Yep that’s right, I’m hard of hearing and no I haven’t always known about it. It wasn’t until I was sixteen that I found out I have bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and was given two hearing aids. Sounds odd not to have known, right?
It turns out that I’ve probably had a slight hearing loss my entire life…but nobody noticed. No doctors, no friends, no family, not even my parents noticed. When we found out about it, my mother felt terrible and completely blamed herself. In her mind how could she not have noticed that there was something ‘wrong’ with her child. Well that’s the thing, there is nothing wrong with me. My mother had no reason to feel guilty, nobody did. The truth is that my hearing loss as a child was likely so mild that it was nearly impossible to notice and gradually got worse. I had always responded to my name (as much as any other kid did anyway), I could hear the TV, I answered to teachers. Why would anyone have any reason to think I couldn’t hear. I explained this to my mother. I had never known any different and it had never stopped me.
I’ve had my hearing aids for four years now and its true that my hearing has never stopped me and never will. If you’re reading this and you know a Deaf or hard of hearing person, or you’re from a Deaf family then you already know all this. Being Deaf or hard of hearing isn’t a disability and doesn’t stop you succeeding.
Maybe you’re wondering how I even found out I needed hearing aids. Well lets go back four and a half years to my school PE lesson, where I was ear slapped. A lot of people have no idea what I’m talking about when I describe what happened but it’s literally cupping your hands and slapping both of someone’s ears at the same time. It makes your ears ring and can be really disorienting or rupture an eardrum if hit hard enough. Of course being teenagers messing around, nobody really took those risks seriously. So one of my best friends run up behind me in PE and did exactly what we had all done many times before, she slapped me over the ears.
The rest of the day I could feel my left ear ringing but dismissed it as nothing. I told my parents when I got home that I had a bad ear but again we all thought nothing of it and told me to see how it feels in the morning (I didn’t tell them that I had been hit). The ringing turned to pain and by the next morning I knew I couldn’t hear properly out of my left. It wasn’t extreme pain and I had gone through the odd ear infection before so I didn’t really make a point of saying anything until two or three days later when I told my mother what had actually happened. My parents made sure I went to the GP, and she referred me to an audiologist. I think it took a month or two to see the audiologist.
After many tests and talking to ENT consultants and answering a lot of questions we were told that yes the bang to head had definitely damaged my hearing but we were all surprised to find out that I had a mild hearing loss in my right ear as well. The audiologist explained that I likely had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and even though it hadn’t been noticed, it had probably been there since birth. He went on to explain that although the bang to the head had done damage, he was hopeful that it wouldn’t be permanent but my hearing would never be perfect. If I’m completely honest my mother and I both left the hospital a bit shocked, her more than me. Nobody could really understand how it hadn’t been noticed but it didn’t really matter to me. I like the way I am. I never felt like I had missed out or had any sort of set back just because nobody noticed that my ears weren’t perfect.
What about my friend that had slapped me? She felt very guilty. For a while she thought it was her fault, and so did a lot of other people even though I explained it. To this day people who hear what happened still joke, “wow I bet your friend feels bad, she made you deaf”. It wasn’t her fault and she is still one of my best friends. The way I look at it, if she hadn’t hit me we may not have noticed anything was wrong for a long time. My ears have gotten worse over the past four years and I’m glad I found out when I did.