When you’re told, age nine, how lucky you are, you accept it.
When you question your “luck”, age 50, you feel ungrateful.
When you see an Ear, Nose and Throat consultant for a nosebleed, age 59, and he says he’ll investigate your unilateral hearing loss, you are shocked.
This is the first time in 45 years that a medic has shown any interest.
All that remains in my medical records – all that remains of the hearing tests, appointments with specialists, trips to hospital that took me out of school – is a letter signing me off.
We can’t help. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Well I wasn’t lucky.
Overnight I lost all hearing in my left ear. It never came back. My life has been adversely affected by monaural hearing. I’m not lucky.
Every day, every minute, I mitigate for my loss of hearing. Let me show you.
You go out with friends for a meal. It’s a rectangular table with ten chairs, five on each side. Where do you sit?
Beside your partner? Opposite your closest friend? Near someone you feel sorry for? Or simply the seat to which you’re directed? It’s your choice.
At that same table, there are only two chairs I can sit at.
I have never heard stereo.
My world is in mono.
You go to the cinema or theatre. You choose a good seat with the best view.
I choose the seat farthest to the left hand side of the room, whether or not I can see.
You’re outside, someone calls your name. You turn towards their voice and wave.
Wherever a person is shouting from, they’re at my right shoulder. The only way to find the voice is to turn on the spot, round in a circle, till I see them.
Don’t shout me. I’ve no idea where you are.
Stop, look, listen.
I’ll stop and I’ll look. No point listening, as all traffic noise comes from my right hand side. Better that I look again – and again, just in case.
In a new workplace you spend the first few days getting used to the layout and your colleagues.
In addition I have to learn the acoustics of the building, where I hear best, where it’s impossible to listen to speech.
You know that look on a person’s face when you misheard them, and answered the “wrong” question?
That’s me every day. Someone looking at me, judging me for not listening.
I was trying my best. I’ve been trying my best for decades. I’m so exhausted, trying my best.
“What’s your right side?”, people who know of my hearing loss ask. They know I can’t hear as we walk unless they’re on my “good” side.
But no-one ever remembers. Never since age nine has anyone remembered which side to walk at. Yes, on a familiar road, because a habit is formed. Not in a different environment. Because I’m lucky. I can still hear. Because it can’t be that bad, otherwise something would have been done about it.
The truly annoying comments – Oh I know exactly how you feel. My ears often block when I get a cold.
You have absolutely no idea how it feels to have permanent unilateral hearing loss. But hey, I’ll smile as usual and you can feel good about your empathy.
And by the way, my sudden hearing loss was probably caused by measles or mumps. No vaccine back then. We had to catch those diseases.
And some of us were lucky. It could have been so much worse.