I Stare at my Phone and LAUGH!

If I'm not married to you or if I didn't birth you... I'm just not going to talk to you on the phone! :-)
If I’m not married to you or if I didn’t birth you… I’m just not going to talk to you on the phone! 🙂

Last week after a meeting with Anne Arundel County Commission on Disabilities, I received a follow-up phone call about changes in a training that I would be participating in for the Public Safety committee. There are five of us on the committee, two of which (including myself) have hearing loss. I never give out my cell phone number, but do have a number that we use as our “home phone” through Google Voice. The reality is that Google Voice isn’t a phone at all. It transcribes messages from a messaging service when people call the number and leave a message. I receive both a written transcription and the taped message.

So I received the message with changes about our training and read/heard at the end: “Call me to let me know you received this”.

I laughed.

Out loud.


I don’t use the phone. On rare occasions I will speak to my husband or grown kids on my cell phone. However, I know their voices VERY well. Sometimes I will talk to my mother but only long enough to ask her to switch to FaceTime. (Always helps to see the face to pick up more of the conversation). With all other people, however, I do not use the phone.

It isn’t that I cannot use the phone. It simply isn’t my first choice (or second, or third choice). If I want to talk on the phone I have to stop everything. No multi-tasking such as continuing what I’m doing on my computer, or folding laundry, or working in the kitchen. I have to sit (that’s right… I can’t stand!) switch to t-coil on my cochlear implant and hearing aid, close my eyes (I’m not kidding), and concentrate. How often would YOU be able to talk on the phone if this were the parameters for you to do so? <BIG GRIN>

Email is a Great Choice


Email is a great choice for people with disabilities or chronic illness. In my opinion, it is actually a great choice for everyone. Why?

1. Email gives a written record of exactly what was said.

It doesn’t really matter if the conversation is personal or business. A written record of what was actually said can help us better remember dates, times, and other important information.

2. Email fits into our schedule.

You can check email on many phones now. You can check email on devices such as iPods and iPads, and Kindle Fire. Many types of technology allow you to read and respond to emails no matter where you are.

When we need to respond to emails from our desks, something business related or important, we can do so on OUR schedule. No playing telephone tag. Instead you can read and respond at a time that is convenient.

3. Email can eliminate communication problems.

Have a habit of interrupting someone mid-sentence? Do you have attention-deficit disorder and are easily distracted by what is going on around you? Is the person you need to communicate with hard to talk to – angers easily, defensive, mumbles, etc? Email eliminates those kinds of problems.

4. Email is free.

Most of us have a computer at home now. If you do not, you likely have a way to access email through mobile devices or at least have a library nearby where you can access the Internet. There are numerous free email options. I personally use Google’s gmail for my email account. However, there are numerous free email options discussed at About.com. You can access that HERE.

Email can also be a great choice for people with disabilities or chronic illness. I am late-deafened and hear again with a cochlear implant. For me, email eliminates the pressure to HEAR. When folks get a hold of my cell phone number for some reason and call, I really do stare at my phone and laugh. Email can be read by special programs such as JAWS (a Microsoft computer screen reader) and written with Braille displays for folks with low-vision or people who are blind. Email font can be enlarged to assist those with problems seeing smaller type. Email can be a great communication device (along with various social media) for people who have difficulty expressing themselves and using their voice. Email may be easily accessed with various tools for people who have mobility issues. Email is available when you are ready to read/send communications… something that may be important to people who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, FibromyalgiaLymes disease, or other disorder where fatigue and pain are a factor. Can you tell I’m a big fan of email?

Some of you are thinking, “But I just want to hear your voice!” I totally understand that. Even as a person with hearing loss, I understand how important inflection, emotion, and accents may be in communication. We do need to be sensitive to the fact that there are a great number of people who do not feel the same way. Just because you like to hear someone’s voice with a phone tucked under your ear, doesn’t mean that others are able to have a hands-free, low-anxiety audible communication with you. Perhaps Skype would be a good choice for you – free to anyone with a computer or modern cell phone. FaceTime is rising in popularity with people who have Apple products. These communication devices allow people to both hear and see when communicating. You can even have conference calling!

I think the only thing I love more than email is texting! Unless, you want to discuss a major problem called autocorrect… but hey! That’s a topic for another post!

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Are Doctor’s Offices Truly Accessible?

doctorI recently returned to my doctor for a check-up as I’m on a number of blood pressure medications. I have been on blood pressure medicines since the age of 20. My genetics guaranteed I would have blood pressure related issues.

I grimace and swallow my meds every morning and think with tongue in cheek, “Thanks, Dad!” 

I hate going to the doctor even for something as routine as a blood pressure check and to request refills for my medications. I’m not afraid of doctors. I actually LOVE my primary care. His personality and method of “doctoring” suits my personality very well. He’s very business-like and professional, but also has a level of genuine compassion lacking in many who have been in the medical field perhaps too long. His staff is fantastic. The office is close to my home and to my work, so it is very convenient.

But I hate going.

My doctor’s office is not accessible. Oh sure they have properly marked handicapped spaces in their parking lot and curb cuts for those with mobility challenges. Their waiting area is spacious and the hallways are easily navigable. My doctor’s office is very high tech. Written charts? Pffflllttttt. Thing of the past. My doctor and staff use iPads, notebooks, and stylus.

But I hate going.

Again… my doctor’s office is not accessible. At least not for me. Just in case you are new to Hearing Elmo I am a late-deafened adult, “hearing again” with a cochlear implant. I also have Meniere’s disease, a balance and vestibular disorder. I mitigate my challenges with a service dog as well.

Do you know how hard it is to step on a scale when you have a balance disorder? The platform is about 12″ x 9″. Scales are usually against a flat wall, with nary a thing in sight to grab to hold still. It isn’t like I can grab Chloe’s harness when being weighed. I don’t need her extra 62 pounds on the scale – believe me! So I grab the wall and do my best to keep from tilting. I very likely look as if I getting frisked. After some close calls I HAVE noticed that there are TWO nurses with me now when I am weighed in each time. Someone has put a note in my chart I think! I’ve tried to sneak a peek at this electronic chart. “Tilt-a Whirl Queen” or “Weebles Wobble” must be tagged somehow, I’ve just yet to actually see it in writing! (grin)

After getting weighed we head to an examination room. I sit in a chair while the nurse takes my blood pressure. It is always high, but not because of ineffective medications. It is not because I’m afraid of doctors. I’m convinced my blood pressure is high because I know what is coming. In breezes the doctor, with a smile and a firm handshake.

“Let’s hop up on the table. How have you been? Everything going OK?”

I only see the man twice a year so I can’t expect him to remember. The guy is popular with – “Best in Annapolis” kind of awards all over the wall. No way in the world he could remember. **But would it kill you to read my chart?**, I think to myself.

“I don’t hop anywhere. Sorry. As a matter of fact the table is too high for Chloe to help me so I need you to hold your arm like this…” (and I demonstrate with my elbow bent and arm horizontal to the floor). I repeat what I’ve said every time I go there, “It would be nice if these examination tables had rails or something!”

My doc is good-natured and sticks out his arm. I grab it and clamber up onto the examination table. As per usual, when I turn to sit the room tilts and I struggle to stay conscious.

“Wow, Denise. Your eyes! You have positional vertigo.” Yeah. Ya think? He sits on his stool and rolls over closer to me – unknowingly causing another bout of vertigo. I just sit there and hang on for dear life as he uses his finger to “flit” from screen to screen, reading up on my medical history.

“Well your blood pressure is pretty high. Let’s take it again.” he states while reaching for the blood pressure cuff.

I don’t say a word as I’m too busy hanging on for dear life.

After taking it he turns to me and says, “It’s high. Do you take it at home? Is it perhaps high because you are here? Many people have elevated blood pressure at the doctor’s office.”

“I take it at home and it is well within the normal range every single day.” I indicate with my eyes the paper sticking out of my bag – WayOverThere. He grabs it and scans the paper. “Wow, these numbers look great! It must just be high today because you are here”.

“Doc,” I patiently explain despite having repeated this conversation every 6 months for the past three years, “my blood pressure is high because





Again with my eyes, I indicate the death grip I have on the edge of the thin mattress.

He looked thoughtful for a moment, flicked to some more screens on the iPad and turned to grin at me. “We’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we?” Yup. I love my doctor.

So What Can Doctor’s Offices Do?

For people with hearing loss:

1. Sound baffling

Doctor’s offices are full of flat surfaces and medical equipment. It can greatly improve communication to have some type of textured wallpaper, 3-diminsional cloth artwork, or even flat art-deco carpet squares on the walls. Not much can be done for cabinets, medical receptacles, and sinks. These have to be easy to clean and disinfect. I get that.

If possible, a room or two with lower ceilings and foam ceiling tiles can greatly assist in eliminating the bounce and echo of sound.

2. Face the person

Even if you have to look down to write in a chart, or type on an iPad, turn your chair so that you are facing the person. Do this EVEN IF YOU AREN’T SPEAKING. Do you know how often people with hearing loss strain to determine if someone is even speaking?

Checking ears? Looking in eyes? Listening to their thumper? It only takes a second to look the person in the face – FIRST – and explain what you are going to do next. If you want the person to hold their breath for a second, don’t ask behind their back. Actually… what is WORSE is telling them to “OK, breathe normally” behind their back! (Grin)

3. Write everything important down

New prescriptions? Re-check in six weeks? Instructions to check things like blood pressure or blood sugar at home? Write these instructions down.

4. Take their picture

Whether you save a small digital picture to their electronic file, or staple a Polaroid into the manilla folder and chart of their medical history, know what your patient looks like. When the door opens to that waiting room and the nurse calls the name of who is to be seen next, it helps to lock eyes with that person with hearing loss when you say their name. Take my word for it. Another blood pressure spike occurs for anyone with hearing loss sitting and worrying they will miss their name being called. Chloe’s head pops up and looks at anyone saying “Denise”. However, most people with hearing loss do NOT have a service dog alongside them.

If a nurse calls the next patient and every individual still has their head buried in the eight-month-old “Good Housekeeping” magazine, chances are the person didn’t hear you. It may not help to even say the name much louder. Besides… that is embarrassing. Know what your patient looks like.

5. Don’t say, “Call me”

Even though there are many wonderful options for people with hearing loss to use the telephone, it isn’t a good idea to say, “call me”. Email should be an option available to anyone who is more comfortable making contact in written form. If the patient is waiting for test results, email them. If a refill cannot be prescribed until an appointment is made, email them. If the patient contacts your office through email, don’t respond by trying to call the number on file. Email them back. People with hearing loss are on a level playing field with email. Plus, having a written confirmation only insures there are no misunderstandings.

If a patient DOES utilize various technologies and captioned phones, be aware that the patient may ask for repeats. Or, there may be a slight delay as the patient reads what the captions display. Doctor’s offices are busy places. Be aware that another minute or two may be needed to properly and fairly communicate with a patient who has hearing loss.

6. Don’t talk when they’ve removed their assistive devices

Checking the ears of a patient must be standard procedure in medical offices. However, someone with hearing loss will:

1) need a moment to remove hearing aids and/or cochlear implants

2) need something to put them in while you check those lovely ear canals

3) need a moment to re-insert the assistive devices after the quick check

7. Be willing to repeat

You know they have a hearing loss. They know you have a busy medical practice and other patients to see. However, if they ask for a repeat, please just do it? Don’t sigh or begin talking like you are now speaking to a toddler. They aren’t stupid, they simply didn’t hear you. (People with hearing loss should learn to ask for repeats of only the parts they actually didn’t hear. In this way, others aren’t forced to repeat something completely, when perhaps only a section of what you said was actually missed).

8. Ditch the gum

I love fresh breath.

I feel for someone trying to stop smoking.

However, please refrain from chewing gum or sucking on mints when you go into the examination room of someone who probably speech reads.

For people with balance disorders:

1. Understand that heights – even small ones – can be a problem

Offer an arm or grab an elbow when people with balance disorders climb up on scales or examination tables.

Don’t finish up and say, “Meet me up front” to a half-naked patient sitting up on an examination table with a death grip on the mattress. Offer assistance to help them down. (I actually fell from an examination table getting myself down and landed on a stool which rolled and crashed into the cabinet – creating a terrible racket. The nurse ran back into the room clutching her chest and exclaimed, “You scared me to death!” Laying on the floor and looking up at her I sarcastically spit out, “Well gee. How sorry am I?” Note: My good manners fly out the door when I have to respond from the floor).

2. Move slowly

People with balance disorders often have problems with vertigo and focus when others move fast. Love that stool on rollers? Move slowly please. This isn’t a medical office Grand Prix.

3. Follow the light with your eyes…

… is easier said than done. Seriously, you have no idea how hard this can be if you have something like Meniere’s disease.

4. Sit still

Most examination rooms have stools on rollers. Many people fidget and don’t even realize they are. If you are sitting on a medical office stool, chances are this means you can swing from side to side as you talk to the patient. I’m not saying pretend you’re a statue. But bouncing knees, swinging from side-to-side, or rolling quickly from one side of the room to another can really do a number on a patient with a balance disorder.

 Patient responsibility

Ultimately, it is the patient’s responsibility to remind medical personnel what you may need to communicate effectively and navigate safely. However, some small and inexpensive adjustments can be made to make doctor’s offices more accessible.

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal



I was so glad to see the sunshine today. I read the weather forecast last night and tried to tamp down the anticipation and excitement in my heart. We’ve had such rainy, humid weather. I’m just a “mess” for lack of a better word when we have periods of days like that. Meniere’s disease is a burden I do not gladly bear. I’ve yet to be able to “find thanks” for it, though I have learned to do so is the best way to come to a place of full acceptance.

So when I saw the forecast I was optimistic but influenced by the realist within me… you know, the one who has seen the poor forecast predictions for the last week? We don’t get “full sun” today, but I am embracing the “partly cloudy” let me tell you!

Humidity is not really the “friend” of a person with hearing loss without Meniere’s disease as well. Veterans will tell you that faithful use of a desiccant brick (I use “Dry ‘n Store” myself) will prolong and improve the use of hearing technology such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and more!

We’ve no control over the weather. We can try to keep these devices dry, but “weather happens”. I do try to be careful and have an umbrella in every car, near the door, and in my rolling cart that comes into every classroom with me. I faithfully attend to the weather forecast so as to be better prepared for the day ahead.

Sometimes humidity and moisture problems occur in addition to weather-related incidents. Here are some I’ve dealt with myself:

1. Stepping into the shower, “hearing”. You’d think since I cannot hear the shower run anymore as I walk into the bathroom “deaf”, if I can actually hear the water running it would clue me in to the fact that I forgot to remove my “ears”. A couple of times a year I will still step into the shower not quite as “naked” as I should be. Thankfully, realization hits quickly. I shriek, streak to the bedroom, dry them off, tuck them into the Dry ‘n Store, and pray they dry quickly. Bedtime RITUAL is what has helped me avoid any of these wet OOPS lately. Having a routine before doing things like showering may help!

There is a cochlear implant by Advanced Bionics that can be completely submersed in water. My Nucleus Freedom by Cochlear is water resistant. For me this means I can have some of those OOPS episodes and not have to worry about damaging my CI!

2. Sometimes I sweat. Yeah, I know. Not very feminine or attractive. I crack up reading labels in the deodorant aisles at stores. Men’s products claim to control sweat. Women’s products boast of smelling pretty, not leaving white marks, and control perspiration. <snort>

I’ve found a great product though, and highly recommend EAR GEAR. They claim to be hearing instrument ARMOR. I love their products. They have products for BAHA, hearing aids, and cochlear implants. Ear Gear protects our devices from moisture and dirt. They also happen to be very comfortable. I have very small ears and the products actually help my devices “slip” less as well. Click HERE to check them out. They have some cool colors too, which is always a perk in my opinion as I sport my “bling” proudly!

I’m not an athlete, but I know some late-deafened folks who are. There are various companies that sell products that help devices not only stay dry but also help them STAY PUT. Megan at Hearing Sparks discusses seven great products that are of special interest to those who need hearing technology protection that are ACTIVE. You can access this post HERE.

I’m going to cut this post short. I’ve some sunshine to go embrace…

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Alone “On Purpose”

I recently “re-read” a terrific article by Arlene Romoff, fellow blogger and Hearing Loss Association of America member/leader. She detailed how to navigate the holidays with a hearing loss. (Her article can be viewed here).

I was reminded that these tips work well for most holiday situations, but not ALL. Are you ever invited to holiday gatherings that are not “family” or close friend centered activities? It can be quite difficult to navigate holiday gatherings that you are not in control of – or – that are attended by folks you may not know so well. My husband and I have been attending a terrific church for the past two months and are involved in a small group with similar aged people. A holiday gathering was discussed and planned. Sign-up for the activity began a couple of weeks ago. And you know? For the first time in my life with hearing loss, I explained when asked if I was coming that I’m would not be. I did not feel crushed by the guilt of being so anti-social afterwards!

Perhaps it is because I have learned in recent years that it is OK to be alone “on purpose” on occasion. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m all for relationships, communication, and forging/cementing friendships! I believe in “play time” and in working hard to participate in family and friend activities during the holiday so as to celebrate the season in all its glitter, glory, and historical significance.

I knew from paying attention in this small group at church that “sign up” would begin soon. So I embraced an opportune moment at home with my best friend and husband, Terry, to discuss the issue. I explained that I fully supported his going to “represent us” and that I know from understanding the dynamics and participators in this group… that not all attend with spouse or “significant other” for various reasons. I explained to him that I have chosen to not put myself in extremely unsettling and difficult situations. Sure… sometimes I have no choice. But in this? I did. I explained that the effort was almost debilitating and between fears of being jostled and trying to navigate and hear in an unfamiliar place – in a PARTY no less – well… I was just choosing literally NOT “to go there”. I could see him thinking about my comments and as he is very expressive, I could tell he was thinking back to various activities I had attempted in the past. He was very understanding. He agreed that should things like this come up and he desired to go, he would do so even without me. He knew I’d hound him for details later and appreciate participating vicariously.

It has been a couple of weeks now since that sign-up sheet went around in class. I still don’t feel guilty, but must be so use to that feeling I keep waiting for it to hit me! (GRIN) As it is, I simply think am finally OK with being alone “on purpose”.

Solitary Activities

I love to walk and hike. Thankfully my assistance dog, Chloe, never argues about being a walking buddy so I can depend on her ears and alerts to stay safe while doing something I enjoy. My preference is to walk alone… but I never say “no” to walking with my young adult daughter, Kyersten. However, when walking alone I actually hear better. No one to talk to you see, unless you count a very attentive hound dog. Because of this “lack of people” noise, I’m able to tune into what sounds are going on around me. I’m constantly amazed at what my cochlear implant will pick up – when no one is talking. The sound of crunching leaves, fussing squirrels, the wind blowing the now skeletal branches of the trees around me… autumn is noisy! I can hear traffic sounds both near and far, children on the playground, dogs barking at doors as we traverse the neighborhood, and cats glaring from windows in homes. OK, yeah… that last one was a bit over the top, but I certainly have “holes drilled into my back” by the glares of imperial felines who watch us pass their kingdom’s boundaries!

I love when my house empties out with various family members going to activities, movies, or different shifts at work. I work better in a quiet house. No one interrupts me and I get a lot of work done! When I don’t have work to do, I have learned to not only embrace solitary “down time”, I look forward to it! A hot cup of tea and a good book + turning off my ears “on purpose” = a type of sweet surrender to all that is good in being alone.

I participate in holiday activities and feel close to family and friends. Thanksgiving was at my house (but of course!) and we had company as well… but on my terms. No holiday music, activities were quieter ones, and I heard very well. The experience was not at all stressful. I’m learning, you see…

I DO get to know new people – but usually one-on-one. In large or even small group settings, my focus and concentration are on staying at a place I’m not “lost” in the conversation. That makes it pretty difficult to get to know others! But one-on-one meetings, lunches, or walks allow me to really discover new people. I’m quick to invite and accept the invitations for such outings!

Thankful for… the Internet

Perhaps a bit “off topic”, but as Thanksgiving was this past week, I don’t feel as if I can close this post without mentioning how thankful I am for the Internet. I know people think that you cannot have “real” friends through the Internet. However hearing loss can at times be almost isolating… and not by choice. I have discovered a network of very special friends – all who have hearing loss. I have peeled back layers of “them” to see reveal people who I am proud to call FRIEND. I have met them face-to-face in various locales… usually hearing loss related activities. I never hesitate to participate in groups – even large ones – with my peers. There is no frustration in asking for repeats at these conferences, conventions, and gatherings. I don’t mind folks invading my personal space, for it is always good EAR first. In super noisy environments, paper is always handy and darn if we don’t abbreviate and jot quick notes as good as the younger texting generation! If your batteries go dead, one need simply to remove their implant… scowl at it, and several people nearby will hand you batteries. It isn’t strange to ask hostess or waiters to turn the background music “off”, because no one in the group wants it on anyway. We finish each others sentences and clarify for each other when one voice, timbre, or pitch may not be heard as easily as another. We are comfortable with each other because we live the same kind of life. The Internet allows us to stay in touch “in between times”. For that I am grateful and mindful to acknowledge the power of connecting through this tool – the Internet.

If you are a person with hearing loss and have not yet learned it is fine to be alone “on purpose”, perhaps it is because you have not yet discovered solitary activities that you enjoy. I hope that you will learn to embrace these times. Take up a new activity that is done well as the result of your being alone. I know dynamite photographers, writers, and artists whose skills improved when they learned to embrace their own alone time. What hidden talents and skills have you not yet honed but could do so should you choose to be alone “on purpose”?

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal


Untreated Hearing Loss

An initiative by Phonak – http://www.hear-the-world.com/

I just loved the movie UP! Not just because it had main characters that were dogs – and ones that could talk at that! Carl, a 70’s something animated actor sported hearing aids and spunk. Mostly the latter…

I recently ran into a 70’s something gentleman at the gas pump. I was leaning against the car waiting for my tank to fill, trying desperately to avoid looking at the high numbers scrolling across the screen as my 12 gallon tank drained my bank account. It was a pretty fall day, so I had the car windows down and was talking to Chloe. She could really care less about the price of unleaded, but she does like to flirt with other people nearby. I caught sight of a low tire, and changed positions so as to look at it better. This gentleman caught my eye and said, “I noticed that too… you need air in that tire”.

With some apprehension I looked around the station and could not see an air pump. I responded, “Oh dear, I don’t see an air pump!”

The gentleman cupped his ear and said, “teardrops and dare what?”

I think my eyes popped wide. Another person with hearing loss! I just beamed at him and turned to face him while repeating, “I don’t see an air pump, do you?”

He dropped his cupped hand and turned in a circle looking around the islands of pumps at the station. “Nope! I don’t see one either. You may have to go to another station and get some air in that tire!”

I pointed to my head and said, “I have a hearing loss too…”

He looked at me quizzically and moved to see the side of my head. “Oh! I thought that was one of those new-fangled gadgets people use to talk into. Is that a hearing aid?”

I beamed again, always excited to share and said, “No. It’s a cochlear implant.” I pointed to my other ear,… “but I have a hearing aid in this ear even though it doesn’t do me much good”.

He shook his head sadly and said, “Yes, I tried them for awhile but all I got was squeals and whistles. I never could hear better.”

Pointing to my CI again I said, “You should go to your audiologist and get evaluated for a cochlear implant. I hear much better than I ever did with just a hearing aid.”

He moved closer to me, still occasionally cupping his ear. I couldn’t tell if he was understanding all I was saying, so I really concentrated on speaking at a moderate pace and clearly. At least as clear as a pronounced southern accent would let me.

He stood within a yard from me and looked longingly at my CI. “If I were young again, I’d get that surgery!”

I put my hand on his arm and said, “Oh! You shouldn’t let age stand in your way. I know plenty of folks who are older who get the CI. They do very well!”

“No… no. I’m too old. It’s too late for me”, he said sadly. His eyes glistened and his chin dropped. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around him and hug him tight. Demonstrations of physical affection and empathetic squeezes were not likely to be accepted by a total stranger. So I restrained my impulses and instead said clearly, “You should think about that some more. It’s the quality of life that matters.”

My tank was full, as was his and cars were in line. I gave him my card and told him to email me. I hope he does.

Untreated Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss may result in depression, anxiety, little to no social activity, and insecurity (cited by Zounds). Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, said that deafness cuts one off from people, whereas blindness cuts one off from things. Even those who have received treatment for hearing loss may experience some of these same results, but in different degrees.

I recently went to a small group Bible study and had trouble hearing when I first came in since everyone was talking at the same time. Someone addressed me and I didn’t hear them. They ended up reacting negatively to that and I sat in shock at having been misunderstood and unfairly judged – and “I’m a veteran!” I thought to myself. But I think as a result of taking concrete steps towards hearing better, those of us who have made an effort to communicate with assistive listening devices and technology have also developed coping skills towards dealing with bouts of depression, anxiety, and insecurities. We have very likely also made great strides in being more socially active. In my case, having a negative experience at least meant I could email my peers and belly-ache about it and get some great advice!

But what if your hearing loss is untreated? If your hearing loss began as an adult, do you remember those early days of not hearing well? I sure do. I can tell you they aren’t GOOD memories either. Slowly, but surely I dropped out of nearly everything. When Terry and I first got married we vowed to continue to date. So even after the kids were born, we’d swap baby-sitting favors and go out on dates. After I began losing my hearing (when our 2nd child was born), those dates dwindled away and eventually stopped. I’d have hubby “order in” so that I could eat something I didn’t have to fix but would not have to face the noise of a restaurant. Now that I have a CI, I’m enjoying dining out again.

If you are still a working adult when hearing loss occurs, it can greatly impact your ability to do your job. You can only “fake it” so long. Hearing loss can be treated discreetly and privately. I have met some people at work, church, or in public who I didn’t realize had a hearing loss until they noticed my own “bling” (or hearing assistance dog) and mentioned it to me. For many, disclosing hearing loss is a choice you can make, whether you are at work or another place you often hang out (ballgames, church, community events, etc).

If you know of someone who may have a hearing loss, you may discover they can be stubborn about agreeing to go get evaluated by an audiologist. Encourage them to do so! Many times audiologists will do a hearing test for free. Even if you do not yet need a hearing aid or other technology in order to maximize hearing, it is good to get a baseline audiogram to chart where your hearing is “going”. Not all types of hearing loss are progressive – but then again there are many that ARE. Having a real way to chart what is happening to your hearing is important.

We use to get our hearing checked regularly in school. Because of budget cuts few schools do hearing tests anymore. Parents should be diligent about periodic hearing tests for their children. Especially those who had tubes put in when young, or suffered from numerous ear infections. If hearing loss runs in the family, it is even more important to religiously set up audiograms for members of the family.

Don’t Chalk it Up to “Age”

I have heard many say that they expected some hearing loss when they reached their late 60’s or 70’s. Age-related hearing loss is not uncommon. However, many choose not to do anything about it. Hearing aids have “come a long way baby”. They come in all sizes, shapes, and COLORS. (Yeah, of course I would mention THAT!) They can be worn discreetly or worn all “be-dazzled”. You may find that you hear fine in “most” situations, but perhaps you have trouble understanding and hearing in noisy places. Hearing aids are also able to isolate voices close and zero in on direction of the listener. You’ll never know what is available until you go see an audiologist and talk to them about your options!

If you tried hearing aids and hated them, but know your hearing loss has worsened – please don’t discount cochlear implants without sitting down and talking to recipients. All three cochlear implant manufacturers have message boards and forums in which you can ask questions and discover answers from actual cochlear implant recipients. Age doesn’t matter either – the oldest person I personally knew who was implanted was 87-years-old. I have read stories of others who are even older. A person does need to be healthy enough to undergo outpatient surgery and anesthesia, but age doesn’t disqualify anyone!

The American Academy of Audiology reported the findings of a study done by the National Council on the Aging. Over 2,300 individuals participated in the study, and 2,090 hearing family members were also surveyed. The results of the study can be viewed here. The study noted that, “Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States, affecting more than nine million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans age 45 to 64. But about three out of five older Americans with hearing loss and six out of seven middle-aged Americans with hearing loss do not use hearing aids”.

If you or someone you know has a hearing loss, go get an audiogram and information about your hearing loss. What have you got to lose?

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Reflections on National Invisible Illness Awareness Week

According to the Invisible Illness Awareness website, the following statistics are true:

  • Over 100 million people in the U.S. have a chronic illness;
  • 20.6 percent of the population, about 54 million people, have some level of disability;
  • 9.9 percent or 26 million people had a severe disability
  • 1.8 million used a wheelchair
  • 5.2 million used a cane, crutches, or a walker
  • So that is less than 6% who have a visible illness.
  • There are many illnesses that start out being invisible and as the disease progresses it becomes more visible.

Also note that:

  • 26 million persons were considered to have a severe disability;
  • yet, only 7 million persons used a visible device for mobility.
  • Thus, 19 million of the people who were defined as severely disabled, did not use a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walkers.
  • In other words, 73% of Americans with severe disabilities do not use such devices.
  • Therefore, a disability cannot be determined solely on whether or not a person uses visible assistive equipment.

U.S. Department of Commerce (1994). Bureau of the Census, Statistical Brief: Americans With Disabilities. (Publication SB/94-1).U.S. Department of Commerce (1997). Bureau of the Census, Census Brief: Disabilities Affect One-Fifth of All Americans. (Publication CENBR/97-5).

Why Do I “Plug” Invisible Illness Awareness Week?

I have been trying to raise awareness about this week for three years now. This year, a friend noticed my “don’t miss” posting on Facebook and couldn’t resist teasing me about it. After all, I don’t exactly allow my challenges to be INVISIBLE. I wear a bright red ear mold on the hearing aid in my “deaf” ear. I wear sparkly “bling” on the cochlear implant on my “hearing again” ear. I go about my life accompanied by a hearing assistance/balance assist dog 24/7. I learned long ago that it was in my best interests to make an invisible disability – VISIBLE. It kept me from being knocked out of the way, and helped people realize that something about me is different. I can still work, shop, go to movies, hike, and dance… yeah. OK, maybe not that last part…

I just don’t hear well… especially in big, cavernous places, or busy, buzzing atmospheres. Once you get my attention and I know you are talking to me, I can actually hear you great! I may have to ask for a very occasional repeat, but for the most part I do really well. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in my hearing. Despite all my visible reminders and “kissing sidekick”, Chloe, people who know me well (friends, co-workers, and family members) will forget that I may have trouble if you don’t get my attention first and that I can’t move FASTever. Heck… sometimes even *I* forget that I cannot move fast. Nothing reminds me quicker than when I






Through the years I’ve been able to meet some wonderful people. Some examples include:

1) Folks through the training center at Fidos For Freedom.

2) People at Hearing Loss Association of America conventions or conferences

3) “Hearing Again” recipients at Cochlear America conferences

4) Individuals in support groups for tinnitus, Meniere’s disease, hearing loss, and assistance dogs users (both face-to-face and in virtual environments online).

Not every disability can be made visible. Not every person chooses to even try and make something invisible – visible. They have their reasons and it is an individual’s choice how they want to disclose or keep hidden any disabilities they may have. It could influence their work environment, relationships, and even self-esteem. I choose to support ALL individuals who live with chronic illness, invisible illness, or disability. Recognizing these illnesses once a year in a push for national awareness, I hope will eventually dispel erroneous ideas and information about these very populations. This is one of the reasons I “blog”, and invite guest authors to write for “Hearing Elmo” as well. Raising awareness makes a difference… one person at a time.

I read some incredible stories of courage, faith, and perseverance this week at the national website for invisible illnesses. You can check out some of them here. I’m proud to be a part of a community of people who choose to live a victorious life  – “in spite of”.

Take some time this week if you can to recognize the courageous people that you know who live with invisible illness and the choices they have made in order to live life to its fullest!

Denise Portis

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Soul Surfer

My daughter was home for Easter weekend so the family enjoyed a rare night out to the movies. The movie “Soul Surfer” had been recommended to us so we chose to attend on Sunday afternoon. I was in a bit of a huff when I arrived due to some family conflict, missing the first part of the movie while I sat and fumed. (Yup… I definitely need to learn to fume a little quicker).

Once I started paying attention, however, I really enjoyed the movie. When you “hear again” with a cochlear implant, you really do have to make the concentrated effort to PAY ATTENTION as listening is no longer a passive exercise – rather an active effort. On occasion, I’m lucky to snag a movie we are attending that is open captioned. I do not have to focus with nearly the same concentrated effort when the movie is open captioned. As it was, I finally TUNED IN and really enjoyed the movie. I won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t seen it, but basically a teenager learns to live life differently due to circumstances that were neither predicted nor expected. She learned that “in spite of” she can continue to make a difference in the lives of others… to touch souls.

Individuals with acquired disabilities of any kind have to do the same, don’t they? I mean the alternative is isolating yourself and giving up. That isn’t a life I’d wish on anyone. (Believe me I know, because I tried it for a short time!) It takes a lot of courage to persevere and learn to do some things differently when life throws you a curve ball. I’ve always been a lousy “catch”, so wouldn’t you know when my own disabilities took hold and changed my life that I was totally unprepared?

I was at a Fidos For Freedom training with my assistance dog one Saturday and a fellow client that I have come to know quite well wasn’t at all surprised by a blunt question. We had learned to be “straight” with each other early on because we discovered that by doing so we could learn from each other. She is a client who has been matched with a service dog trained to assist her with mobility tasks. Having experienced a recent “wet week” due to spring showers in our area, I asked her how she found the wherewithal to come to trainings after having a “bad week”. She has had to learn to do things differently because of her disability and must prepare well in advance when attending trainings that other people may be able to spontaneously decide to attend! She said, “I simply remember that by coming I have opportunities to encourage someone else. I don’t want to miss those opportunities so I get my butt out of bed!”

I’ve never met anyone that was not able to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the life of another. I don’t care who you are or what your circumstances are. The only necessary ingredient to successfully touching the life of another is BEING WILLING. If you aren’t willing, it will never happen. People with acquired disabilities have learned to maximize technology. We have learned to perhaps do something DIFFERENTLY in order to accomplish a task. We have also learned when to cut ourselves some slack. People with acquired disabilities have learned to ask for help at times. We are malleable, persistent, and BRAVE. No worries. I’m not “tooting my own horn” here, I’m simply pointing out the obvious having met numerous people with acquired disabilities.

Surfing for Souls

There are numerous ways individuals can make a difference. My “short list” is below. Feel free to leave comments and add to this!

1. Join online support groups and be active in the group. Reach out to others who are perhaps struggling with a new acquired disability.

2. If possible, participate in local support groups or chapters that meet physically each month. Go prepared to learn, but look for opportunities to serve.

3. Be open and honest. Don’t hide the fact on your Facebook. Don’t make your disability invisible. Visibility allows others to see you active in your community, doing things others do without thought. Shopping, church, or GOING TO THE MOVIES are all activities we can still accomplish. Welcome questions and be prepared to be a positive advocate.

4. Have business-card sized cards available to give to people who stop to ask questions about the: Cochlear implant bling, service animal, hearing aids, wheel chair, walker or bright purple cane! In this way they can contact you at a later date and ask questions in a more controlled, confidential way. They may need the information for themselves, or for someone they care about who struggles with their own acquired disability.

5. Don’t apologize for being different. Celebrate it!

6. Advocate, advocate, advocate! When the support groups and organizations to which you belong do annual fundraisers, DEMOS, or community service appearances, do not hesitate to get involved and advocate! At times you will be called upon to write local or state government officials. Take the time to do this!

I remind myself as I encourage you to do the same. I need to be be aware on a DAILY basis. I can surf for souls to touch. I can make a difference!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

We Are All Ambassadors

We are all ambassadors… of SOMETHING.

We are a living, breathing, advertisement of “something”. How you choose to live your life, and how that choice is reflected in your daily interactions with others is so important. We don’t realize when someone is watching, listening, or studying how we live. I think it is so important that people with invisible and visible disabilities live their lives in a way that reflects how their disability doesn’t overshadow their abilities. I suppose being a mother I have always been cognizant of “who is watching”. But now that my kids are grown and in college, they rarely study mom and her life anymore. Others are watching, however.

I shouldn’t be surprised when people stop me to ask questions or make an observation. In spite of having invisible disabilities (“hearing again” with a cochlear implant, and Meniere’s disease), I try to make them visible so that I’m not taken by surprise by not hearing something or getting bumped by “I’m in a hurry” people. I wear “bling” on my cochlear implant to draw attention to the fact that I hear differently than folks with normal hearing. I am with the constant companion of my hearing assistance dog, Chloe. Let’s face it. Nothing draws attention to “something is different about me” more quickly than entering places of business with a service dog. But in spite of my own mom’s occasional teasing of “you’re such a drama queen”, the biggest reason I am visible about who I am is because I’m not ashamed of it. I welcome questions and curious people. Hearing loss is so misunderstood. People seem to understand the culturally Deaf. People born deaf and then choose to embrace American Sign Language as their primary means of communication seem to be understood better than those who are adventitiously deaf and choose technology, surgery, speech reading, and spoken language.

Baby boomers were recently cited as a fast growing “hearing loss” crowd. (Story can be accessed here). Yet young people are part of a new (and alarming) growing crowd of individuals with hearing loss as the result of iPods, concerts, and environmental noises. (Story can be accessed here). I am proud of my cochlear implant and proud that I am now independent thanks to the assistance of my service dog. I don’t have to worry about what I am not hearing thanks to her alerts, and I know if I drop something she will be right there to pick it up for me. I like being an ambassador.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and do not really want to stop to answer questions. That’s why I try to carry my card with me so that people can contact me through email. I also carry information about my cochlear implant and information about Fidos For Freedom. (We discussed how to handle questions when in a hurry at a recent client chat at Fidos For Freedom!) In this way, even when I am in a hurry I can still be a good ambassador for people with hearing loss and people with service dogs. Am I always a good ambassador?

No. No one is perfect. You are going to have “bad days”.

In spite of those bad days, however, I encourage you to remember that people watch you. Some are people who know about your invisible or visible disabilities. Others may be folks who know nothing about you. I love meeting other “great ambassadors”. If we ever “meet up” in public, don’t be surprised by a HIGH 5 from me!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Random Definitions – Consider the Source

Aren’t definitions funny critters? Oh sure… you can use “Dictionary.com” or Merriam-Websters Collegiate “big enough to cause a hernia” dictionary to look up words. But the funny thing about the English dictionary? Words can mean different things. The words can EVEN mean different things – to different people. Some random definitions I have encountered in the last week include:

Now: To the mother who demanded the trash be emptied, it means immediately. To the 20-year-old son who will get to it eventually, it means sometime today.

D-cup: “What does ‘D-cup’ mean to you?” Response: “Male or female?” Speechless thought: “Wha’…   ?”

McDonalds: To the over-extended, ‘I forgot to thaw out the chicken’ parent, it means SUPPER. To the health-conscious, it means ‘heart attack in a bag’.

Snap: Daughter: “Oh snap, I forgot my key!” Mother: snaps fingers and looks quizzically at daughter. Daughter: (raises eyebrows and shoots an exasperated DUH look at mother…)

Normal: To a teenager, it means someone who “fits in”. To a dog, it means it can be eaten. To a person who happens to have a disability, it means “treated like everyone else”.

Yup! You often have to consider the source to understand how people choose to define common words. The word “normal” has cropped up a couple of times in the past several weeks for me.

First occurrence:

Kyersten and I were at Costco looking around and purchasing some bulk items to take back to Virginia for college. A lady did a double-take, looked at Chloe (my assistance dog), looked at my head and kept walking a few steps. However, she immediately stopped and left her cart, pocketbook and items and trotted over to where Kyersten and I stood to say, “Excuse me! Is that a cochlear implant?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh my husband has one of those. How long have you had yours?” she asked with curiosity.

I preceded to tell her a little bit about my own activation 5 years ago and hearing health history. I was trying to keep an eye on her cart (with pocketbook that screamed, “Steal me. Someone steal me” in it), so was a little startled when she interrupted my nervous glances toward her cart to say, “But your speech! It’s so normal!”

In talking with her, it seems her husband was deafened at a young age and was essentially without sound for 27 years before he received his own bilateral implants. He evidently has a noticeable speech impediment. But what is “normal”? I have met late-deafened and congenitally deaf people from all over the United States. “Normal speech”? Some would argue my southern accent is not “normal” for the DC-Metro area. How one person with hearing difficulties speaks, is much like an individual accent. There isn’t anything “abnormal” about it. My son has perfect (selective) hearing, and he has a speech impediment. It is “normal” for him though. How pronounced his own speech difficulties sound, depends on how hard he chooses to enunciate words and regulate his speed. Who determined what “normal speech” was and determined the “yard stick” by which to measure all speech?

At Pearle Vision Center:

A lady and her daughter stopped to admire Chloe who was in a down/stay. “Oh what a beautiful working dog! Are you training her?”

“Oh! No… Chloe graduated 3 years ago. She’s always training, but I’m not her original trainer” I replied.

“Oh! You mean she is YOUR partner?” the surprised woman asked.

“Yes. She’s a hearing/assist and balance assistance dog. I am late-deafened and have Meniere’s disease”, I cheerfully replied.

“Oh wow… you look so n-norm- normal” she stuttered out (since she realized how inappropriate that was as soon as she started saying it!)

I just smiled and she walked away embarrassed.


Very likely, this world would be a better place if people didn’t go around labeling others as NORMAL or NOT.

To someone, somewhere… you aren’t “normal” if you choose to define the word as “not like you”!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Meniere’s Rant

I don’t usually go on and on about Meniere’s disease, but I’ve had a pretty bad week with the “little Rascal”. For one thing, I count myself extremely BLESSED as I seem to have only one major trigger. Rain. I know plenty of other folks who have other types of triggers that include flying, change in altitudes (vacations in the mountains!), alcohol, head cold or allergies, chocolate (oh my!), smoking, and even certain foods! So since I only have “rain” as a Meniere’s trigger, I really try not to complain very much.

A fellow Meniere’s patient pointed me to a terrific support group through Facebook today. I have already found a lot of great information. If you belong to Facebook… check it out here. There is a simple but helpful Meniere’s organization on the Internet which can be accessed here. A website providing basic information and clinical trials can be accessed here. My favorite website is the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). They have a terrific Meniere’s Disease section that can be located here.  Thanks to the Meniere’s disease Facebook page, I was even directed to our very own Super Villain – Count Vertigo. Who knew?

Being a former farmer’s kid and because I still have numerous relatives that I love in a farming community in SE Colorado, I try to never belly-ache about the rain. Rain is necessary and in most cases a “shower of blessing” to farmers, ranchers, and those who get tired of moving their sprinklers around.

But this week? SIGH. I’ve had some bad experiences. On a rainy day, I fell in the laundry room this past week and happened to find the only exposed nail in the “unfinished room”. Thankfully, I hit it square and impaled myself through the fleshy part of my arm. I was able to pull it clean away and stop the bleeding very quickly. A quick verification that I had a tetanus shot recently, a severe pounding with the hammer on that (stupid) nail, and I escaped “nearly” unscathed.

This morning my alarm clock went off and my well-trained assistance dog was in my face immediately to “kiss me awake”. As soon as I sat up I knew it was raining outside. When the room spins the moment I become vertical, I rarely need to look outside to verify that it is raining. I didn’t fall until about 10 AM. Unfortunately, when I lost my balance I was on the stairs with my arms around a large load of laundry. Missing three steps means I have a pretty good chance of landing “gracefully” and still on my feet. Missing four however? Not a chance. I lay sprawled on the floor staring at the ceiling and a concerned hound dog with dirty laundry scattered all around me. I have a standard set of “OK, I’ve fallen – now what?” questions I ask myself.

1) Am I conscious? (duh)

2) Is anything broken?

3) Am I laying on anything important (like a dog or a cat)

4) Can I close my eyes and open them again and stay conscious?

5) Do I need to call a family member?

If I can answer No, No, No, YES, and NO… then I simply sit up and take my time to re-group. This time I didn’t hit anything other than my elbow on the way down. I may or may not be sporting a pretty blue spot tonight.

There is no cure for Meniere’s Disease. (Hope you aren’t new to the disease and I just depressed you for the remainder of the year!) There are some treatment options, but they only work for “some”, and all the options only serve to reduce the severity of symptoms or number of attacks. NIDCD lists several treatment options that include:

1. Medications – Prescriptions such as meclizine, diazepam, glycopyrrolate, and lorazepam can help relieve dizziness and shorten the attack.

2. Salt restriction and diuretics – I take a prescription diuretic and do restrict my salt. I’ve not seen any real difference, but continue to do these in case it has a cumulative effect.

3. Cognitive therapy – Doesn’t treat the Meniere’s but does help the patient deal with anxiety and coping with “future attacks”.

4. Injections

5. Pressure pulse treatment

6. Surgery

7. Alternative medicine. I take Manganese (5 mg) and a B complex vitamin. Researchers have found that Meniere’s disease patients have a Manganese deficiency. Manganese can be hard to find. (Magnesium is plentiful, but you’ll have to go to a specialty store or order online to find Manganese). Other treatments include acupuncture, acupressure, tai chi, and other supplements. Always tell your doctor if you are taking other supplements as many may interfere with prescription drugs.

This past year, Gene Pugnetti was surgically implanted with a special cochlear implant to treat his severe Meniere’s disease. You can read about the latest update here. The original story can be read here. I will be looking for updates about Gene and wish him the best!

Some things I have learned that help me with Meniere’s disease:

1. I take 5 mg of Manganese and a B-complex vitamin.

2. I limit my salt and take a prescription diuretic.

3. I take 50 mg. of Benedryl before bed.

4. I have inexpensive molding about 4 feet high along the hallway, kitchen, and bedroom. At night, if I have to get up in the dark, I only need to feel my way around the room to discourage getting disoriented. Without it, my eyes “play tricks on my brain” about how close the floor, walls, and doors are as I am struggling to see in the dark. The molding has allowed me to move about the house as needed in the dark without injury.

5. I never EVER go down the stairs without holding on to something. If I have something in my arms, I balance the “something” on one hip. On bad days, if it takes me 3 or 4 minutes to get down the stairs instead of 30 seconds, that’s OK. Patience is a virtue… and may prevent broken bones!

6. I avoid looking directly at ceiling fans or other contraptions that “spin”.

7. I do not ever ride roller coasters, or rides that spin in any way. If I am “spun” into an unconscious state, it is rather difficult to hold on! I made a promise to my family after “Space Mountain” in 2002 to avoid these rides for the remainder of my life. I’m finding it isn’t a difficult promise to keep.

8. I stand and sit with pre-meditation. To simply “pop up” or sit down quickly only means I will experience dizziness. Why bother when moving with a little more care will help to avoid it?

Hopefully this information may be of use to someone! I’m very thankful Meniere’s disease rarely necessitates I write about it!

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal