I have been ruminating much on my hearing lately as I have an audiology appointment coming up on Monday. Whenever these appointments approach I start to get nervous and irritable. The audiologist is a reminder of my hearing loss and my likely march towards a cochlear implant.
But what has me particularly on edge at the moment is the realization this week that I am no longer truly able to effectively communicate with my girlfriend on the phone any longer. There were several occasions when I could not hear the words she was saying no matter how loud she was saying them. I have been able to communicate relatively effectively with the people in my life whom I know well and talk to frequently, which is probably the case for most people who are hard of hearing. I rely heavily on people’s speech patterns and the words typically used by a person to understand what they are saying at any given time. A high degree of comfort with the person also helps greatly.
I have been unable to really use the phone with most people for the last several months, and before that I needed my iPhone cranked up to top volume, a completely quiet location, and my utmost concentration in order to trudge through a conversation. I have a certain process for dealing with phone calls when they came in. First, I rush to a quiet room and shut the door. Then I take out my hearing aid and hold on to it tightly so I wouldn’t lay it somewhere and forget it. Finally, I sit with furrowed brow and concentrate on the conversation. This whole process was never a relaxing experience, nor a passive one either. A busy days of phone calls was absolutely exhausting.
Now I am at a point where these processes and strategies are no longer working like they used to. I truly dread getting phone calls or having to make them. I tend to put them off or wait until I am in the most optimal location I can find in order to make the experience as least embarrassing as possible. During the conversation I allot myself three requests for repeats before I give up. I have grown less able to mask my own irritation during phone conversations when I am unable to hear what is being said. I am sure this is increasing my isolation, but in the moment my mood tends to drift in a steady downward trajectory.
Which makes me think of some new social norms which are associated with communication and phone use. Texting is the preferred method of communication for most fiends and acquaintances. Phone calls, and more specifically, conversations are for those for whom we are especially close. In a digital age the very analog spoken word is a way of expressing intimacy. For all the people we email and text on a daily basis, there are substantially fewer we call. I’m sure we can all think of a flow chart which would illustrate our own personal methods we use to discern when to email, text, or call, and also to whom. There is also that irritation provoking call to someone and then getting a text back: “I saw you called, what’s up?” That text is a good indicator to where you really stand with the person.
Now in many ways I have benefited from this change from spoken to digital communication. What saddens me, however, is losing that special place to the few people in my life where I am the person who is called. A special connotation it is to be on this list for people. I wonder if being on this list, but not being able to communicate in this fashion decreases the closeness and intimacy felt for the person. I hope not, but I suspect this may not be the case. I suspect this is a barrier to long term closeness and intimacy. An unconscious reaction, no doubt, so if consciousness is applied to the matter then hopefully this is not the case. Something to think about and mull over before Monday’s appointment.