Without Hearing Aids: Day 1

by Tina Blue
October 13, 2004

          OK--That's a lie.  I dropped my hearing aids off two days ago, on Monday, October 11, to be sent in for repair and to have the gain boosted.  But today was my first day trying to teach without my aids.

     I had my hearing tested almost two weeks ago. It has been ten years since I first got hearing aids, and that long since I'd had a hearing test.

          I flunked.

          My hearing has deteriorated significantly, but I knew that. I also knew I would need to send the aids in, and that it would take about two weeks before I would get them back.

          Which is why I kept not sending them in. My hearing test was on Thursday, September 30.  That was, if you will recall, the day of the first presidential debate. So I told the audiologist that I wanted to keep them that night, so I could listen to the debate.  I would drop them off after class on Friday.  I promised.

          But then there was the vice-presidential debate the following Tuesday.  I use closed captioning, but I also use my hearing aids when watching TV or movies.  Without my hearing aids I miss a lot, even with closed captioning.  I am very political.  No way I was going to miss that vice-presidential debate.

          And then, just a few days later, on Friday, there was the second presidential debate. 

          Yep.  I kept my hearing aids for that, too.

          But the third debate was on Wednesday--that is, today.  And on Thursday our fall break begins.  That means that if I kept the aids until tomorrow morning, I might not be able to get them sent in before next Monday.
          Besides, if I gave them up this week, then instead of teaching class for two complete weeks or even more without hearing aids, I would have only one day this week, three days next week, and however many days of the following week before the aids came back--perhaps even none. The math got to me, so I surrendered my aids on Monday afternoon.

          As soon as I took them out of my ears, I felt bereft.

          Funny, that.  I normally don't even wear my hearing aids, except to teach, to watch TV or movies, or to manage conversation in groups or with uncooperative "hearies." On a normal day I would have removed them before starting to walk home from campus anyway. And yet when I did it this time, I felt as if my world had just died. I felt smothered. I felt panicked.

          That's the thing.  I was panicked.  The very idea of trying to teach class for two weeks or more without my aids terrified me.  The aids were in bad repair, and my hearing was so much worse than when I first got them that they really weren't helping enough in class. But they helped some, and I dreaded being without even that much help.

          I told my class after the hearing test that I was going to have to give up my aids for two weeks.  I even told them I was terrified about it, though of course I said it as a big joke.

          But today when I came into each class and announced that I was aidless and needed their help to manage, they probably picked up that I really was nervous and not just joking around.

          I told them they were going to have to be very patient with me and help me out during the next two weeks, and they earnestly promised to do so--at least that's what I think they were saying, but since they were mumbling I can't really be sure.

          In each class I asked for a volunteer translator, someone with a strong voice who wasn't too shy to speak loudly and project for me.  The girl who volunteered in my first class usually sits in the very back, but I asked her to move to the front center seat.  She was a bit surprised by this, but  told her that I wouldn't be able to hear her at all from the back, so she acquiesced.

          Then, as we began our class work for the day, she was the first one to respond to a question I posed. 

          She mumbled.

          I told her, "You're gonna have to tell it to my translator, since I can't understand you when you talk so softly."  She laughed and repeated her comment, loud and clear.  She turned out to be a great translator.  I reminded her that I would need her until I got my aids back, so she'd better not sleep in and miss our 8:30 class.

          The translator in my 9:30 class is actually an actor, a theater major.  He projects beautifully, without even having to get very loud. How lucky to have an actor in the class!
Another boy had volunteered, but he is such a mumbler that I never can understand him when he speaks, so I rejected his offer out of hand.

          The volunteer in my 10:30 class is a small, slim, soft-spoken young woman who normally sits up front anyway. I have never heard her say a word in class, so when she offered I said I didn't know if she could talk loudly enough for me to hear.

          "Say 'Hi, how are you?'" I demanded.

And her  "Hi, how are you?" rang out loud and clear.  "Beautiful!" I exclaimed.  "This woman is a goddess!"

          In my 11:30 class the volunteer was a surprise to me--a young man with a smart mouth who sits as far away from everyone else as possible and makes funny but ridiculous comments all the time.  He was the last person I expected to volunteer.  "Matt," I said, "I can't understand you half the time when you talk."

          "How's this?" he enunciated and projected right at me.

          It was great. So I said, "You realize you'll have to sit right up here in front of me, right?"

          He got up immediately and moved to the front of the room.
          I have been pulling a lot of all-nighters tutoring and grading papers these past two weeks, so I am not feeling all that well.  My voice is almost gone, and to be honest, I was a little woozy on my feet. I told my 11:30 class that I would try to hold class for the entire period, but that if my voice gave way or I felt too woozy, I might have to let them out a few minutes early.

          Then I smirkingly asked, "You will forgive me, won't you, if I have to cheat you out of a few minutes of class today?" (I knew, of course, how delighted they would be to get a brief span of unexpected freedom.)

          Everyone in the class murmured this and that, and Matt, my translator, boomed out, "Tina, they all just said they don't want you to let us out early, and to please hold class for the whole period!"

          I can hardly wait to hear what sort of mischief Matt will manage during his time as my translator. I think I can guess why he was so eager to translate for me.

          This is going to be fun.

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