hard of hearing for a purple squishy day

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Not so long ago, Marnie asked about asking someone to wear earplugs for the day . This set me off thinking, and I asked the lovely Inukshuk Rob if he would do the thing. He very kindly agreed to be that fabulous person.
I asked him to be hard of hearing for a day. To wear earplugs for the whole day and to report back, warts and all. I was apprehensive about how successful it would be as ear plugs generally reduce hearing only by around 30dB, which is a mild hearing loss. Selfishly I wanted him to experience the full 110dB gig.
I warned Rob to be careful out in traffic, crossing roads, and to take the earplugs out if he didn’t feel safe at all. Which he did, and I am pleased that he did do so, after all we wouldn’t want a squashed Rob.
I’m very grateful that Rob took on this challenge, and embraced it with insight and thoughtfulness. Some of his comments surprised me, mainly because my hearing loss has been gradual and so there are some things that I hadn’t even thought of. I will post my response to Rob’s post tomorrow.
Here is Rob’s account of his hard of hearing experience.

Well, in the interests of being accurate, it was more like being hard of hearing for a day.
My friend Mog, of “You hear some funny things when you are deaf”, challenged me to live a whole day in this silent world.
So with purple squishy earplugs, well, squished and installed they began to expand and as they did, so my hearing began to diminish. Here’s the thing. I hadn’t expected all the noise in my head! Wow! I can hear myself breath, my tongue moving produces so much sound! Likewise my teeth! Yes, my teeth crashing together as I close my mouth, oh the noise and then there’s the stream of water thundering on my head as I soak under the shower. Hey, excuse me, this was meant to be a day without sound! This I had not expected. After a slightly traumatic 2 minutes of teeth shining with the electric toothbrush I’m ready to begin my day. I flick on the laptop as I pass the dining table/office heading for the kitchen to put on the kettle. The day has got to start with a piping hot cup of tea. I don’t make it to the kitchen. I have to go back to the laptop. I was sure I had pushed the button that fires up the machine. I see lights flickering, but I had to turn back because I didn’t hear the sound of internal bits as the machine whirred and clicked to life. Hmm.

Back to the kitchen and the kettle. Push the little lever, see the red light glow, but no sound to tell me it’s on. I was watching this time to make sure. Next step is to switch on the TV. I can see the news anchor delivering her autocue lines, I can read the ticker at the foot of the screen, but I have no idea why I’m looking at snowy mountains on the screen. I know it’s possible to have closed captioning (subtitles as I know them) running on the screen, but I can’t for the life of me remember how to turn them on. I’ll look at the pictures while I make tea and toast. I’ll get my news off of the web.
I’m getting the hang of this. I’m watching for the kettle light go off when the water has boiled and likewise for the toast to pop. There are many similar situations where one might miss a sound that conveys information. Now in my purple squishy earplug state I would hear the fire alarm, so loud is it’s insistent beeping, but for someone who is completely deaf I dare say another plan must be made. In a less life and death kind of way, I realise that I will not be able to hear anyone knocking at the door! We don’t have a doorbell which, if it was really loud, I might just hear, if I’m not crunching on some toast. Toast is noisy food! I guess flashing lights and vibrating things are the order of the day, every day, for those who live with hearing loss.

My day continued. No phone calls, only email and SMS text messages. There were many similar examples of things where sound is part of the experience and without it I had to think about what I was doing. No familiar clunk as I turn the key to let me know the door is locked, my home safe. The solid thunk of a car door firmly shut, missing. There’s so much to think about in a sound deprived world.


I’m afraid to report it lasted until lunch time only. I was fine at home, in my environment, but I didn’t like that I was feeling so insecure as I moved about the city. I was okay in the car. It’s still my space, but I was on edge, constantly looking around to be sure I wasn’t missing something important, keeping an eye on lights and gauges lest I be indicating a turn I didn’t intend to take or red lights flashing in warning of an imminent engine explosion. Stress.
So, I didn’t get to interact with another person in my altered state, which is probably not a bad thing. Remember those purple squishy things in my ears? Yes, might have looked somewhat odd claiming to be hard of hearing while wearing earplugs. I did consider putting on a toque, or wearing earmuffs, but my nerve failed before I had to make the choice. It also struck me that while dealing with members of the public might be a bit uncomfortable, what about with my friends, my family. No more wonderful hour long phone calls to my Mother in far away Johannesburg. She does email, but that’s not enough. Today I had to call a very close friend who’s father has just died. I was able to express my grief and sympathy for her loss in more than just words and that just wouldn’t have been the same if it had to be put into an email, or worse still an SMS text message!
So did I learn something from this exercise? Sure. My hearing is precious and what would be the most awful thing about being deaf or hard of hearing? Isolation. That’s what really struck me.
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9 responses »

  1. A great read…

    I think it’s great that Rob gave it a go. Way to go Rob! And kudos to you Mog for your powers of persuasion!

    I think the loud toastie and tooth brushing noises are mainly a result of occlusion… ie, Rob, you still have normal hearing and with ear plugs, well, they block-in sounds that originate inside your head (one’s own voice, chewing) that usually dissipate (sp?) out through the ear; with lpugs in, those sound waves are trapped in the ear canal and they vibrate and/or reverberate, making noises louder than normal and weird sounding. I suspect it’s worse with normal hearing on top of that… not sure though!

    Still, ‘occlusion’ is a useful experience as it is very common with people who wear hearing aids. It made my previous hearing aids a royal pain in the butt, so much so that I never wore them (much). My new aids are “open fit” (domes) which has lessened occlusion by leaps and bounds and I often forget I’m wearing them. I can crunch ‘n munch and blether away and it all sounds ‘normal’ to me. And of course most people who don’t wear aids wouldn’t experience occlusion effect either.

    You two are both ace!

  2. We know that this wasn’t a scientific experiment which reproduced accurately the sounds a deafened or hard of hearing person would hear. It was an interesting exploration of how life with a hearing loss might be.

    My hearing loss has been gradual so there are things that I had forgotten made a noise, things that I have adapted to, without thinking about it. Some people lose their hearing suddenly and completely. To be launched into that world must be frightening.

    I don’t hear myself breathe, or even sigh. I can still hear low noises so I can hear teeth and crunchy foods, even without my hearing aids in so I think there is more to it than occlusion, the fingers in the ear effect that Marnie mentioned in her comment.

    I don’t worry about not hearing the kettle boil, or the microwave ping, or the oven timer etc. If I really wanted I could use a vibrating alarm that would let me know about these things but they don’t bother me. I can put my hand on the kettle to see if it’s coming up to the boil. Cooking can be annoying, not hearing boiling, hissing, splattering, but it’s not essential to hear them. Though I do burn a few things, maybe that’s my excuse now! I am just grateful that I can see to fill the kettle, make the coffee, and chop the veggies. I would hate not to be able to see.

    TV captioning is great, so many programs have captioning now. It’s a shame that movie theatres don’t. We wait until a movie comes out on DVD to watch it. It is probably selfish of me not to go to the movies with my husband. When I do go I haven’t a clue what the actors are saying and I alternate between being bored, upset, and frustrated.

    Yes indeed Rob, my life is ruled by gadgets and vibrators! Blackberry, doorbell, smoke alarm… We have a smoke alarm with a little light that flashes as well as an audible alarm but you do have to be under the light to see it flash. This comes in handy when I am cooking and I know that the alarm is going to go off, so I stand under the smoke alarm, broom handle at the ready, to press the button, to silence the noise that makes my lovely man come running to see if the house is burning down. You can also get smoke alarms that have a pad that goes under your pillow and vibrate. My mum has one of those, I think she even managed to get a visit from a hunky fireman too when it was installed

    It is hard not to be able to use the phone, not to be able to ring people up for a chat. Friendships have to be nurtured and without the spontaneity of a phone call it’s harder to do.

    I was disappointed that Rob only managed ‘til lunch time, but then I realised that this was an indication of how hard it had been for him to be without those familiar sounds, and that this was an important outcome.

    What I take as the most important observation from Rob’s experience is how soon he had a sense of isolation, of insecurity, the stress of watching, of anticipating.

    Thank you Rob for being such a willing volunteer!

  3. I really am pleased I did this. It wasn’t exactly fun, but it was enlightening for sure. I’m sure we have all wondered at some point, how we might cope should we lose one of our senses. I have now had a very tiny taste of how difficult some aspects of life would become.

    I learned from my experience and I hope others will too. Not just what it is like from a practical point of view, but more from an understanding of the hard of hearing person’s point of view. The feelings of isolation and inertia were debilitating, more so than the actual hearing loss.

    It’s almost like being in a foreign country where you do not speak the language, so you don’t communicate with anyone. If you and a local want to, you can communicate, even if you don’t speak the same language. So, I have learned that one has to make the effort to reach out and connect.

  4. This was a fascinating read. My hearing loss was gradual like Mogs. It was good for me to be reminded that it would be very frightening to be launched into silence suddenly.

    It was also amazing to review all of the things we adjust to when we lose our hearing gradually.

    The foreign country analogy is one I used often.

    Rob, you were a really good sport!

  5. Pingback: Der Spaziergang in die Harthörigkeit « Not quite like Beethoven

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