Very thankful for…

Making copies in the office
Making copies in the office

… copiers who “spit out” the copies high up instead of down low. See the look of disappointment on Chloe’s face? One of her favorite things to do is to “collect” the copies if they come out low.

School is starting! “Back to School Night” is tomorrow night and classes officially start 9/10! I only filled two classes this year so will only be teaching in the afternoon. As I’m in school myself, this will actually be a welcome break.

(pssst… hey Chloe? Ready to be my school bell again?)

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Get My Attention First

Denise and Chloe at the Aquarium in Baltimore Aug. 23, 2009
Denise and Chloe at the Aquarium in Baltimore Aug. 23, 2009

Dog Training 101

When I first began training at Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, Maryland, I learned from trainer Tracy B. that it is very important to use your dog’s name. This was especially important on the training floor where there were numerous dogs present all of which were being given obedience commands by their human partner. Calling the dog’s name gets their attention first. Follow that with a command about what you what them to do, and then lavish praise.

Even though I only attend the trainings on average twice a month now, I still make it a habit to use Chloe‘s name first. We have another dog that is never far from Chloe when she is home. Tyco is our family dog and is a two-year-old Norwegian Elkhound. He’s a “dog’s dog”. Oh sure… he loves us, but he idolizes Chloe. So where Chloe is, Tyco is there as well.

My husband was running into a road block on the stairs when he first arrived home from work. Both dogs would park on the stairs – entire bodies all “a-wag” waiting for him to acknowledge them.

I have finally taught Terry actual obedience commands (you CAN teach an old dog new tricks) so instead of saying, “Would you please MOVE?” he will say “move” with some authority in his voice instead of a question. The only problem was that he failed to use either dog’s name. I had to remind my “old dog” that he needed to use their name first. Now when he arrives home he will say, “Chloe move” (and she does), and “Tyco move” (and he does only because he follows Chloe – GRIN).

When he gets to the top of the stairs, he can put his things down and greet the dogs “proper-like”.

Hearing with a CI

When you have a hearing loss for twelve years and then receive a cochlear implant, you still do not hear perfectly. In spite of the fact that CI’s are bionics, you will also discover that you are not Jamie Sommers who can hear BETTER than folks with normal hearing. As a matter of fact, hearing takes WORK. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE what I’m hearing and am so thankful for this technology! In a quiet room with few distractions, I can usually carry on a conversation without even having to look at you!

Let’s face it… the world is not a quiet place and the times I find that I’m trying to have a conversation in a quiet room are few and far between. Instead there is normally background noise. It can be noises like the television, stereo, pets, restaurant noise, crowd noise, etc. So the majority of the time I am trying to hear ONLY your voice amidst all the sounds my CI picks up for me. I have special programs (Smartsound NOISE or FOCUS) that allow me to pull only what I’m looking at closer; a type of directional microphone really! However, it is NOT a perfect solution. The background noise never stays at a constant level. It can get louder or softer. Hearing will never again be something that just “happens” for me.

It takes work.

I must concentrate.

It’s a shame I don’t burn calories!

Is it any wonder why late-deafened folks are so exhausted at the end of the day? I require 8-9 hours of sleep each night. If I don’t get it, I do not function at 100% the next day. I’ve had days where a sick teen or ill service dog have kept me up most of the night. I rarely even attempt wearing my “ears” (cochlear implant and hearing aid) the next day as I know I will hear little since I cannot concentrate.

Use My Name Please

It is very helpful to first use the name of someone you are conversing with that has a hearing loss. Hearing with a CI, I learned pretty quickly that in a crowd of noise it is in my best interest to work at tuning out all the sound. I recognize my name very easily, even among the buzz of voices around me. I’ve always been very thankful my name starts with a harsh consonant! Hearing my name first allows me to identify who is addressing me. I can turn and face them and begin concentrating in earnest.

Unless we are having a face-to-face conversation, I may look away from you after we have visited a bit to see if Chloe is doing as I asked (normally a down/stay or stand/stay). Or, I may smile at people across the room, wave, etc. If I am not looking at you, it is VERY helpful to say my name again to let me know you are talking to me again. It gets my attention. My CI zeros in on the voice. I’ve even been able to discern my name coming from the mouth of someone across the room! I think the most difficult listening situation is to be in a small group of people who are talking in a larger room with other small groups talking. You find that you are “part of the group” and attempt following the conversation as different speakers say different things. It can be exhausting!

Look at Me Please

I find it amusing that people with hearing loss are often the worst communicators. At my local HLAA (Hearing Loss Assoc. of America) meeting recently, I attempted to have a conversation with someone after the meeting. People were talking and standing around; some were busy tearing things down. There was a LOT of noise. The person I was trying to talk to spoke to their feet. Granted… they had the nicest brown sandals I have seen in awhile. Out of habit I looked to see what they were looking at while they spoke. I had to apologize several times and ask them to repeat something. At one point, this person’s attention was snagged by the activity of another member who was cleaning up the snacks. The person I was talking to turned to see what this other member was doing. I could tell they were still talking, but it became a buzz of sound as soon as they turned their back to me.

I said, “Pardon me? I missed that part after you said what you did about the recent rains”.

They looked at me exasperated and said, “Even though you have a cochlear implant now you don’t hear any better than I do!”

I decided to walk away (as I didn’t think I could speak “kindly”). They were on their way to grab a snack before they all disappeared anyway.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

I have learned a few things in the four years I have been “hearing again”. It is OK to stand next to someone who WAS talking to you and wait until you are spoken to again. A touch on my arm, or using my name alerts me to the fact that you wish to speak to me again. When I was first activated, I would attempt to not look as if I were ESCAPING after someone finished talking to me. I’d go and find a quiet place and look with wide eyes at the different groups of people standing around talking. If someone waved and then started toward me, I would “brace myself” for the difficulty in conversing with them.

Now I can stand in a crowd of people and wait to be acknowledged. If no one gets my attention, I am at ease. I find that I am even brave enough to start a conversation on my own. After all, I pursued a cochlear implant so that I could continue talking to the people in my life.

This week my schoolwork was interrupted by an “incoming IM” from my daughter. She was in between classes and wrote, “Hey mom! Do you have your ears in? Can I call you?”

Seconds later I was talking to her on the phone. Perhaps this isn’t a big deal to those of you who hear normally. But I haven’t been using the phone for very long. Even after receiving a cochlear implant, it took a lot of practice and courage to start using the phone.

… and here I was in the middle of the day

… talking to my daughter

… on the phone.

I cried.

But they were happy tears!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Sweating Pullets

pullet Yesterday our air quit working. I had been painting all day, and was “hot” anyway so did not notice it seemed rather warm in the house. However, as soon as my husband walked in the door around 5:30 PM, he checked the thermostat and discovered the air was not working. We did everything WE knew to do, and then knuckled down for a long night.

I posted on Facebook the fact that our air wasn’t working. Misery loves company, right? Actually a couple in our church just had their air conditioner fixed THIS WEEK. Rick commented on my status and mentioned something about having “sweated bullets” the night they had to wait out the repairman.

Sweating bullets“? As soon as I saw it typed there I knew it was wrong and was seconds away from allowing my fingertips to “tease him mercilessly” about the mistake. Something in me paused though. I decided that before I teased him about using the phrase “sweating bullets” instead of the correct form “sweating pullets”, I’d better look it up and see where the phrase came from in the first place.

Well of course there is no such phrase. Rick was right. I was stumped.

Hearing it Wrong my Whole Life

Although I didn’t become completely deaf until the age of 37 after twelve years of progressive hearing loss, I have had a slight hearing loss most of my life due to a pedestrian-car accident as a child. I had never SEEN the phrase written out. I had only HEARD the phrase a great deal.

As I tried to digest how in the world I got this phrase wrong my entire life, I realized there were several factors involved:

1. I had a hearing loss and “heard” the phrase sweating pullets.

2. I was raised on a farm and we had chickens.

3. In CONTEXT, the phrase was used in conjunction with: feeling afraid, anxiety, “scared to death”, feeling “chicken”

4. pullet = chicken

It made PERFECT sense to me!

Gulp. Ok the REAL Meaning?

From “” the real meaning of this idiom is:

Perspire profusely; also, suffer mental anguish. For example, We were sweating bullets, sitting in the sun through all those graduation speeches, or It was their first baby, and David was sweating bullets while Karen was in labor. The bullets in this expression allude to drops of perspiration the size of bullets. [Slang; mid-1900s]

But ya know? This just doesn’t jive with me! I mean… who first saw large drops of sweat pouring off someone’s face and equated the size with bullets? Why bullets? Why not marbles? How about ear plugs? Huh? (sigh)

It’s really difficult to re-train my thinking. All my life I have heard “SWEATING PULLETS” and it meant “chicken, scared to death”.


Just to be safe I went to look up “fraidy cat”. After all, I may have been hearing it wrong. For all I knew it was really, “frayed kneecap”.


Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Turning Off An Alert

No worries... this is a staged picture. The tea kettle is cold, and a treat is on the stove to award a "Paws up" command.
No worries... this is a staged picture. The tea kettle is cold, and a treat is on the stove to award a "Paws up" command.

One of the things I really love about Fidos For Freedom, is that even when you have completed your training you receive follow-up support “for life”. I see Chloe’s trainer about 3 times a month and so when I decided I wanted Chloe to learn a new alert, I contacted Pat.

I was putting the tea kettle on the stove to boil and walking away to check my email in the mornings. It would “whistle” like crazy after I obviously forgot about it after walking away. (You’d think I could wait patiently for all of 2 minutes!) My kids are sleeping in this summer on days they don’t work… at least, they are if the tea kettle doesn’t whistle them awake after it has been boiling for ten minutes or so! They BEGGED me to stop leaving the tea kettle without watching it. Well, I knew one other hearing assistance dog at Fidos who alerted to the tea kettle for her partner. I asked Pat how this was done, and she gave me a step-by-step plan of how to train this alert.

It worked like a charm! In a matter of a week, Chloe was alerting to the whistling tea kettle. The only problem is that I found I now had to turn that alert OFF.

Chloe bumps things with her nose to let me know what is making the sound. If a kitchen timer goes off or my cell phone rings, Chloe bumps them with her nose. When I taught her to alert to the tea kettle, I was finally able to “just forget about it” because she understood that this was now a part of her job. She’d race to get me and then make sure I was following her into the kitchen. Before I could stop her she tried bumping the hot tea kettle with her nose. I screeched and scared her to death ‘mid-bump’!

I thought, “well maybe it is all in the timing…” I attempted to follow her much more closely when she came to get me to let me know the tea kettle was whistling. That worked on days my balance wasn’t giving me fits. However on rainy days when Meniere’s disease caused me to have difficulty walking fast, she would beat me to the kitchen every time! I had to screech at her again!

She started being really anxious to alert to the tea kettle! (Wouldn’t you?) Everytime she did her job, I ended up having to screech at her. For now, I am hanging out in the kitchen for the 2 minutes or so it takes for the tea kettle to whistle. I think I’ll time how long it takes to be “almost whistling” and set the kitchen timer instead. The tea kettle would be an important alert (especially if you ask my sleepyhead kids), but it isn’t worth a burn on Chloe’s nose or paw. It is time to re-think how I want to do this. For now, the alert needs turned off.


When I first began losing my hearing, a subtle yet negative pattern began to take place in the way I interacted with others. If there was a communication blunder, faux pas or misunderstanding, it was always the hearing person’s fault. They not only didn’t understand what I was going through, but they didn’t care! Or so I had convinced myself…

The reality is that my disability is MY problem. It’s not YOUR problem! I had to learn to be proactive – not REactive. It can be very frustrating to tell someone to please face me when they talk – AGAIN. But the truth of the matter is, I make as many or MORE mistakes than the hearing people in my life. I start conversations with someone in my family from another room almost on a daily basis. I can hear them responding, and have to quickly hustle into the other room to at least catch the tail end of what they said. If I cannot understand, I sheepishly have to ask for a repeat (Baa – BAAA)

After I joined HLAA and began to learn from my peers a better way to communicate and advocate, I realized I desperately needed to be re-conditioned. Through the beginning years of my hearing loss I had conditioned myself to believe and react in such a way that hearing people were out to get me and that I needed to harshly and sternly educate in bullheaded opposition in order to gain their cooperation. I desperately needed to turn off this “alert”.

As the result of having established a bad habit in the way I choose to handle conflict regarding communication, I had begun alienating people round me. Worse… my behaving in such a way only insured that the next hard-of-hearing or late-deafened person this “idiot hearing person” dealt with would receive a defensive response. Not only was I hurting myself, but others with hearing loss as well.

Once in awhile I meet someone “new” that has hearing loss and a chip on their shoulder. I want to take them aside and explain my own history and need to turn off an “alert” It’s not always the right time or place, but I have had the opportunity to do so a few times. Sharing my own story seems to mean more than fussing at them about what they are doing. Explaining how to communicate with me best is an important “alert” or task. But to do so the wrong way is not worth “burning” someone else. I was taught and encouraged to re-think how I wanted to convey this information. I had to turn off an old “alert”.

It is very likely that all of us have something we should change… a bad reaction we have towards others. Maybe it’s one person that really gets under your skin. You hear their name and your blood pressure goes up! It may be time to recondition a negative response. You may not even realize it, but you may be hurting your reputation by the way you choose to respond to even the mistakes of others. Your own reputation or testimony may not be all that is at stake. Perhaps you are making all Democrats or Republicans look bad. Maybe you are making all Christians appear holier-than-thou or judgemental. Maybe the way you behave affects the way others look at all people with hearing loss. If you recognize this, you can turn the alert off and recondition the way you respond. If I can do it, anyone can!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal