I was ten years old when I was diagnosed with bi-lateral hearing loss. The hearing loss was picked up during routine screening of the eyes and ears at school. I dreaded those exams. Even as an adult, soundproof audiology rooms with all the weird beeps and buzzes make me anxious. As a child I always felt like a failure during those exams. I remember the ladies would whisper and look at each other worried that they may have done something wrong. They would announce in my ear “Let’s try that again, raise your right hand if you hear a sound in your right ear, your left hand for your left”. Sometimes I would get mixed up, I would say “wait, no I messed up”. I never had these problems with the eye exams.
I recallreturning home with a letter from school for my mother. It stating that I needed to follow up with a doctor to check my ears. We had to make a special trip to Manhattan where I was placed in a tube and told to lay very still(later I learned this was an MRI). I could feel the anxiety coming from my mother as they placed a strange contraption around my head and told me to keep as still as possible. An MRI is scary for a little girl. I distinctly remember the vibrations and the energy in that tube. My mother was allowed to stay in the room and spoke with me about benign topics to keep me distracted. Things like what she was going to make for dinner, and shoe shopping after school.
I was prescribed hearing aids that year. The aids that I received were big and clunky, the kind that old men wear. All I remember was making sure I covered my ears with my hair while sitting in class. I was terrified that my classmates would see them and taunt me. They already teased me and I did my best to ignore them. I don’t remember anything else from that year, and I recall falling behind in my math studies as a result. When the school year was over, I stopped wearing the hearing aids. I told my mother that I would not be wearing them anymore. As such my hearing loss became a source of argument between us for many years.
It seemed that I learned to adapt to my hearing loss. As an average student I soon discovered sitting closer to the teachers allowed me to hear them during class. I also discovered that if my friends walked along my right side conversations were easier to follow. I formed significant friendships and carried on through high school but not even my closest friends were aware of my hearing problem.
It was not until I entered an operating room during my internship during college did I finally accept that I had a severe enough loss to warrant aids. I was just finishing my veterinary nursing degree when I walked into the surgical suite to assist the Veterinarian. I was stricken with fear asI could not understand anything that the surgeon was saying. I later realized that the surgical face-masks covering the surgeon’s mouth became an impediment. Apparently I had developed a lip-reading skill as a coping mechanism. The very next day I promptly scheduled and appointment with a local audiologist to purchase hearing aids. Over the next few weeks I did my best to learn with my handicap while awaiting my new hearing aids. Once I received the aids there was a terrible adjustment period. I found myself confused by all the new background noise, and battled constant headaches. This affected my ability to be a part of the veterinary team and I was again isolated and alone. I recall leaving work one day lamenting my decision to complete a nursing degree. Fortunately I was able to start a second internship with well-adjusted heading aids. The difference between the two experiences was remarkable. I flourished during my second internship and my career as a Veterinary Nursewas secured.
Over the years my hearing aids have become a crutch for me at work and I am open about having them.I have developed relationships with my peers and they know that if my back is turned I still may not hear them. It had not occurred to me, but I have found that people assumed I was ignoring them or perhaps rude. Wearing the aids as adult allowed me to grow and learn as a nurse in a busy environment.Today, I am far from that shy girl in the classroom. Since graduation I have continued my career and carried leadership roles within my hospital. I have even presented lectures and continuing education to my peers.
I will never know what my education would have been like had I received support during my childhood years. Today children diagnosed with hearing loss are given substantial counselling to help them adjust and adapt in their scary world. This fall I have decided to complete my Bachelor’s degree in business at DeVry University“online”. As an adult with a better understanding of the listening skills required to succeed in today’s workplace I am grateful I have found a way address my hearing loss and allow me to fully function in today’s competitive environment.