Living with hearing loss. My friends, I have to tell you that I have learned long ago that it is much better to laugh at yourself than to get upset when your ears fall short. Besides I’ve tried the depressed, isolated, and “I surrender” route. It isn’t fun and it is lonely. It serves no purpose, nor makes a difference. Continuing to reach out, work hard, and laugh at yourself when needed, is much more productive – and life changing!
Although my classes sometimes have students my age or older in them, the majority of the classes I teach are mid-day so my students are “regular”, college-aged, young adults. I have two young adults living at home while they complete their education. I knew BEFORE I began teaching at a local community college that I don’t know the “lingo”. I don’t think they even CALL it “lingo”. But I digress…
I’m constantly being made aware that I “don’t get it” when students (or my children) use current idioms, slang, or acronyms. I not only have to ask for clarification, but I often need these things EXPLAINED to me. “Gullible” and naive have been terms to describe me since I was knee high to a skeeter. (Yeah… something else I seem to be proficient at is mixing my colloquial expressions!)
So this past week when a student I was working with to assist in getting caught up after being out sick? Well the fact that I misheard them AND missed their acronym is not a big stretch – let me tell you!
“So I’ll work with you to get you caught up. This will be a hard week, but you can do it!” I said with my best cheerleader professor voice.
“A soy meal.” the overwhelmed student replied.
I looked at them quizzically for a moment and repeated, “A SOY MEAL?” (I learned long ago to just go ahead and repeat what I thought I heard to help the other person, 1) learn how things sound to ME, and 2) help them understand the part I need repeated – so as to not require a repeat of the whole story).
With deliberate pauses the student repeated, “S. O. M. L. Snoring on my light”.
Stumped and exasperated, but determined to get it right I repeated, “S.O.M.L. — Snoring on my light? Like a “Clap On” gadget?”
The student’s eyes bugged out and there was a pause. Chloe, my service dog, looked from one petrified person to the other. She yawned and settled into a down-stay. “Girl friend” has been here before and knew it was gonna take awhile…
“Professor Portis! I have NO idea what you are talking about. I never said anything about a gadget! S.O.M.L. It means “Story of My Life”. The student had that “deer in the headlight” look at this point. Who says young adults don’t have the guts to see a difficult conversation to the end? They continued, “You know… it means my life is always like this!”
It took me a moment or two. After all there is a teeny tiny delay in what I hear to what I process anyway! “Oh. STORY OF MY LIFE. Got it…”
With relief the student gathered their things and proceeded to attempt ESCAPE. A twinkle in their eye and a deliberate pause to get my attention, she looked at me in the face and clearly intoned, “Snoringonmylight. You are a hoot, Professor Portis!”
I snapped this picture of one of our black squirrels in between snow storms. Squirrels can be funny sometimes. This pregnant female was eating old bread that I had put out for them, when she paused to look at me as I appeared with the camera. It sometimes makes me wonder who is watching who? For whatever reason, she certainly thought I was interesting!
“Look at that animal on the other side of that glass. They live in such a strange cage! What is that thing in its hand that keeps making flashes of light?” Yeah, the squirrel’s point of view would be interesting to know. Unfortunately, I’ve not successfully interviewed any squirrels lately.
Change in Point of View
I had a dog’s eye view of the world this morning. My Meniere’s kicked in with a vicious reminder that I have a balance disorder. I was extremely wobbly and had a couple of tumbles. I ended up sitting on the floor with the dogs for awhile. (Not as far to fall, ya know?) Seeing things from a “dog’s eye view” was something I do not always experience. I sat on the floor enjoying my green tea with Chloe snuggled close. (For ya know? There is only ONE reason I would be on the floor… and that would be to spend one-on-one time with her!). My goofy Norwegian Elkhound was so excited to have me down on his level. He kept running to the family room to grab a dog toy to bring it back to me. He would detour underneath the heavy dining room table to better navigate the chairs that are rarely pushed in as they should be. Since I was sitting there on the floor, I could see up under the table. One long strand of my daughter’s hair hung from one of the bolts. I could see two large oval places in the carpet where the dogs park themselves under the table during meals. (This lent clear evidence to the fact that when my son vacuums on Wednesdays, he does not do underneath the table! GOTCHA!). Everything looks different from about three feet from the floor. My husband came through the room and I had to look up at him to talk. Dogs always have to look up, don’t they?
Of course “point of view” does not literally mean sharing the same VIEW as another physically. The phrase itself means the mental position of considering something such as an opinion, a story, theory, or suggestion of another.
What Shapes Your Point of View?
Rarely will two people have the same point of view on every topic. Your point of view is often shaped by your life experiences. I’m taking Multicultural Psychology right now, and it took my class nearly a week to agree on a definition for culture. It use to be that a person’s culture had to do with your genetics, race and ethnicity. The field of psychology has been forced to re-define what a culture group is as obviously far more influences the development of an individual than their genes, race and ethnic background. Religiosity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, politics, victimization, education, war, natural disaster and much more will affect a person’s development and evolving point of view.
I think it is important to understand what has shaped your own point of view. For one thing, this introspective activity is bound to make you more aware of how the people in your life have a different point of view because of their culture groups. Some psychologists call this broadened definition of culture a new word… sub-cultures. A family can have a number of sub-cultures even within the same house. My husband and I still have both children living at home right now. Believe me… a 19-year-old boy and a 20-year-old girl have different culture groups than my husband and I do. Their very AGE sets them apart from us and provides unique challenges as we navigate living together peacefully in spite of our differences.
At work, I am the only person who has a disability. Thankfully, after working there for seven years now, no one actually treats me like I have a disability. Because I have Chloe now too, they know that she is helping me. As we maneuver up and down the dangerous staircase each school day, they don’t stand and watch with a catch in their breath waiting to jump in and help. They know Chloe can get me up and down the stairs safely. My students no longer crash into each other trying to reach a paper, pen, eraser, or book that I drop in the classroom. Instead they smile and watch Chloe hop up to go retrieve the item for me. (Although many times they are smiling because Chloe has to stretch/yawn first before jogging over to assist).
I absolutely believe that people with disabilities are their own culture group. You may not even have the same disability as another person, but there is something unique about living a life WORTH LIVING in spite of a disability. People with disabilities have unique ABILITIES. It changes your point of view.
What is unique about YOU? What has helped to shape your point of view? Have you ever identified your culture groups? I think that by fully realizing all your OWN puzzle pieces, it makes it much easier to see the completed picture puzzle of others. It helps to keep us from focusing on one confusing, annoying puzzle piece. All the unique puzzle pieces combined make one beautiful person.
One of my online friends is very faithful about posting her Monday blogs entitled, “Simple Woman“. We “met” I suppose due to a mutual interest in hearing loss. One of her handsome sons has a hearing loss and wears a hearing aid. I tried being a “Simple Woman” for a time, and some of these blog posts can be found in my archive. I just haven’t been able to OWN this regular posting in spite of how much I love reading other’s posts. I love the simplicity of the postings; however, my life has changed so much due to not homeschooling this year. I guess you could say I did not feel like I “fit in” with this wonderful group of women posting these blurbs each Monday. To make up for it though… I plan to start my own Friday “simple post”. The prompts are always thought-provoking and meaningful… at least they are to me! I love having something to look forward to with which to end my week! Blogging sometimes is just about the joy of blogging after all!
Ah January! Don’t you love January? There is something about the beginning of a new year, isn’t there? Many of us make resolutions or commitments, although some of those same commitments we are pretty wishy-washy with no real resolve to complete them. Folks decide to quit smoking, drinking, or eat better and get fit. Some decisions are a wee bit ridiculous… even ludicrous. Those who end a year with a shout, “I DID IT!”, set realistic and practical goals.
Plan but Don’t Go Overboard
I’m a real “planner”. I live by my Google-calendar, and insist every family member use the same. We all have access to each other’s calendars. This is necessary as we have four drivers and workers sharing two vehicles. It is also necessary because “mama hates nothing worse than to fix a family ‘sit down’ meal, only to discover no one is home“! Mama? Well that’s me… and I’m here to tell you that really is a pet peeve. If they are suppose to all be home for a family dinner, they’d better be present when it comes time to set the table, sit down, and enjoy a big meal. My kids have a good number of activities other than school. If they want transportation, they’d better check our calendars!
Planning can get out of hand, however. I’m a little OCD. (Clears throat nervously when envisioning all those reading who know me well). OK. Perhaps I’m a LOT OCD, but I have come a long way! In high school and college I was truly “over the top” and my organized life was only due to a very unhappy disorder that had taken over my life. I’m more relaxed now about planning and organizing. Sure! Google calendar is my anchor for each day’s activities, but I have a messy desk, can walk by a dog toy on the carpet and no longer obsessively check things.
Your resolutions and “new commitments” will go a long way if you plan ahead. One of my own decisions is to get healthy and fit, then stay that way. I do not want to develop Type 2 Diabetes like so many in my family have. This means I have to plan a menu and grocery list and not just “show up” to super Wal-mart each week. I buy snacks, but only healthy ones. If my kids want “junk”, they have to buy it themselves and keep it in their rooms. Sometimes they will write a particular cookie they are craving on the shopping list, or perhaps they’ll go shopping WITH me. Unhealthy snacks cannot just be “laying around” in the kitchen. I want them OUT OF TEMPTATION’S WAY. I plan a good part of my day. I have to plan my day to a certain degree in order to determine when I work, do school, do housework and work in EXERCISE.
Even my assistance dog, Chloe, has put on a few pounds this past year. Three pounds for a canine is a lot. I have until May to help her get back in tip-top shape. First thing they do on certification day is weigh your dog! Walking helps us both get back into shape. Since it won’t be above 32 degrees for the next two weeks, I can see in advance that I will be walking VERY FAST. It’s been cold enough that even Chloe has stayed on track and not attempted to do anything but MOVE. (‘course… that may be because no bunnies are currently out and about).
I’m also using Spark People this year to track my nutrition and fitness. It’s easy, motivating and QUICK. I’ve seen some folks on the website who are Spark SUPER STARS. Honestly, if I had to put that much time into a “new me”, I’d lose myself somewhere. If you are planning and trying to get organized, make it simple, efficient, and fun or you won’t be doing it when February peeps around the corner!
When is Planning Wrong?
Some people work hard to make plans for work, their education, and their lives. They may have short-term goals and long-term goals. They may plan out every tiny detail. The only problem with being this way, is that when “life happens”, it can undermine confidence, destroy good intentions, and serve to produce anxiety at the deepest level. Joyce Meyer said in her book, Be Anxious For Nothing, “Learn from the past and prepare for the future, but live in the present”. She cautions against planning “too much”. Doing so can actually produce anxiety.
Have you ever been anxious? Worried? Sometimes our planning may go awry. None of us PLAN for financial difficulties, sickness, or a death in the family. You can check out my Google calendar and I can guarantee you will not find anywhere that our “Sump pump needs repaired”. We also did not plan for a circuit being “fried” due to my daughter’s space heater. These small, but unexpected bills add up.
No where on my calendar does it say, “Family shares a virus”, yet how often does that happen in any given month? Some people worry excessively about what “may happen”. Perhaps they’ve been hit by life hard and have already learned what the mean and vicious bite of unexpected tragedy feels like! They bear the scars, and fear “all things with teeth” as a result. Joyce Meyer continues in her book to say, “Anxiety is caused by trying to mentally and emotionally get into things that are not here yet or things that have already been — mentally leaving where you are and getting into an area of the past or the future”. We simply cannot plan for everything. Life happens.
The book of Matthew, reminds us, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Planning can be helpful – even necessary to help us reach our goals. But write your plan on paper, not stone. Life has a way of changing our plans. It is very healthy to live TODAY to its fullest. If your plan is malleable, it can coordinate with the plans of others. If your plan is in pencil, changes can be made and adaptations created in order to make a “work in progress”. If your plan is on paper, you can wad it up and toss it towards a trashcan; one written in stone can only be hefted around like a burden and eventually dropped – ON YOUR FOOT – in defeat.
Plans are necessary for most people. I plan in advance by carrying extra batteries for my cochlear implant. I make sure I have Chloe’s ‘to go’ bag always stocked and prepared. I check my Google calendar at least three times a day. I have a list of things I MUST do, and a list of “hope to”. My plans do not include falling backwards down the stairs after tripping over our bouncy Elkhound. I didn’t plan it, but tumble I did last week! (Meniere’s has a way of making sure your plans have some fun “Whoops!” in there!). A man in our church had a seizure following the service yesterday. I’m not a gambler, but I’d put “money on it”, that he did not plan for that to happen. (Praying for you T. family!) Make plans, but be prepared for things to happen that you’ve not exactly planned for!
Planning is helpful and can be a great life tool. However, planning excessively can allow anxiety and stress take its toll on you emotionally, mentally, spiritually and even physically. I leave you with a few of my favorite quotes about “planning”:
Henry David Thoreau: “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way”
Philip Crosby:“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.”
Choice not chance, determines human destiny.(anonymous)
Kyersten, my “going on 20” daughter and I, went to Baltimore yesterday. She had a field trip she had to complete in order to earn some extra credit in her 200 level zoology class that she is taking. This has been a TOUGH class for her and she earnestly reasoned with me why she so desperately needed the car to go the National Aquarium. She can be pretty convincing. I had not been in awhile, so invited myself along so that I could spend some one-on-one time with her. Perhaps since we’ve recently visited some colleges on her “short list” that she will be transferring to next Fall, it was still keenly evident to me how precious little time I have left with her before life really changes! She was very willing to endure my company and cheerfully agreed (even before I promised lunch out!).
The aquarium is a great place to be with a CI and working dog. There is SO much to hear, and it can be a great place to practice using some of my special programs like “BEAM” to hear just Kyersten in a din of NOISE. It is good for Chloe, for we do not frequent really noisy places out of habit. It is good practice for her to stay calm and focused amidst all the “merry mayhem”. Towards the end she was wagging her tail at every squealing group of school children, and even met another service dog. Butch was a HUGE black lab that was built like a tank. He was very “lab-like” and friendly. He and Chloe said a brief hello and went on accompanying their partners. Chloe was much more relaxed after that – smile. A harmless moment of flirtation is enough to put the wag in the tail of my hound dog!
Lunch at the Cheesecake Factory
I gave Kyersten the option of several places to eat there in the Inner Harbor. She gave me one of those “duh” looks that 19-year-old’s are so good at… She loves cheesecake, so I really didn’t need to ask her! She eats a pretty light lunch there in order to save room for what is important. CHEESECAKE. Smart kid, yes?
Even though it was 12:30, we didn’t have to wait in line at all. Perhaps because it was a weekday? The young man asked us to follow him back through the restaurant. The area he led us to looked out over the promenade and one wall was all glass. I made the mistake of glancing around too much and caught site of the ceiling fans in my peripheral. I sort of “toppled” with a decided lack of GRACE into my chair. Kyersten just grinned at me, as she guessed my problem. I situated Chloe under the table, and turned to look at the young man who seated us.
“May I bring you a Braille menu, ma-am?” he asked politely.
I could see Kyersten’s eyes widen across the table.
Without missing a beat, I pointed to my CI and said, “Oh no thank you! I’m fine with this one” (and then pointed down to the regular novel-length menu on the table).
When the young man walked away, Kyersten rolled her eyes and said, “OH BRUUUTHER!”
I just grinned and said, “Hey! He was polite, and I do have a service dog with me. I toppled into the chair… for all he knows I don’t see well!”
Kyersten just looked at me, and looked at the cochlear implant on my head decorated in gold, red and green jewels for Christmas. She then looked at the opposite ear with the prominent BTE hearing aide and bright red ear mold.
She didn’t say another word, but that 2nd eye roll said it all.
Not the first, won’t be the last!
This was not the first time I’ve ever been offered a Braille menu before. I have friends with low-vision or are legally blind. I appreciate the fact that many restaurants have Braille menus!
I also appreciate it when restaurants train their employees “enough” that they have learned to recognize someone with a special need. Oh sure! They might not identify the need correctly, but I truly believe it is the thought that counts! When I have students in my ASL classes do projects like “go to the mall” without your voice and only sign, (“Deaf for a Day“), many come back to class and tell me that they were offered a Braille menu at the food court at various places. We discuss how they handled this and what this may mean.
Hearing Loss is Unique to Each Individual
Hearing loss itself is unique to every individual. The disability is not a “cookie cutter” change in hearing. I get some responses from people sometimes that do not like that I use the “disability” word. I’m OK with that, and respect their opinion and choice to not identify with that word. Personally, I am OK with admitting that I have a disability. I believe it does not strip away any power, self-esteem or pride to admit that. I am NOT, however, disabled. Yet, my disability may not be anything like that another person with hearing loss experiences.
I have Meniere’s disease. I do not meet many people with hearing loss who have Meniere’s. I am bi-modal (one CI, one hearing aid). I am more likely to meet bi-lateral people if I meet someone with a cochlear implant now! (Which I think is JUST TERRIFIC!) What they experience in their hearing loss is different than what I experience. Some people use a “bit of sign”, while others are culturally Deaf and do not use their voice at all. Some people have hearing aids that they do very well with, while others put their own in a drawer and “fake it” through life. I hear very well in quiet to “medium-noise” environments. I don’t even have to speech read anymore thanks to the wonderful technology of my Nucleus Freedom! However, in really noisy environments I do have to speech read even when using special programs. Other people with cochlear implants may do better in noisy situations.
I have had the privilege of participating in various forums, workshops, conferences and conventions. I have seen people with hearing loss really become defensive with other people with hearing loss. You know? (scratching head and really ponderin’ on that) I just don’t get that! So what if someone hands you a Braille menu! Were they genuinely trying to help? Does it matter that they don’t realize your hearing loss is different than their own? Perhaps they do not understand that what works for them may not work for you. Why come unglued and act defensive?
Here are a few real-life examples I have observed:
1. A person with hearing loss walked up to another person with hearing loss and pointed to their wires connected to their body-worn processor for their cochlear implant. “Why on earth would you wear something like that with all those wires showing?” Oh yeah… that produced a positive response!
2. “Bling” on cochlear implants and hearing aids are often disdained by other people with hearing loss.
3. “Why would you go with THAT company for your CI? The one I went with is so much better and their success rate is much higher!” (Should we just be happy someone is HEARING AGAIN?)
4. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the last part of what you said”. “What? You have a cochlear implant now, shouldn’t you be hearing better than I am with two hearing aids?” (Yeah… as long as you aren’t talking while crunching raw broccoli, bozo…)
Let’s face it! We will likely meet someone else with hearing loss who has chosen different techniques, coping mechanisms and technology in order to live life to its fullest. They may hand us a Braille menu. Our response should be positive… and let them know we genuinely appreciate their attempt to be helpful. An angry retort, thrown “menu”, defensive attitude and “hearing loss sermon” will not bring anything positive out of their mistake. Relax. Smile. Educate in a positive way.
We had an unexpected surprise at the vet today. Last week we found what looked like a “mole” or “wart” on the tip of Chloe’s ear. I made an appointment at the vet more to put my mind at ease than anything else.
Turns out it is a cluster-cell tumor (with a big ol’ long word in the beginning that I just could NOT make out). Chances are greatest that it is benign as most of these are, but surgery is schedulled to remove it on Wednesday. We are getting a biopsy done “just in case”, as Chloe is a working dog. The vet nor I either one wanted to take any chances.
Chloe enchants everyone who meets her up close, and face-to-face. The vets all love her, and she actually enjoys the attention and love from others as she gets to be “off vest” while there. She loves people. They had to “take her away” to draw blood for the pre-surgical blood work. I heard a sound, and only saw the vet tech’s wide eyes on the other side of the counter about 20 yards down the hallway. Evidently Chloe escaped. (She isn’t use to not being right with me all the time, poor thing). Chloe came barreling around the corner going full steam right at me! I was speechless! Fido‘s training “kicked-in” and right before she ran me over, I used the hand motions for a long recall. She sat prim and proper after skidding to a halt. Whew!
The vet said she was going to make some notes for the surgical team to make sure they made the smallest notch possible in her ear, and that they would use special sutures. Still in shock, I only nodded numbly while she explained this. I guess she was thinking that Chloe is in public all the time, and extra care should be taken?
A field spaniel with a snake bite came in while I was getting ready to leave, so scheduling the surgery went rather quickly. Wednesday I drop her off (no food or water) around 7 AM. I get to pick her up after 7 PM. Will this be a long day for me or WHAT? Grin!
This morning I went to the grocery store. I hate to go on Fridays, but we were out of a few things that I couldn’t wait for at a later date. I went first thing in the morning, anxious to avoid the crowds that hit the grocery store on Friday afternoon.
Chloe was in rare form and a bit too playful. The autumn weather was gorgeous, so I chalked her good mood up to that, and decided this trip would be productive as she was also anxious to work.
Once we entered the store, Chloe decided I needed everything she came across on the floor. As this is a new skill for her (point and say “fetch object” to different items), I gave her some leeway. I hope to eventually have her cued to specifics like “fetch water bottle”. She already recognizes the specifics “fetch keys” and “fetch phone”. A recent skill she learned was picking up a piece of paper. This can be tricky, as paper tears easily. She needs to make sure she doesn’t put a foot on it during the process of lifting it off the floor with her teeth.
The picture above is her fetching my shopping list. To Chloe, this is a very grand game; she doesn’t realize that on days my balance is bad that the last thing I want to do is to reach clear to the floor for something flat. So if it is a game to her and HELP to me, we are both happy.
At the check out, I walked into one of the “self-check” out lines. These things use to scare me to death, and I actually blogged about a particularly funny “first encounter” here. Now that I have a cochlear implant, I actually like these lines as I can hear the computer very well, and it also chirps and dings. The conveyor belt even “whirs”! All of these “noises” are wonderful little reminders of the blessing of “hearing again”, so I probably take more time than I should.
After completing the scan of all of my items, I pressed “finish and pay” just like the “self check-out” veteran I am. Unfortunately, my Amex card wouldn’t scan. I caught the eye of a nearby front-line manager, and she came over to see what the problem was. Evidently it wouldn’t take credit cards “today”, so she printed out a receipt and asked me to follow her to HER cash register where I could scan my card.
I quickly zipped my Amex card through, and promptly dropped it on the floor. Chloe, still in a great “I’m fetching everything today” mood, did exactly what a hearing assistance dog is suppose to do. They are trained to do automatic retrieves, as HoH and deaf people often do not HEAR what they’ve dropped. So before I could interfere, she was in a “bow” trying to pick up my credit card.
Dropped credit cards are “ornery little pieces of plastic” when laying on a hard surface. She tried for about 20 seconds and then kind of smacked at it and “woofed” softly. I heard laughter from several different locations, and so lifted my head to see who was watching. I became aware of 4 or 5 employees standing there watching. Chloe, a trifle exasperated, started lifting my shoe by the shoe strings in order to retrieve SOMETHING. I whispered WRONG, as this can set me on my behind fairly quickly! She spied a dropped receipt and quickly retrieved THAT and laid it in my hand. I pointed once more to the card, and she finally was able to flip it enough with a toenail that she could pick it up.
Applause and cheers erupted around us, and I bemusedly grinned at my working dog. She sat there sweetly with tail flopping 90 mph, very VERY proud of herself. Several standing around asked her name, and I told them. In hindsight, that actually wasn’t very smart. When they see her now and call her name, she’ll want to see who knows her. Sigh. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. It’s there on my horizon most certainly, as I never go to any grocery store but this one!
Chloe and I will be participating in Fidos For Freedom’s 10th annual Stroll ‘n Roll on November 8th. We need people to volunteer to be on our team, and also are looking for donations to reach our goal.
I started training at Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, Maryland on April Fool’s Day in 2006. It was a long thirteen months, but months I needed to learn how my assistance dog would help me to be more independent and confident. Fidos matches dogs with clients “free of charge”, with on site training and follow-up, offering everything a client needs to succeed with a service dog. They match dogs for people with hearing loss like myself, as well as clients with mobility challenges. Every “match” is a life changed.
Chloe and I are looking for local volunteers to walk with us on Nov. 8th, but team members do not even have to participate the day of the walk. You can still join our team and help us reach our goal by simply contacting people you know who might help. I hope you will prayerfully consider supporting us in this way.
We also are looking for people who feel led to provide a small donation to help us reach our goal. Fidos For Freedom serves our community with specially trained dogs from professional trainers FREE to people with disabilities. They can only do that because of the donations of people like you! No amount is “too small”. Every dollar brings us that much closer to making sure another person with a disability is “matched” with a Fidos For Freedom dog. I hope you will stop by our page and join our team, or support us with a small donation today! Thank you in advance!