Sunday, 24 November 2013

 Hearing test 21 November 2013

The hearing test last week revealed some interesting things: my hearing has gone down a little more, the PTA is under 90 dB for all frequencies which means that the score is now in the 'profound' range, last time, three years ago, the right was profound and the left was severe with a few mid frequencies in the profound. This is significant shift as without hearing aids, I am officially ‘deaf. This is the reality for me. I can hear really loud noises very close. But that is all.

I did this audiogram to check my hearing level and have a report for the DeafSA card. Looking forward to getting a new deafSA card, my last one was in 1983 and had hearing loss of 67dB and in 1970 I had a loss of 70dB in the ‘speech banana’. I remember not hearing people at all without hearing aids, unless they shouted in my ear. Wow, there has been a big change downwards over the last 40 years.

What was also interesting was the speech-perception score. With hearing aids on, in a soundproof room, I can put up 70 % of the words that I hear. This means that without lip-reading, I am missing as much as 30% of the words, even though I hear sound, it is not clear enough for me to perceive of the sound as a word. And I may have understood a word incorrectly, or have guessed the word from the context that it was embedded in, the flow of a series of words on a topic can help the word perception score, but if it is random, unrelated words, then I struggle to repair the gaps. I am sure that certain words with certain sounds are naturally harder for me to pick up, and it means that some people are also harder to discriminate what they are saying. The same concept holds true for sign language, as some people are harder to read their signs than others. This test shows how much lipreading helps, and in meetings, I need to see the speaker and can easily miss something because the speaker is not looking at me, or I am not aware of the new speaker, and have not turned to face him or her. This needs to be conveyed to meetings to made the communication clear for me. Plus this shows how much an interpreter helps me as it gives me additional visual cues, to fill in the gaps.

Then I asked the audiologist to test my hearing with hearing aids in but not on. I wanted to know how much sound is blocked out this way. And the result was that the hearing aids and moulds block out or occlude as much as 10dB of the sound energy. She was surprised how much of an effect this had on me.  Actually, I knew that this is what happens, but did not have an accurate idea. Sometimes, I drive, work, walk about with my hearing-aids in, but not on, at least I know where they are, if I take them off and put them in a pocket or on desk, there is the risk that they may get lost, broken, dropped, forgotten, left behind… Plus, it shows people that I am deaf. Sometimes, people notice that the battery compartment is open and tell me. Actually, that does not bother me, because I like to choose when I want silence or not.

Last week, I learned two other things about my hearing. It was a long week without the left hearing-aid. This went in for a major service, new microphone, amplifier, tube. It came back sounding great, so clear and brilliant, but the mould is not very effective, or well-fitting, so I cannot push up the volume too high or it squeals with feedback. That needs to be addressed to maximise the potential of this serviced hearing-aid. There is still much life in these hearing aids till an upgrade to the Oticon Chilli hearing-aids.   

The other thing I discovered this week without the left hearing-aid is that although the left is ear is a little better at hearing, my right ear is really a lot worse at picking up words. This was a shock, I really struggled with everyone talking to me, I missed a lot even though I heard the sound, but I could not make sense of the sounds into words. Plus I found that the ‘head shadow’ effect of trying to listen to someone who is speaking to me on me left side meant that I missed even more because the sound was shadowed by my head. This meant that I missed even more, and I have to speak up about this, and say, I cannot hear you on this side, and either person moves to the other side, or I more to the other side of the speaker. Simple, but this has a profound (sic) effect on what I hear. Plus, when I am busy trying to process the sounds into words, my brain is working hard at the processing, and the understanding and cognitive processing is incomplete or in adequate. I need to hear everything and need time to think about what it means, for most people this happens quite naturally as they are listening actively. So listening is exhausting work for me. Plus without the one, the tinnitus in the left ear really was awful for a week, as this ear tried in vain to hear words which the right ear was doing, it subsequently made up a scream of ‘phantom noise’ which was quite deafening and really distracting all week, except when the right hearing aid was taken out at night. Then it settled down. Phew, I am glad that is over. 

 Also, I found that I was grumpy old git this week because I was intolerant to noise and garbled talking, actually I found that I preferred silence to half-hearing. Noises were really annoying to me, even with the noise filter, program on, my second program. I found that so many noises were just irritating, the buses roaring passed my office, to plates banging in the kitchen.  For me, the solution usually was to turn off the right hearing aid, and return to the bliss of silence. If someone was talking to me, then I had to grin and bear it and try to hear them through this one-dimension wall of noise, argghh!

I also found that when my professor talks to me and adds signs that I followed more easily, of course not everyone can do this. But I am amazed how much this helps me and how much I actually benefit from this. I am not advocating signed English for all deaf, or even for hearing-aid users, but there are definitely people who benefit from extra visual cues to ensure that the fullness of communication. This is especially valid for me as English is my first language, and having more than enough sign language, this compliments this communication and eliminates many of the gaps I may experience in listening.

The converse is also true, I have found that I sign much better without my hearing-aids on, and without voice since this allows the visual-spatial dimension and visual grammar is allowed to come through more accurately, and is processed better without the interference from outside noises and words from the hearing-aids when I am operating in the SASL mode, in a relaxed manner. How interpreters can switch off their ears and concentrate on signing is beyond me. I cannot tune out sound, I think I have lost a lot of that ability now which is why noise is so irritating to me now. I need that time-out of silence to recover. At the moment, for every hour of listening, I need an hour without sound to settle again, to recover, and to think quietly and then I am ready to re-engage with the hearing world.  

So right now, I am happy to have the hearing-aid back, but I am also content to write this blog without wearing the hearing-aids, that is the paradox of my life. I love it, and at times I really hate it not hearing something. But I have found that there is a lot we can live with, or work around or do something about it, or ignore it. The maturity, and dignity lies in know which works best when and living courageously and flexibly with the choices available to improve communication of a deaf person in hearing world.

I hope this helps us be more aware of what deaf learners, go through. Each (deaf) person is different: their background, hearing loss and history, parental involvement and teacher support, exposure to language, interaction with hearing and deaf family and people. They have different expectations of themselves, as a deaf person in a hearing world. As well as how they see their oral skills and signing skills, their identity now, and where they see themselves, and how their family sees them. Thus, deaf learners are not a homogenous group, but are heterogenous. We cannot make generalisations about deaf learners, even though that is easy, it is unhelpful. We need to understand each person: then we will connect.  I have learned that if you understand me, then we can connect, and it is my responsibility to do everything that I can to make and maintain that connection.  
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