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May 22, 2003

Wondering whether it's donkey stew or donkey do

From: Aberdeen American News, SD - May 22, 2003

"I'm sorry sir, what did you say?" I leaned over the counter so I could converse with the gentleman in a better way.

"You hard of hearing?" he asked in a loud voice that the whole office heard.

"Yes I am, I really am."

I don't know if he heard me or if he even cared, but I know I walked away feeling humiliated, ashamed and embarrassed. You see, I am deaf in my right ear and I wear a hearing aid in my left ear, I am 36 years old. I know I shouldn't have felt embarrassed or humiliated, but I did.

Logic is not always our constant companion, and I find that the older I get, the less willing I am to tell people of my disability. Some days in fact, I long to be at an age where people expect me to have a hearing loss. Like I said, logic is not always our constant companion.

I found it interesting and encouraging to read in the American News a while ago about students role-playing at the School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. The students were either blindfolded and had to try and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or they sat in wheelchairs and learned what it is like to not have the ability to walk.

There is much good to come about by this sort of role-playing, a better understanding of people who are as normal as the next person, but just don't have the same capabilities. I took a sign language class a couple of years ago. Of about 20 students, there were two of us who had a hearing loss, the rest were doing it for various reasons - coursework, getting ahead in their job or knowing somebody who used sign language.

One exercises of many that students were allowed to choose was to become deaf or severely hearing impaired for most of one day. Students stuffed their ears with cotton, used ear muffs or whatever it took not to hear at all or not to hear very well. One girl described going to a local store and asking for help at the customer service desk. She reported communication did not go well and she felt very frustrated and finally gave up. Another reported being unable to handle the quiet and taking off the "disability" after a short time. It was really interesting hearing the trials that these people went through, especially when this is your life, all day and every day, and there is never the option of taking off your disability.

I was talking with my mom on the phone the other night. She had a terrible head cold and I found myself having to repeat quite often. It was kind of annoying - and as I talked with her, I had to remind myself that people who deal with me on a daily basis often have to repeat things and must feel equally annoyed after awhile.

As with most situations in life, there are positives and negatives. On the positive side, I find it easier to concentrate at work and, believe it or not, sometimes we get a good laugh out of some of the things that I hear incorrectly. For instance, one of my coworkers has a couple of miniature donkeys and one day while conversing with her about them, I somehow heard her say she was going to make donkey stew. I didn't want to appear really stupid, but I'd never heard of donkey stew and I also knew my coworker was quite attached to these donkeys.

Well, if I remember right it turned out that she was talking about something that these donkeys do, which I somehow turned into donkey stew. We had a good laugh and still joke about it from time to time. On the negative side, I am exhausted when I get home from work as my mind has been on constant alert trying to hear everything that I am supposed to hear, and trying to decipher what I didn't quite catch. It is on days like that I enjoy my family more than ever.

My daughter is currently at the stage where she likes to come up and whisper little secrets in my ears, I have to remind her that I can't hear in the right ear, so we give the left ear a try and I pretend that I can hear her over the squealing of the hearing aid.

It's bittersweet, I tell myself that at least I can hear her voice, but I still don't know what she said.

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