You Can't Help Sneaking Up on a Deaf Person

by Tina Blue
December 19, 2000

          It happened again today--I yelped publicly and nearly jumped out of my skin.

      I was administering a three-hour final exam, and while the students took their test, I marked papers at the front of the room. One of my students was trying to get my attention to thank me and say goodbye, so he tapped me firmly on the shoulder.

          When you're almost deaf, you can never hear someone coming, so a sudden tap like that is always a heart-stopping surprise. That is especially true for me, since I concentrate really intensely when I read or write. The boy tapped my shoulder, and I let out a sharp little yelp, which obviously amused him and everyone else in the room.

          The same thing happened several times that period, as different students tried to get my attention to say goodbye. I don't think they were all that desperate to say goodbye, though. I think they were just having fun with me.

          When I am alone at home, I am always being startled by friends or family who suddenly appear beside me, as if they have been beamed down from the Star Ship Enterprise. One minute there is nobody there. The next minute--Whoa! There's somebody there! It can become a bit of a strain to have people materializing out of thin air all the time. No wonder I have high blood pressure.

           It's stressful for them, too. They arrive, I notice, and then I jump and scream.

          If I am, say, washing dishes, I will turn around, and a friend or one of my kids will be standing right there. The suddenness of it inevitably makes me cry out. But I don't think anyone ever gets used to having his arrival greeted with jumping and screaming, no matter how often it happens. It's no surprise that my visitors will sometimes be startled into yelping right back at me.

          It would be easy to blame my friends and family for sneaking up on me like that, but they can't help it. They have to let themselves in--there's no way I would hear a knock at the door. If they try calling out to let me know they've arrived, the sudden loud voice startles me almost worse than the suddenly materialized person, especially since people with hearing impairments can also be unusually sensitive to loud noises.   (Who says the powers that operate the universe have no sense of humor?)

          Whether my visitors call out or not, I will be startled by their sudden appearance, and I will jump and scream.

          So there you have it. There's nothing to be done about it. You can't help sneaking up on a deaf person.
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