist and explore more of the options. Since your loss is progressive, you may also be at a point where the hearing aids can’t deliver what you need. The tinnitus– oh boy, been there!!! My worse bouts have always come after significant drops in hearing.
If the student is already using an FM system, it would be easy enough to add you into the system. If the student isn’t using one already, then the challenge comes from getting the mic passed around so you can hear everyone well enough to interpret.
You may be able to solve this with more exploration of technology so you can continue to interpret or you may also be at a crossroads where you’ll have to explore other options in the educational setting which would be less reliant on the ability to hear well.
Kudos to you for reaching out on the journey– you’re not alone. 🙂
Thanks for everyone’s feedback on this subject. It is a learning curve. Everyone has been so nice. I just figured out one of the reasons I find this blog and Deaf-Insight so interesting. It’s a “safe environment”. Hmm, interesting. First time I ever felt like I needed one.
I need to start a learning curve journal.
On a lighter note.
I did something this morning I never thought I would. My new hearing aids are great but they get wet really easy and shut off if I start sweating. I do a lot of work out in the heat and being in Texas is does get hot. It was 107 yesterday.
I called my audiologist, again, and asked if they make any kind of protective covers for that. She said sure and referred me to eargear.com
Well this morning I bought RAIN COATS for me hearing aids! SERIOUSLY?
I must start a journal?
Very lovely story …thanks for share your experiences with us …I always enjoy good bit of news… Thank again
Janet – Karen does share an inspiring story, doesn’t she? Thank you for reading and commenting. Blessings, Shanna
Thank you, Janet!
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Karen, tremendous. Thanks for sharing your story.
Jvc – And thank you for reading. 🙂
Thank you, JCV!
Great post! In a way, I can relate…my variant is that it isn’t deafness itself that’s a blessing, it’s the acceptance of it that is.
Caroline, you’re right, that acceptance is indeed a blessing!
We talked recently about the Deaf Mentor program through H&V. Well, I looked for your blog today and this post really stood out to me. I remember going through a similar process myself. I am so thankful that you have become a spokesperson for Deaf/HH families through this. 🙂
Thanks, Jennifer! I look forward to the new program we’re working on!
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It take courage to move forward after losing something you’ve known your entire life. I hope I never lose what hearing I have left. But if I do at least I’m prepared for that. But then again hearing technology and science continues to make miraculous gains. What counts is what you can get out of life instead of being a prisoner.
Mike – That is so very true. It times time to accepting the loss of hearing…and when we do, doors can open. You and I are living proof of it!
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