While still in my early 20’s, a friend of mine looked at me one day and said, “You really need to get your hearing tested!!” I had known for years that hearing came hard for me, and hearing loss runs in my family. But this statement really hit me with the reality of how obvious my handicap really was to others.
I called and made an appointment for a test and looked at the graph in dismay. I had no idea what it meant, and the tech didn’t explain anything to me either. All I had was a test result with a graph on it and a tech who said I have hearing loss. So for the next 20 years or so I continued my silent, noisy life, having no idea I actually had developed quite the skill of lip-reading.
Later, while in my early 40’s, I had another hearing test done. After my test, which took quite a long time, the tech looked at me in dismay and exclaimed (as though he’d discovered gold or something), “You have a reverse slope!!!” I had no idea what that meant, but as he explained it, I burst into tears!! I wasn’t crazy after all! There really WAS a reason for my silent, noisy world! I discovered that my low-frequency hearing, which is where most voice tones are, was right at the border of being categorized as “severely hearing impaired”, while my high-frequency hearing capability was way above normal.
I was born with something called “Reverse Slope Hearing Loss” (RSHL). Most people have never heard of it, and many hearing instrument specialists don’t know how to deal with it. Typical hearing loss that comes with aging or noise exposure causes loss of the ability to hear high frequency tones, while retaining more of the ability to hear the low tones. But RSHL is just the opposite. The high frequency tones are clearly heard, while the low tones are nearly inaudible to some of us.
So what does this mean? Well, practically speaking, in terms of every day life stuff, it means that soft spoken people are nearly impossible for me to hear, while I am the first one to know when hummingbirds arrive in the spring because their “chirp” is so high pitched. It means when people whistle or clap their hands suddenly, it is painful, though I may have no idea what they just said to me. It means I’ve gone through life having people think I’m lying about my hearing loss because the cricket in the corner of the room is driving me nuts, while others don’t even know he’s there! Indeed, some people with RSHL have such intense high frequency hearing that they reportedly can hear dog whistles. Bizarre!! It means I cannot tell when I go off key, though I love to sing!
Being hearing impaired is a very lonely world as well. Just recently my husband and I bought some land on which to more permanently establish our ministry. As we’ve dealt with different servicemen for the well, excavation, building, etc., I’ve been locked in a veritable auditory solitary confinement. My husband, a soft-spoken man, while standing right next to me as he talks to a man not more than 4 feet away from me, carries on a practically private conversation. It is frustrating to keep butting in with, “What’d you say?”, and my husband gets tired of me asking him to interpret for him–”What’d he say, honey?” is often met with , “Just wait.” Aaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!! . So I just wait to ask him later what “we” just decided with the workman. Adding to my frustration is that my husband is typically a man of few words and often just says, “Well, he’s going to dig the well over there.” I know that a 20 minute conversation revealed more than that, but I just have to be content with what I can get because I don’t want to frustrate others by begging for information.
Hearing aids? I have them. I wear them in the “perfect” environment. The one where there’s no background noise and everyone’s sitting still. Like in church or meetings, so I can hear what comments those in the congregation or audience make. Other than that the aids only frustrate me with the whistling, tinny sounds they bring to my brain–amplifying every little noise painfully.
So what am I learning from all of this? Well, that’s a good question. For one, patience. The frustration with being a communicator and public speaker who hears so poorly is sometimes off the charts. I have to pray. A lot! So in that regard, since I know that the Lord weighs everything in His merciful hand, I pray for grace to accept my handicap.
Another thing I’m learning is humility. It’s so embarrassing to look into the face of a friend or stranger and say for the second or third time, “I have no idea what you just said. Can you repeat it for me please.” It sort of makes me feel stupid, like I “just don’t get it.” But I’m not stupid because I can’t hear people. And so, this RSHL can be a blessing to me in my character development.
Sometimes being hearing impaired is a blessing when there are things being said that I’d rather not hear. It is a blessing because I can have a heart to understand and be sympathetic to others who have disabilities. It is a blessing because I know that I am limited and I need help–it keeps me praying; it keeps me connected with those who are willing to be my ears. Being hearing impaired has made my eyes keener to discern facial expressions. It has made my heart softer to the “aura” around others.
And when the earth is made new, I will hear an owl for the first time. I will hear the Mourning Dove that my husband so enjoys. I will be able to hear the Bass Fiddle in heaven’s band! But most of all I want to hear the voice of Jesus. He will say to these ears, “Be opened!” Tears well in my eyes as I long for that day when I am freed from my silent, noisy world. Until then, my heart can still sing on key!