Thursday, January 31, 2008

The "deal" with my hearing loss..

This topic may not sound triathlon related, but i'm sure as you've probably guessed, my hearing loss affects pretty much every aspect of my life. So, I decided to be pretty "specific" in my explanation of my loss. Most people who read my blog, know about the severity of my loss, maybe some don't. Anyway, as I was swimming today, I was thinking about why I hesitate joining a masters swim group and why I probably look "rude," at the pool.

Plain and simple: with my hearing aid, I hear about 90% of what is said, and my speech is clear, so I don't "sound," or "look," different than anyone else. Sounds great right, well, unfortunately, because of my speech and my ability to compensate well, people either don't believe me, or they forget I have a hearing loss, which sometimes complicates things. Without my hearing aid, I hear nothing. I can hear a jumbo jet landing (as I discovered by swimming in a pool that lies under the flight path for the San Diego airport) and I can hear my dogs barking. I cannot hear general conversation without my hearing aid.

When do I not wear my hearing aid: showering, swimming, sleeping and in the rain. I wear it all other times.

I've had a hearing loss since birth and it was exacerbated by two injuries: 1. swimming-touching the bottom and coming back up in a 12ft pool--caused a hole to be created in my ear drum, lost hearing-had surgery-hearing returned. 2. 3 months later I was standing on a skateboard, lost balance-hit head on driveway-lost hearing-had surgery-hearing never returned. As a result, I hear a little out of my left ear and wear a hearing aid in that ear. I hear nothing out of my right ear. My hearing loss could very well worsen if I hit my head hard enough.

I've had my loss my whole life, so it's *very* rare when i'm caught off guard and i'm in a situation where i'm uncomfortable or annoyed I have to explain my hearing loss.

One of those times, if not, the only time: swimming. I don't know *what* it is about me at a pool, but EVERYONE talks to me when i'm at the pool, the old guy in the hot tub, the lifeguards, people next to me in the lane, people in the locker room. Why does this bother me. Because I usually do not know they are speaking to me (since I have my hearing aid off) and I don't realize that they have spoken to me, until for some reason, I turn around and I see their faces glaring at me like "what is wrong with her." I do my *very* best if I catch someone staring, I explain, "i'm sorry, i'm deaf and not wearing my hearing aids, did you say something?". I'm usually good about it. The other day the lifeguard was showing me some book she had for swim drills or something and the only reason I knew she was talking to me is because she was waving furiously!

Why do I get annoyed? I get annoyed because I realize it's one of the few times i'm at a disavantage (other than on my bike during a triathlon when it takes me a few minutes to let my ear dry off before I pull my aid out of the bento box)----I also wear a "Deaf Athlete" top so people know I can't hear them.

I guess i'm human, I get frustrated or annoyed that I can't just go to the pool like everyone else, smile, say hello, hear what someone is saying and not worry about getting into a hot tub and making conversation. When I get into a hot tub, I can usually "fake" my way through a conversation for a few seconds, but as usual, it's typically an old person who wants to talk for a while, then I miss something, feel stupid, have to explain my hearing loss and then the topic changes completely, and instead of a 3-5 minute hot tub sitting it turns into like 15-20 minutes.

This is brutal honesty for me to admit this. I normally *love* fielding questions about my hearing loss, how it affects me. WHEN I have my hearing aid ON! The pool prevents me from doing this, so i'm either frantically looking around to see if people are looking at me or talking, or my head is down and i'm trying to avoid talking to people---and honestly, it really makes me less social when i'm at the pool. Normally, you can't shut me up. The hard part is, I love swimming, love it----but going to the pool creates anxiety for me sometimes.

One last bit...last year, I did an open water swim with a friend of mine. We were showering after, in La Jolla and I was towelling off, doing my thing, basically, keeping my head down, not making eye contact. Of course, a woman tries to ask me if I was done w/the shower--since she needed to use it. Naturally, I had NO idea she was talking to me-so, my friend tells me later. Oh----'that woman was trying to talk to you, so I told her you were deaf, you should really tell people so they don't think you're rude.' That sounds like a GREAT idea....except I can't HEAR them talking to me. What am I supposed to do, walk into a locker room and just openly announce, "sorry if you try to talk to me, i'm deaf without my hearing aids." This particular friend, i'm not even sure she gets it still, even though i've tried to explain it.

My complaint isn't about "friendly people at the pool," or me not being "open enough" about my hearing loss, it's just a general frustration about having a disability--which 95% of the time, I manage very well.

Well, that's it! I just finished my 60 minute swim, and i'm about to bike for 60 minutes. Thanks for letting me get that off my mind!

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