My Story

Hearing Elmo welcomes contributions by guest writers! Thank you to Tywanna for her contribution today!

By guest writer Tywanna

My Story….

I was the first born in a family of three children. As a child and later a teenager, I attended “mainstream” schools. I did what all kids do – play, get in trouble, argue with siblings, visit grandparents, take part in church activities, etc.

I first noticed the decline of my hearing while attending college. People would call my name and I wouldn’t hear them. Early on I thought it was because they were calling me from far away. At some point, I began to turn the television up louder. Again, I thought it was someone/something else. Maybe the television program was being broadcasted at a low volume.

I now wonder if people around me noticed my hearing loss before I did.

While shopping with a college roommate, I took a hearing test while in the mall. The conclusion was I had some hearing loss. I don’t recall asking to what degree or which ear. Maybe I was unwilling to accept the results. Hearing loss? Isn’t that for the elderly? What young adult asks for hearing aids? Could I start a new fashion statement on campus? Were hearing aids the “in” thing?

I must have placed the results of the hearing test in the back of my mind. Similar to placing the skillet on the back burner while the remainder of your dinner is cooking. We often place items on the back burner or in the back of the closet until we’re ready to retrieve them.

While attending college, I worked part-time and also found time to enjoy activities around campus. I made it through college just fine. I attended classes, studied hard and was successful. Maybe that one hearing test was wrong? Maybe my hearing loss wasn’t that bad. Who knows what I was thinking. I was a young adult enjoying life and having a good time.

After college I began working full-time. I was still young. I had my own apartment, my own car, and money in my pocket. What more could I ask for? Life was good.

As the years went by the hearing loss became progressively worse. I sought the help of a few more doctors and the results were the same – you’re losing your hearing. The doctors would say let’s explore hearing aids. My mind would think – WHAT? Here they go again talking about hearing loss at such a young age. I was not ready to explore that option. I wanted to know why I was losing my hearing. There must be an answer. Maybe there’s a cure. Things just don’t happen for any reason. If advances in science and technology can send a man to the moon, there must be an answer for hearing loss.

While I was searching for an answer, my hearing and understanding did not improve.

I the late 1990’s I located a doctor who tested my hearing again. This time I was open to talk about hearing aids. The audiologist showed me various models and discussed which of those would be better for me. She suggested a behind the ear (BTE) hearing aid for both ears. Again I was thinking – WHAT? At least this time the entrance door to my mind was unlocked and open for business. I recall asking could I get small hearing aids that go in the canal. She politely explained due to the severity of my lost, those would not benefit me.

I soon began experiencing life with my first set of hearing aids. They were brown and BTE. They came with a small discreet pouch and with a remote. Wow! I wore them on an as needed basis. I still felt in some situations I was doing pretty good. Little did I know I was learning to adapt. Survival is based on adaptability. My first set of hearing aids lasted for about 5 (five) years.

I went a few years without hearing aids. I was working full-time and had completed my Master’s degree. I began traveling for work and I felt I was communicating with people fairly well. I was able to watch and understand television. I was an avid moviegoer. I spent time chatting with family and friends on the telephone.

At some point my hearing took another decline. I could no longer understand people without visual cues. Television was just noise. I had to use closed caption to understand what was being said. I slowly began to stray away from the telephone. My life as I had previously known it was changing.

Their came a time when I realized that I needed another set of hearing aids. A BTE set can cost up to $5,000, and they are not covered under the medical insurance plan. I located a great doctor who performed a thorough evaluation. After many tests – MRI, CAT Scan, needle poking, etc. There was still no answer. All these years of medical advancements and no answer! What’s happening to all the funding that goes toward medical research? The doctor’s best guess was genetics. How can this be genetic if I’m the only person in the family with hearing loss? The ENT explained that I was almost deaf. I did not expect this. The tears began to flow like a stream. I couldn’t help but think why me?

Many days and nights my heart was heavy with sadness. My eyes were sore due to regular crying. My head ached due to constant thinking of hearing loss. Was I a walking medical mystery?

When I received my second set of hearing aids, I wore them faithfully. I had many consultations with the audiologist. Each time our conversation would go something like this. Me – “Is this a good brand? They don’t seem to be working very well.” Audiologist – “Yes, you have one of the best. Just give them time.”

After two years and half years of the same conversation, I had had enough. I was angry and frustrated. I expressed my feelings to the ENT and audiologist. The ENT referred me to another specialist. He stated he referred his complex cases to this other doctor. I felt somewhat relieved.

With my new doctor and audiologist, I began another chapter in life. My cochlear implant journey…..


I had to make a choice. I could continue to be sad or I could continue living. I chose the later.

After reading so many stories of others, my heart began to lighten. Who was I to complain? I saw others who were worse off than myself. There were people without food and shelter. There were people who had overcome adversity in spite of multiple disabilities. There were people who lives were turned upside down. And there were people who experienced grief beyond imaginable.

The tears that used to run freely began to dry up. Who was I to question God? The medical answer I searched for was not forthcoming. I began to realize God made me this way for a reason. There is no such thing as chance or luck. Everything is designed according to his well-orchestrated plan. God does not make mistakes. I may not have a medical answer in this lifetime, but I was determined to keep moving forward.

I no longer cared what others thought; if they did not want to be my friend, who cares. I surely didn’t. It was their lost and not mine. If they were staring at my listening devices, that means they’re curious. Curiosity can be a good thing because it can imply a change in current thinking.

I’m beginning to learn one of my purposes in life – to share and educate others. I began to speak to others about hearing loss. The door to newfound friendships opened. I was beginning to meet people like me. The shyness of my disability that used to exist was fading. The woe is me complex disappeared. I learned to become proud and comfortable with the way God made me. I’m unique, different, head strong, and I’m me!

Some days I’m happy. We’re happy when things are going right. We’re happy when things are going our way. Happiness is based on circumstance. Most of the time I’m joyous. I have joy in spite of my circumstances. Joy is finding peace in the midst of thunderstorms. Joy is finding peace in the midst of trials and tribulations. Joy is living with a calm heart.

While growing up I recall a song the choir used to sing. “I don’t feel no ways tired. I’ve come to far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy. I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.” I now have a greater appreciation for those words. Where is it written that life would be easy?

I have a testimony – one of faith, the ability to bounce back, and a testimony of God’s grace and mercy. All these testimonies would not be possible if it wasn’t for a TEST. In order to testify as to the goodness of the Lord, our faith must be first be tested.

I have a hearing loss. I’m a disabled person. I’m opposed to Deaf. When the right times comes, I pray I’m able to hear the Lord say, “well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)


On the Road Again…

Denise and Chloe at Covenant College
Chloe enjoyed visiting these colleges, and "tolerated" the long drive.

This past Thursday, my daughter and I headed out on a road trip to visit two colleges on her “short” list. Bryan College is in Dayton, TN, and Covenant College is on Lookout Mtn, just over the TN border in Georgia.

Traveling with a hearing loss can be intimidating, but honestly I’m not new to this! Not to hearing loss, and not to traveling with one. In the past, knowing I had to travel would keep me up nights and worrying about the details weeks in advance. Hearing loss is such a part of my life, I do not really remember life with normal hearing.

Things that Help

I think one of the more obvious things that help me when traveling with a hearing loss is that I make my invisible disability – visible. From wearing bright “bling” on my cochlear implant (currently sporting Christmas “bling”), to wearing a bright red ear mold on the hearing aid in my other ear, I really try to make my hearing loss noticeable. I wear my hair up, and I pay attention. I hear really well with my CI, but I’m also wise enough to understand that late at night after I’ve become fatigued and am standing in a large cavernous, echo-producing foyer of a motel, I may have difficulty hearing! So the reliable, noticeable reminder of my disability only comes to my aid when checking in and reserving a room. Almost instantly, front desk employees “change tactics” and are careful to point out where to sign, wait for me to look up to continue speaking (although I actually hear well when not looking now), and are careful to point for directions instead of simply telling me where to go next.

People must travel with assistance dogs regularly enough now that I never am asked what Chloe does or why she is with me. She is less trouble than “some people’s” kids, so she is only help to me when traveling! Thankfully, at Fidos For Freedom, puppies travel with their trainers quite a bit to expose the dogs to motels, airplanes, etc.

Kyersten and Chloe at Rock City for a short "break" to visit a tourist attraction

When stopping for gas, thankfully one can easily pay at the pump. The few times I had to go inside to grab a bottle of water for Kyersten or Chloe, the “visible reminders” served the same purpose at these places as well.

Why do I Believe Visible is Better?

I know plenty of people who choose to keep their invisible disability hidden. That is certainly their choice, and I am very supportive of “whatever works” for each individual. It is my personal opinion, however, that being up front about your hearing loss is only in your best interests. I have heard some folks say that they keep their cochlear implant or hearing aid hidden because they do not want to be treated differently. However, it seems these same individuals are very vocal in their criticism of people who continue to forget to get their attention before speaking, failures to set up assistive listening devices in conferences or meetings, or in disdain rebuke those who have accents, are gum chewers, mumble, or are soft spoken. I believe that in keeping a visible reminder that you do not hear the same way others do (with amplification, speech reading, or cochlear implant technology), others are reminded to communicate more clearly and with better speaking skills than they might otherwise employ.

Chloe at Covenant College waiting for the Admissions Office to open.

I believe that by being visible, I have in many ways become more approachable to others and are more accepting of who I now personally. The moment I decided to become transparent about my hearing loss, my blood pressure numbers began to come down and I became more relaxed and at peace with who I am. Think about it this way… what is your demeanor, attitude, and feelings when in the process of trying to hide something?

loved the wildlife
Lots of critters in the mountains of Tennessee! I had to keep Chloe "tight leashed" to keep her from forgetting her job when on a trail!

Hoping mom doesn’t notice a missing cookie from the cookie sheet that just came out of the oven and are desperately trying to lick the last bit of chocolate chip from your fingers?

Have you ever lied and hoped no one would ever discover the truth? One often has to cover one lie with another… and then another.

Have you ever played hide-and-seek? Your heart accelerates as the person who is “it” draws closer to your place of hiding. You may even hold your breath in an attempt at keeping your hiding place from being discovered!

I believe that deliberately trying to hide something like an invisible disability eventually produces anxiety, unease, and produces a fear of discovery. These are all negative feelings! They do not provoke positive change and influence.

In spite of my bling and wearing my hair up, I still take some folks by surprise. Let’s face it… not everyone pays attention to detail. My husband is one of those people who I can greet at the door when he gets home from work and he will never notice I cut my hair 5 inches or am wearing a new outfit. (I don’t buy new clothes very often either!). Terry just doesn’t pay attention to visual detail. It always gives me a bit of a thrill to see the look on someone’s face who did NOT notice my visible reminders, when I’ve finally had to point to my mouth and say,

“I’m sorry. I missed the last part of what you said because of all the noise in here. I’m deaf and hear with a cochlear implant and just could not make out what you said. Could you repeat that please?”

The person’s mouth drops open and they totally FORGET what they said. Instead they exclaim, “Wow! I would have never known you were death! (Intentional mis-spell here in loving attention of all the times I’ve heard this instead of the correct identification). You are so… So… NORMAL!”

Another reason why I do not want to try to hide my invisible disability, is because I tried “the other way”. Do you know what I felt when something I tried to keep hidden became known to someone? Shame. That shame and embarrassment led to poor self-esteem and anger.

Again, I’m not “preaching” at others to adopt what I have done in order to bring awareness to their hearing loss. I really do believe that each individual must do what work best for them.

This is Who I Am

I am comfortable in my own skin. I don’t believe God reached down and caused me to become deaf. I also don’t believe God is “hands off” and set the world in motion just to sit back and watch everything happen. My life is not God’s Youtube. I believe everything has a purpose. Every good thing, and every bad thing happens in order to grow me. I really believe that! I make choices every single day. Sometimes the choices are small and may only involve what kind of tea bag to grab in the morning. However, many choices involve shaping and molding our character to produce a unique individual equipped to make a difference where I happen to be planted. My choices affect my attitudes and future decisions.

Sometimes our decisions are processes. For example, I did not “wake up” a secure and confident late-deafened adult. I “messed up”, acted out, hid, grieved, griped and smacked people. This was a process God allowed me to experience. The process grew me. I don’t regret the process even though I shed a lot of tears.

I’m still a work in progress! Just because I’m 43 and have been an “adult” more years than I was not, I continue to grow, mature and evolve. I don’t care how old you are, you still have a great deal to learn! We are ALL works in progress. Heck. If I was a “finished product”, God would just take me home!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal


P.S. If you do NOT like attention being drawn to your disability, I do not recommend being matched with a hearing assistance dog! People notice the dog as if it were a flashing neon sign!

If I’m Part of a Majority, Then What is Our Identity?

Denise and Chloe sit next to the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, WV
Denise and Chloe sit next to the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, WV

According to data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS, 2006)), 37 million adults in the United States have a hearing loss. This is approximately 14.9% (2007) of persons over the age of 18 living in the United States. Gallaudet Research Institute (2007) states that anywhere from 2 to 4 adults out of every 1000, is “functionally deaf”, but of that number more than half became deaf after the age of 18-years-old. (NOTE: this would be after the acquisition of oral language). As many as 22 out of every 1000 adults in the U.S. consider that they have a “severe hearing impairment”. (Their hearing loss affects their lives and impacts the way that they communicate).

Who am I?

I began losing my hearing when I started having children. At the age of 25-years-old when my daughter was born, I have a very vague and fuzzy memory of thinking I may have a cold as speech sounded muffled to me. At the age of 27-years-old, my son had come along as well and at that point my husband and I both knew that something was up with my hearing. I went to an audiologist and was diagnosed with a moderate hearing loss… “did I want to buy a hearing aid for my ‘worse’ ear?”

Although I am deaf (with a small “d” as opposed to the capital “D” for culturally Deaf folks), I don’t consider myself deaf. I don’t think it’s a matter of denial either. I speak with my voice, and use a cochlear implant and hearing aid to maximize what I hear. For me… this is “normal hearing”. My “new normal”. I’m comfortable and happy with what I hear.

I know sign language, but it is highly unusual that I do. I learned ASL in college because I had two friends in my dorm who were culturally Deaf. I’ve been learning sign and taking classes ever since. I don’t use sign language with other hard-of-hearing people because the vast majority of them do not use sign language. Think about it for a moment. If like most people who lose their hearing, you do so after having learned oral language… won’t you try to continue to communicate in a way that more closely resembles the way that you did before your hearing loss? On top of trying to live with a newly acquired disability, would you want to learn a new language including it’s syntax and grammar, only to accomplish being able to sign to other people who happen to know sign? Doesn’t make sense does it? That is why the vast majority of people who lose their hearing turn to technology, surgery and/or reading lips.

Is ASL a bad thing if you are an oral deaf adult?

I’ve been to numerous hearing loss conventions where the attendance was anywhere from 500-800 hard-of-hearing people. These conventions often hire interpreters for the twenty or so people who use ASL as their primary means of communication. CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation using a court reporter) is also usually being paid for and the many workshops and sessions are also looped or have infra-red technology so that people with t-coils on their hearing aids and cochlear implants can hear more clearly. The small nucleus of folks who use primarily ASL tend to “hang out” together at these conventions. I have seen some very strong bonds and friendships develop. However, they are also isolated at times because they cannot speak to the hard-of-hearing majority who do not use sign. Sure! You can write notes, but I’ve rarely seen the effort made.

So should a HoH (hard-of-hearing) person learn ASL? My personal opinion is that learning a little bit of ASL is a good tool to use at home when you happen to have your hearing aids or cochlear implant out… or should your batteries die. Actually, HoH folks tend to learn Pidgin sign language, or exact signed English. They tend to sign exactly as they would speak in English (which isn’t ASL). I’ve been trying to talk my HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) chapter into doing one meeting on “often used phrases in ASL”. I believe knowing these phrases at home will facilitate communication in the situations I mentioned above. It can also be fun to learn a “hand full” of sign. However, most HoH people do not try to use sign language outside the home when they are at work, church or in public. They normally read lips, try to set up ideal listening environments, use technologies available, and often have hearing aids and/or cochlear implants.

I get a little aggravated when I make a doctor’s appointment and they offer to set up “Deaf Talk” for me since my chart is flagged with “deaf”. First of all, I’m on the PHONE making an appointment with them! I explain that I use a cochlear implant to communicate and that I speak English and prefer oral language. I suppose my preference is unusual in that I actually teach ASL as an alternative foreign language part-time. However, I do not associate myself with the Deaf (note the capital D) as I use my voice to talk in public. When I had jury duty this last year, the Frederick County court system had a CART reporter for me to use during that time. It was a very positive experience for both Chloe and I, as the courthouse doesn’t get a lot of service dogs either.

Having a CI and meeting a Deaf person

For lack of a better way to explain it, I have been “mistreated” far more often by the culturally Deaf than I ever have been by people with normal hearing. I’m not sure if it is distinctive to our area of the country, or if the attitude is nationwide now. However, it seems the culturally Deaf as a whole tend to feel pretty threatened by cochlear implants. I suppose I make it worse in that I wear “bling” on my CI, and my hearing aid has a bright red ear mold. I wear my hair up in part, because I really am NOT ashamed of my disability, but also because it helps me in the long run should I miss something someone says. They can immediately see that I “hear differently”. Many culturally Deaf are afraid that if those born deaf are implanted between the ages of 10 months and 2 years (indicative of the current trend) that their very culture is being threatened. Nine out of every 10 infants identified with hearing loss are born to hearing parents. These parents are often choosing the safe, non-invasive surgery of a cochlear implant to give their child the best opportunity at oral language. I don’t believe ASL is in any danger of becoming extinct, however,  because there will always be Deaf children born to Deaf parents who chose ASL. The Deaf have worked long and hard for equal access and equal rights and have a rich history and long-term success at being identified as a culture.

I have been stopped in stores and handed notes by the Deaf asking why I would choose a cochlear implant. “What is wrong with Deaf?” I put the notes down and sign to them (making their eyes pop open wide), and explain that I was born with normal hearing and that my choice allowed me to continue to participate in the same way that I was born. Some get angry and stomp away, and some try to argue. Only one or two have ever said that I had a right to my choice and that they respect that. The vast majority of encounters were not “pretty”. Most encounters involve the middle finger! (from them… not me!) I’ll never forget waiting for my daughter at Pet Smart, and a Deaf couple stopped and pointed to me and began signing to their son (who was hearing I believe) that “sad, not right. people embrace ‘who they are’, God finish create – appreciate, accept”. I signed to the parents and little boy, that the only “shame” was when people could not make individual choices that they feel is in their own best interests and that choice be respected by others. (At least they had the grace to turn red).

Don’t get me wrong. I love ASL, and use it far more than many HoH people do. However ASL is not my native language. It is not the language of the group of Americans with hearing loss that I have chosen to identify myself with since losing my hearing.

Why are the oral deaf not as visible as the culturally Deaf?

The culturally Deaf have learned to stand up for their rights and have learned to be proud of who they are and accept it without reservation. The HoH crowd, however, tend to buy the hearing aid, and then refuse to even acknowledge they have a hearing loss. They often try to keep it hidden and rarely admit to someone that they may be struggling to hear in a poor listening environment. They may rarely disclose that they have a hearing loss at work, church, etc. They often do not identify with even having a disability. Why is this I wonder? HLAA and AGBell are wonderful organizations for those with hearing loss. Yet, the vast majority of members are those whose hearing loss has become so poor, that it has really begun to affect their lives. In desperation they reach out for the support and information that they need. I often wonder why those who have a mild to moderate loss never seek out organizations like this? I suppose it is because they “get by” just fine. If their hearing loss is not progressive, they choose to live life without the added help and membership of organizations like this. I cannot cast stones, for I did not seek out help until my hearing loss had reached the point that I needed help.

I was pleasantly surprised a couple of weeks ago, to attend an open-captioned Star Trek movie at our local theater. The room was packed, and I only saw a handful of people signing. I saw plenty of hearing aids and cochlear implants. I think it is so important to support showings of feature films with open-captioning. I always thank the theater manager in person or via email. Many in attendance were the hearing spouses, family or friends. My children have grown up with closed captioning, and actually have trouble watching television without it. I never have to twist arms to get my hearing family to attend an open-captioned movie. When you’ve distinct Russian accents and alien tongues in a movie like Star Trek, you can bet that those with normal hearing got more out of the movie thanks to open-captioning!

Many of the organizations who serve those who have a hearing loss and are oral are in financial difficulty. They’ve been that way for over a decade and with the current economy they aren’t due for a major influx of cash or membership. They often have difficulty obtaining grants. My personal opinion is that they should do a major overhaul in the way they reach out to those with hearing loss. They need to change the way they try to raise an interest in order to gain membership. The majority of people with hearing loss do not have a significant loss. These organizations certainly shouldn’t turn their backs on those with significant hearing loss, but new programs and ideas should center around how to raise awareness among those with a mild to moderate loss. Things like the hearing aid tax credit are a step in the right direction as everyone will appreciate some financial help for the expense of hearing aids. The only problem with this tax credit, is that it will be years before it is available to all age groups regardless of their health coverage. I believe more effort should be in providing information to this largely untapped group. What can be done to provide helpful information to this group? What programs can be developed to help them at work, church, and in public? I think if the struggling non-profits who are membership based reach out to this group, it will help to raise awareness. How could it not? The majority of those with hearing loss (those who are oral), will be finally identified as a cohesive group of individuals striving for equal access, and recognition. How do you help a group of people who want to remain invisible, to see the value in becoming a visible and active group? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

I sign when I misunderstand

Although I identify with the oral hearing loss community, I have something rather humorous to share. If I am trying to communicate with someone who has a heavy foreign accent, or with someone in a very poor listening environment (like a mall or restaurant), I tend to sign while I’m talking. It really tickles my kids, for I have tried to communicate with someone who only speaks Spanish and found that I started to sign and voice when I discovered I couldn’t understand them. My daughter has told me that she can tell it is totally unconscious, that she can see me just naturally start to sign when I cannot hear well or understand someone’s speech. My family has actually learned to step up to help when they see me signing as they know that I read their lips and “hear their voices” better. They know if I start signing, that I’m not hearing very well. Sometimes I sign when I’m really tired… fatigue causes me to not hear as well. I asked my husband (who has devoted six years of his life to the hearing loss community in the past) why he thinks it is that I sign when I’m not hearing well. He’s a psychologist and likes to be asked “what do you think?” He believes that it is not that I am switching identities or loyalties by starting to sign in a “pinch”. He thinks it’s a subconsious decision and acknowledgement that I’m not hearing well. He said that other HoH people who don’t hear well stop and say “huh?” or “fake it”. He said that because I know ASL, I start to sign. He’s stepped up to wide-eyed friends with normal hearing and simply said, “perhaps you should find a quieter place to talk… Denise is having trouble. See? She’s signing!”

I do wish the oral hearing loss community could erase the stigma associated with hearing loss. Would it be that we could develop a positive internal locus of control and believe that we are valuable and viable adults in spite of hearing loss. I wish… I wish we could REALLY find our voice.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

The Birthday Girl

Chloe turned 4-years-old on Saturday. 

A kiss from the birthday girl!  I should know better than tell her “Happy Birthday” close enough to get kissed for it!

1.  If your hearing assistance dog suddenly tenses and crouches right when you get ready to heave a big basket of laundry upstairs… look for stow-away cats before proceeding.

2.  Leave your cell phone in the bedroom, not with discarded clothing when taking a bath.  You do NOT want your hearing assistance dog alerting when you are under a mountain of bubbles.  MESSY!

3.  Try to have patience.  Dogs don’t have snooze buttons.  When your alarm goes off, their job is to get you up.  To “ignore them” until the alarm goes off again can “turn an alert” off in a trained dog.

4.  When having communion in church on Sunday morning, don’t say, “Stolen” to keep your assistance dog from being curious about what is in the passing plate.  The deacon standing there will pass out.

5.  If your dog’s automatic command for eliminating is “hurry up”, don’t ever use this phrase again in conjunction with terse commands for your children shopping along side of you.

6.  A hearing assistance dog is trained to do an automatic retrieve (although Chloe can do a directed retrieve as well).  This means anything dropped in her vicinity is picked up and handed to me.  She has “saved” me twice now in parking lots with my van keys!  It’s just so very unfortunate when a toddler drops that pacifier in line at the check-out.

7.  What a bummer to accidentally re-set the timer for 3 hours and 45 minutes when your turkey has finished baking, and you are now in bed.

8. “head up” and “look” (at me) are two very important commands when going to a public bathroom.  I’ve learned some new words from the exclamations coming from adjacent stalls when Chloe peeks her head under at someone.

9.  “What is it?” means SHOW ME WHERE THE SOUND IS COMING FROM.  It can be difficult extricating a large canine from your lap when she shows you it is coming from the whine from your hearing aid (feedback is the pits!)

10.  The dumbest thing I’ve ever heard was, “Can she drive too?”

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Parking Lot Adventure

Mom and I came out of the pet store with two huge dog food bags, a huge bag of litter, and three new litterboxes. It was starting to sprinkle rain, so Mom took her “ears” (her cochlear implant and hearing aid), out and carefully stored them in her purse. We made a plan: she and Chloe would make a break to the van and open it.  I would push the heavy cart to the van. Sounds deceptively simple right?

Mom and Chloe ran out into the rain. I pushed the cart and ran into the parking lot… in front of a car (don’t worry, they had stopped for me).  Suddenly, the three litterboxes fell from my cart, into the exact middle of the road.

Uh oh! MOM! THEY FELL! COME BACK!!!” I yelled, momentarily forgetting Mom couldn’t hear me without her “ears”. She continued to run into the distance. A woman standing on the sidewalk stared after her.

Yeah! YOU GO GET THE CAR, I’LL STAY HERE!!” I yelled, as if that was our plan all along… in case anyone thought my mom had abandoned me… to be hit by a car… as I dragged my litterboxes and cart to the sidewalk.

Well, technically she had!  But… she didn’t mean to. I am a CODA – child of a deaf adult – and I was used to having to say, “Oh, she can’t hear me, I’m on my own for this one.”

Mom turned around when she reached the car and realized what happened. She stored Chloe in the van and raced back to help me.

I was howling with laughter at this point. I have a strange sense of humor.

Mom was laughing too. I probably looked ridiculous trying to drag everything out of the way. And so we laughed  in the rain, as we smiled apologies to cars and people.  We finally dragged our cartload to the van.

“What are you – deaf??” I teased when we reached the van.

Being a CODA has taught me a certain level of independence, learning to think for myself. When household accidents, parking lot accidents, losing someone in a store, etc. happen, I learned to calmly handle the situation myself or to walk to my mom. I can’t always call for my mommy…she can’t hear me. It’s something I learned and accepted.

Just like I know I can’t stand behind my mom and talk to her. Because 99% of the time, after pouring my heart out to her back, she’ll turn around and give a piercing scream, all because she didn’t know I was there!

Having a mom with a hearing loss isn’t a trial, it’s just different. My brother and I adjusted just like my mom had to adjust to her hearing loss. It affects the whole family, but it doesn’t have to be negative. We adapt and change along with her.

And it does give us extremely amusing moments…or extremely scary, because having your mom scream loudly when she turns to see you usually causes you to scream in return. Trust me. Ask Chloe.

Kyersten Portis


Kyersten’s mom lost her hearing when Kyersten was only two-years-old.  Kyersten has only known her “mom” as a person with hearing loss.  Kyersten and her family live in Maryland with a menagerie of animals.

Taken By Surprise!

Discovering a large dog CAN be a lap dog! My 18-year-old with Chloe

My daughter, Kyersten, has developed an interest in hiking. Perhaps it is because her boyfriend is a “super hiker”, and she is learning to enjoy some of the things he does. Irregardless, on Memorial Day she took advantage of the fact that she had “mom and dad” all to herself, and drug us to Harper’s Ferry.

Harper’s Ferry is one of our favorite family “hang outs” and it takes less than 30 minutes to get there from our house. Kyersten recently went on a hike with Mark and his mother, discovering a trail we’ve never taken before as a family. She was anxious to show us the view, and so we were “game” to let her drag us up there.

Taken by surprise #1: As females are wise and practical, Kyersten and I took turns going to the bathroom so that we could watch each other’s dogs. She had her show dog, Pegasus, along for the hike and although Chloe can go to public bathrooms with ME, Peg cannot go to public bathrooms with Kyersten. (Besides, he’s a BOY dog – smile) Peg attracts a lot of attention. He’s umm… UNUSUAL looking.

Left alone as hubby was parking the van, Chloe, Peg and I made ourselves comfortable at a picnic table.  It didn’t take long for a family to make a bee-line for me and started asking questions about Peg. (Chloe is quite use to this and normally rolls her eyes and lays down to wait while all the questions like “was he born that way?” are answered). The “mom” of the family was standing on my left, and pointed to my head and said, “Amy, come look at this!”

I was taken by surprise by the delight and attention that was now directed at ME. “Mom” explained that Amy was waiting to get her first hearing aid. She was born with a bi-lateral hearing loss and was waiting for the “pink swirly” ear mold to come in before going to her audiologist for her last fitting. Amy looked to be about 6 or 7 years old. They were very interested in my cochlear implant and “bling”, and I also showed her my orange/red ear mold on the hearing aid in my right ear. Amy seemed excited about the prospect of putting “bling” on her own hearing aid when she began wearing it.

I get a lot of “looks” in public, but rarely have the opportunity to discuss hearing loss as much as I did with Amy and her family. When they walked away, the mother mouthed, “thank you“. I was under the impression Amy hadn’t met a lot of people with hearing loss. I was glad to be an impromptu role model.

Taken by surprise #2:

Finally ready for the hike, my daughter led us across the road and up the path to the railroad bridge. It’s a good thing my 17-year-old son, Chris was NOT along. He has “acrophobia” and would have never made it across! Chloe was not in vest as it was a hot day, and our goal was the top of a mountain! She stayed in a proper heel all the way across the bridge. When we got to the other side, we were to take a metal, spiral-staircase down to the path next to the Potomac River. I stepped down and made it down 3 steps and realized something with sudden clarity. Chloe wasn’t moving and I was on the verge of losing my balance. I think I may have screeched! Terry took my bag for me, and I turned to look at Chloe while holding the staircase railing with a “death grip”.

She was quivering from head to tail, and although she made it to the 2nd stair, her toes were curled around the rungs on the iron steps and her eyes were as wide as saucers. She was scared “drool-less”. (Chloe, being a hound does not have “spit”, she has “drool”… one kiss from her and you’ll agree fairly quickly!)

Hubby said, “Uh… Denise! I don’t think we are going to be able to do this!”

Kyersten and I both swung our heads to look at him with consternation… “Honey! A working dog doesn’t “not” do something new just because they are scared! I can do this! SHE can do this!”

I began talking to Chloe non-stop and used her name over and over again. Kyersten told me later that people coming UP the stairs were murmuring, “Poor Chloe!” “You can do it, Chloe!”, etc. Slowly but surely, Chloe came down the stairs. I’m sure seeing the ground underneath her from THAT high up, totally rattled her. But with shaking paw after shaking paw, she made it all the way to the bottom. We all praised her like crazy, and her tail gave one or two VERY small wags! Peg, who was CARRIED DOWN, looked at her like “what did she do to deserve so much praise?”

All of us needed a “breather” after that scare, and I had to admit to my family that I was totally taken by surprise that those stairs scared her. I’m so accustomed to her being in public with confidence and just being happy to be by my side, I was not ready for her to be frightened by something! I learned a valuable lesson… new things should be approached with caution.

Taken by surprise #3: My third surprise was that my daughter’s idea of a flat, wide path with compact mulch through a shady forest, is REALLY a 6.3 mile hike that is labeled by the park service as “difficult”. She did get the “shady” forest part right. She was also right about the view at least!

Chloe? Well today, she seems to have recovered…

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary