The other day I was talking to a friend who heard another person claim that I was a snob. Conversation went something like this:
“Hey Pete, how’s it going”
Good, thanks, and you?
“Fine. Hey, I bumped into someone the other day that knows you. Funny thing she said that you were stuck up.”
Really, me? Stuck up?? A snob?? Why did she say that?
“Well, you walked by her the other day. She said “Hi!”, but you just kept on walking on by. Didn’t say a word to her. She was really insulted”
Ahhh. Could it be I just didn’t hear her?
This got me thinking about some of the funny or unusual things people with hearing loss sometimes do. Most people would not connect that these behaviors are in fact related to our hearing loss. Below is a list of some of the weird things people with hearing loss do, why we do it, and how we can make it better.
- Ignore People. This is the example above. Likely what happened to me is that the environment was noisy and I didn’t hear my name in all the racket. Alternatively, the person could have been on my left side, which is my non-implanted ear. I don’t hear much on that side even in quiet. Or my batteries might have been dead. Or maybe I just wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet and turned everything off.
- What to do about it: First off, anyone that knows me, knows I am a very social person who never snub anyone. Don’t take offense. Try to get my attention visually or by tapping me on the shoulder.
- Close Proximity: I do not do this too often, but I have seen others with hearing loss do this. Since we can’t hear well, especially in background noise, we sometimes invade one’s social space try to get closer to the sound source, in this case the talker.
- What to do about it. First off, this behavior is most likely exhibited by people who do not get amplification to assist with the hearing loss. Get proper hearing aids and assistive listening technology for noise and you won’t have to do this anymore.
- Forgetting Names. Actually, I am not sure I am forgetting people’s names, but rather I never heard it correctly in the first place. The reason we have such a hard time with names is that there is no linguistic context to assist us. For example, if some said “Please pass the salt and _______”, we know that the most likely final word is pepper. But if someone says, “Hello my name is ______”, it could be anything. Other times, I may have misheard the name and called someone the wrong name. Eg, Norma instead of Nadia. Hearing, learning, and remembering names is brutal for people with hearing loss.
- What to do about it. Well use a wireless system that gets rid of noise. So in a noisy social situation, you have a better chance of hearing the name correctly. I also use a buddy system with my wife who has normal hearing. She fills me in with the names after the introductions. I also have a cue for my wife when introducing her to someone whose name I ought to know. For example, if I do not now the name of a person I really ought to know, I turn to my wife and say “Have you two met yet”. She then promptly extends her hand and says “Hello my name is Kim”. Other person reciprocates. Problem solved.
- Knock Over Drinks at Dinner Table. How on earth could this be related to hearing loss you ask? Simple. I am busy listening to someone across the table. It is a noisy restaurant. So now I have to rely more on lipreading cues for communication. I am staring at the person’s lips, reach for my beverage without properly looking, and then knock it over.
- What to do about it. Don’t reach for the beverage while trying to listen. Use a wireless system to get rid of noise.
- Bump Into Things/Scratch Up My Watch. This is very similar to the above scenario. If I am walking down the street with someone I am looking at their face face to lipread. Since I am not paying attention to what’s in front of me, I bash my watch into walls and posts. Sometimes I crash into people.
- What to do about it. Buy cheap watches. Apologize profusely to people I bump into. And again, use a wireless system to get rid of the noise.
- Speaking Too Loud. This one is more obvious. Folks with hearing loss routinely have trouble monitoring their vocal intensity. And it gets worse when in noisier environments where it is harder to hear oneself or others.
- What to do about it. This behavior is also more typical in people who do not have personal hearing aids yet. Get some!
- Speaking Too Soft. This is more common for me. I do this for a number of reasons. First, I am scared that I am speaking too loud and so I overcompensate. Secondly, I do have a tendency to overestimate the hearing capabilities of normal hearing people. I think you can hear a whisper from across a room.
- What to do about it. I carefully watch the faces of people I am speaking with. If it looks like they are straining to hear me, I speak up. If their eyes widen and they push back from the table, I am likely speaking too loud. Lastly, I inform close friends and family to let me know if I am too loud or too soft.
- Inconsistent Hearing Behaviors. Sometimes I hear you, sometimes I don’t. What’s up with that? Guy must be faking it. Actually, no. The inconsistencies are likely due to varying noise levels. Sure in a face to face situation in a quiet room I hear pretty well. BUT THE WORLD IS REALLY NOISY PLACE. I would say that I find myself in a ideal listening environment at best about 10% of the time. The other 90% of the time, the noise levels severely impact my ability to communicate.
- What to do about it: This is why I have been using my wireless FM system so diligently. I cannot imagine how I could function without this technology.
So there you have it. Some weird behaviors that are in fact related to hearing. I am sure there are other examples. So please share your stories, I would love to hear about them.