Norm was a firefighter for 32 years in the days before OSHA requirements were initiated requiring protective equipment to be used to prevent damage to ear drums from the blasts of fire engine horns and sirens. As a result he has some noticeable, but rarely acknowledged hearing loss. A classic example of what happens, is the time he and I and his two daughters were sitting around the kitchen table chatting.

Wyndi and Becky were discussing how nice a kindly former neighbor was. Wyndi commented that the neighbor had been on staff at the hospital when Wyndi had given birth her daughter, Laken. Wyndi was impressed that when she came in to work her shift at the hospital, she had brought Wyndi homemade cookies. Norm suddenly sat up straight in his chair, a shocked look on his face and said, “What? Laken was in the hospital with staff?!” I went into hysterics but Wyndi and Becky looked stunned! When I had stopped laughing I chastised him by saying, “That’s how nasty rumors get started!”

Another time, Norm and I were going to see a movie. Actually this isn’t about his hearing loss – but a funny hearing related story. He went up to the ticket window while I stood several feet away, with a group of teenagers between us. He called out something to me which I didn’t hear, indicating so by shrugging my shoulders and cupping my hand to my ear. He again called out and again the chatter from the teens absorbed it so I still didn’t hear. I then made my way around the teens and over to where Norm stood. He repeated what he’d been trying to ask me, “The next showing is close captioned for the hearing impaired. Do we want that?” I replied, “No, we don’t need that.” In light of what had just transpired we all (Norm, me and the young lady behind the ticket window) all broke up in hysterical laughter. Norm and I laughed for an hour while we waited for the showing of the movie without the closed captioning!

I prepare income tax returns at a CPA firm during the season, one of the ways in which I support my vineyard habit. By April 15th of any given year I am pretty pooped. 2009 was particularly tough since we were planting vines every weekend during the spring. I’d work all day at the tax office, coming home to cook our dinner and spending the evenings organizing food for the volunteers who were coming to help plant each weekend. We’d plant Saturdays and Sundays, and the routine would start over the next week. By April 15th 2009 I was really tired and cranky. It was a huge effort to repeat everything I said to Norm twice and sometimes three times because he didn’t hear it the first times.

It occurred to me, that maybe he didn’t realize that I was repeating everything over and over again – that perhaps it was a reflex for him and if he just tried a little harder maybe I wouldn’t have to say things multiple times. So in an effort to point out what was happening, I started putting up two fingers the second time I said something, and three fingers if I was repeating something for the third time. This went on for about a week, and I thought it was working pretty well – until I got a one fingered response.

Finally about two months ago, he announced he was going to a doctor to have a hearing test. I was very pleased – to me this was a demonstration of his love and commitment to me, to our lives together. I went with him, reading magazines in the waiting room when he went in to see the doctor. When he returned he had the print out of the hearing test to show me. His hearing loss is only at the higher frequencies. That means it’s just ME he can’t hear! He had a prescription for hearing aids which he will “think about”. The last piece of paper was for me, the “Ten Commandments for those who interact with the hearing impaired” (Adapted from Fletcher Allen Health Care: Audiology Center at Fanny Allen). They are:

1. Thou shalt not speak from another room.
2. Thou shalt not speak with your back toward the person with a hearing problem (or their back to you).
3. Thou shalt not start speaking and walk away.
4. Thou shalt not start speaking and turn away from a person with a hearing problem.
5. Thou shalt not speak in competition with something else, i.e. turn off the water, turn down the radio.
6. Thou shalt get the attention of the person with the hearing problem. (Do not start speaking while they are reading or concentrating on TV, etc.)
7. Thou shalt try to speak face to face at all times.
8. Thou shalt remove obstructions while speaking. (Move your hand from your face, food from your mouth, etc.)
9. Thou shalt try to speak distinctly.
10. Thou shalt try to be patient.

The end result, if I want him to hear me, I am the one who will have to work it! Not what I had in mind at all.

Can you hear me now?