Paul Simon’s words mean something else to me.
My world is increasingly silent and the growth of that silence has been insidious, like a cancer. First of all I never knew the silence was there, waiting to grow. There are sounds I don’t recall ever having heard. The triangle in an orchestra, what’s that all about? Something for the tympani to play in the quiet bits? Sopranos, why all those high notes, who can hear them? Apparently most people can. I’ve lost the higher frequencies; birdsong, cats meowing, childrens voices, grasshoppers, violins, flutes, speech. The high notes have left me and a jumble of low noises remain; engines, trucks, the furnace, banging clattering noises.
Frankly, for all the beauty and joy in birdsong I don’t mind if I never hear it again, as long as I can understand speech again. Let me try to explain.
The frequency of sound is measured in Hertz, 1000Hz is middle C on the piano.
The intensity of sounds is measured in decibels, in a logarithmic scale. So a loss of 10dB is 10 times, a loss of 20dB is 100 times, 30bB 1000 times, and so on. A normal conversation is around 40-60dB, a plane taking off is 140dB.
Hearing loss can varies in frequency and intensity.
My hearing loss in the low frequencies is around 40dB, in the higher ones it’s around 120dB.
Speech sounds range across the frequencies but in English the consonants are in the higher frequencies, so when you lose those ranges all you are left to hear with are some vowels. (Get the newspaper, cross out all the consonants and then see how much sense the words make). I hear the noise of speech but it’s hard to distinguish the words. So I have to look at faces to see what sounds are being formed. It’s the whole face too, not just the lips. So when people are wearing sunglasses, have beards, moustaches, cover the mouths when talking it’s even harder to know what is being said. You also need a well lit room, with no light source behind the person speaking. No background noise. Phew, what a palaver, may as well stay at home.
If I am lucky I may work out what’s being said. Sometimes there’s a delay in processing the words and understanding, when you can “hear” and when you can’t. That selective hearing chestnut that people are so fond of citing.
It helps to know the subject too, it narrows down the field when you are trying to work out what the words are. Imagine living your life speaking a foreign language, you only know so much and can never learn any more.
I still have sounds in my silence, and I am grateful for them. At night though, when I am lying in bed I want to hear noises – apart from the furnace- to listen to music, the radio. Sometimes the silence makes me weep.