Not an Exact Science…

Just because I can zero in and concentrate, doesn't mean I'll always get it right!
Just because I can zero in and concentrate, doesn't mean I'll always get it right!

Having a hearing assistance dog has its advantages when I do not hear “surround sound”. I have trouble with directionality as I only have one cochlear implant (and due to my balance problems very likely will not ever have a second). I have learned to pay attention to where Chloe is looking in order to figure out from what direction a sound is coming. The only problem is… sometimes I don’t pay attention.

Today our sweet cat, Kiki, found herself stuck due to my inability to hear and failure to take note of WHY Chloe was parked on the stairs instead of next to me. Kiki decided to squeeze between the door and the glass storm door in order to better partake of the sunlight and “view”. I did not know she was there, and closed the door because of the draft as I walked by. Thankfully, my husband came home about 10 minutes later and saw “cat on glass” as Kiki was smushed like a sardine between the storm door and metal door. We retrieved her amongst a chorus of “poor kitty”, and “I can’t believe I did that” while Kiki just purred and basked in all the attention. yellowchairkiki Having a hearing assistance dog is not an exact science when it comes to utilizing her amazing ears if I don’t pay attention to where she is fixated! I really have to pay attention to why she is parked and pointedly looking in one direction!

Reading Lips/Speech Reading

Some people believe that everyone with hearing loss read lips well. Actually, they call it speech reading now, as really you are trying to discern what someone says solely by what you see on their mouth as they speak. Speech reading is not an exact science. As a matter of fact, mistakes are often made by even the best of speech readers. Now that I hear as well as I do with my cochlear implant, I have lost the ability to speech read to some degree as I may once again rely on what I am hearing to understand in many situations. I do still rely on speech reading in noisy environments, and I will always be a big fan of closed captions. Several friends (God bless ’em) have started posting video links in Facebook that have the lyrics attached as well. This only enables me to hear BEST, so I am always thankful for what I see in addition to what I hear.

A couple of nights ago, my daughter was talking to her boyfriend on Skype. They go to separate colleges and during the school year have a “long-distance” relationship. My husband and I graduated from different colleges as well, but our only hope of contact was through a weekly letter (through good ol’ fashioned snail mail) and the occasional phone call. I was still able to use the phone well at the time, and waited by the pay phone at the end of the hall every Friday night. Technology has changed “long distance relationships”. My daughter actually has “candlelight dinner dates” with her boyfriend via Skype. They talk almost daily either “face-to-face” with Skype and webcam, or a minimum of numerous texts sent immediately through the easy access of cell phones. I popped my head in the other night and found them “talking”. My daughter “muted” the long-distance boyfriend so that she could ask me what I wanted. (Another interpretation, “Can’t you see I’m busy? Hurry up!”) Her boyfriend was still talking, so I told her what he was saying. She quickly typed (as you can both speak and type thru Skype) and asked him if what I said he asked was what was actually said. I was right on the button! She unmuted BK (the boyfriend) and both were amazed at my ability. I immediately chalked it up to “luck” and reminded them both that it isn’t a cheap parlor trick! It takes work and concentration to really be good at speech reading. I simply got lucky!

Think About What Looks Alike

I picked up a good HoH (hard of hearing) habit from a friend in California in 2006. She coached me to learn to repeat to people what I thought I heard even if I knew it could not be right. By doing so it did several positive things:

1. It allowed the person with normal hearing to only have to repeat what I got wrong, saving them the time and possible exasperration of repeating everything verbatim.

2. It allows the person with normal hearing to begin to understand what things sound like to ME… a person who hears with a cochlear implant. They learn to be experts at rephrasing things and finding synonyms to explain the same comment.

3. It allows both parties to see the “funny” in trying to make sense of what I hear. I both SEE in speech reading and hear with a cochlear implant.

4. It allows the HoH person to learn to extend grace and to accept that mistakes are made and most people are eager to help clear up the confusion. It creates a positive communication environment.

Stop for a moment and think about what looks the same on the mouth when words are enunciated. Some mistakes I’ve made:

1. I thought someone walked towards me with an admiring glance and said… “Sweeeeet…. heart”!

Really they were looking beyond me and saw a red corvette… they were saying “Sweeeeet Car!

2. The words six and set look the same as SEX. (yikes!)

3. Mom I’m knitting hard!

Which was really, “Mom, I need the car!”

4. Mrs. Portis, I forgot my paper. Canons get formica? (I was really scratching my head in confusion on this one)

Mrs. Portis I forgot my paper, can I run get it from my car?

Learning to speech read more accurately, can however, help a HoH person communicate better. My local chapter of HLAA has plans to do a 2 hour “speech reading tips” class in the next couple of months. Some great resources that we will be utilizing, come from CHHA (Canadian Hard of Hearing Association), and include:

“Sound Ideas: Managing your Hearing Loss” manual and video

“Lip Reading Naturally” by Frances Mezei and Shirlee Smith

Think It Looks Easy?

I have a challenge for you. Mute your television and see if you can figure out what is being said. You might be surprised at how well… or how poorly you do!

Some additional resources:





Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Happy Birthday Chloe!

birthday Chloe turned five-years-old on Thursday, October 1st. According to one source, that makes Chloe about 36-years-old in human years. No wonder she is perfectly fine with a Sunday afternoon nap now!

History in a Nutshell

Chloe came to Fidos For Freedom in January of 2005 as a three month old puppy. PC310044 Chloe was puppy raised by Linda O., who is a long-time Puppy Raiser for Fidos For Freedom. Chloe has an anonymous sponsor, however we have been blessed to get to know her as well over the years. Chloe’s sponsor has acted as such on behalf of numerous Fidos For Freedom dogs.

Chloe had two fantastic trainers. First she trained with Jolanthe W., and later with Pat J. Both were instrumental in helping Chloe to learn basic obedience, public deportment, and hearing alerts.

In January of 2007, I was matched with Chloe at a Wednesday night training. I’m not sure who had the happiest tail wag!

Chloe and I graduated from Fidos For Freedom at the Tux & Tails Gala in May of 2009.

I cannot imagine life without Chloe! Whether it is doing her job alerting me to sounds I do not hear, or retrieving dropped items so that I do not topple from the Meniere’s, Chloe is simply glad to be with me. She doesn’t even consider her job, “work”.

In honor of all those canine partners who assist their human with various tasks, I want to wish Chloe a very Happy Birthday!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Rainy Day Frustrations

Chloe doesn't like it when it rains either, for it means "no walk"!
Chloe doesn't like it when it rains either, for it means "no walk"!

Today it is pouring rain. The “farmer’s daughter” in me would never complain about the fact we are receiving rain, but I do have to admit to not being to excited to see it first thing in the morning. A quick look at the forecast reminds me to get my cane. It’s going to be this way for a few days!

Having Meniere’s is challenging at times. I was “vertical” for all of 27 minutes this morning before I fell the first time. Now, honestly you’d think by now I’d see rain… grab the cane… and “play safe” all day. But I can be stubborn when I’ve a lot to do, and tend to leave my cane “somewhere”. Chloe will retrieve it for me without any qualms, unless she has to go through a doorway. It can be hard for a medium-size assistance dog at 62 pounds, to drag a cane that is several feet long!

I think that the Meniere’s disease “gets on my last nerve” more than the hearing loss even. I’ve had a hearing loss for almost 18 years now. The Meniere’s is a “new” diagnosis of less than five years. I suppose one day, I will be as ease with it as I am with being deaf.

Wednesday DEMO at AACC

Wednesday, Chloe and I will be with Fidos For Freedom to give a DEMO at my daughter’s community college. Chloe loves doing DEMOS. I’m hoping we will have some “sun peeking through” by Wednesday. AACC is a beautiful campus and is very accessible for those with disabilities. I’m looking forward to it!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Meniere’s Help

A "modified brace"
A "modified brace"


Today is a rainy, dreary day. I actually love the rain, because it makes everything so green and keeps me from having to water everything! However, when it’s rainy I do take the extra time to “walk safely”. I’m extra careful on stairs, and I stand up slowly. I don’t do anything in a “hurry” that might move my head’s altitude quickly!

Chloe loves to pick things up for me, so I think when she sees me wake up with a little bit of “weave” to my step, she’s actually looking forward to a day of retrieving “every little thing”. Sometimes I don’t need the gum wrapper, or leaf brought in on the bottom of someone’s tennis shoe, but I thank her and praise her just the same. Actually, it’s probably good she brings me everything, for our Elkhound teenager will eat everything!

Meniere’s is not a disease widely known. Even amongst the hearing loss “crowd”, it is just beginning to get a little more “press”. Here are some of my favorite “Meniere’s helps”:

Hearing Loss Web:


The Meniere’s Page:

Meniere’s Organization:

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Thanksgiving in a Bathtub


Imagine my husband’s surprise when I asked him to run upstairs and snap a picture of Chloe and I.  Surprised, because as he put it, “Your hair is wet and your make-up is gone“.  Actually he may have said, “Your face is gone (like the transplanted southern boy that he is), but I think the look on my face when I asked him to repeat what he said, made him change what came out of his mouth!

I’m a brave person, aren’t I?  (Brave… or very, very tired)  I like to “capture the moment” when I decide to blog about something.  “Thanksgiving in a Bathtub”.

Don’t you love Thanksgiving?  This year, I tried something new.  Each member of the family had to bring a list to the Thanksgiving table of things they were thankful for… the number equaling their age.  I might should have thought that through before announcing my idea, as hubby and I had to come up with over 40 “thankfuls“.  The reality?  It wasn’t hard.  We were all amused to see that everyone listed FACEBOOK as a “thankful for” item.  But throughout the meal and our discussion, we agreed that really we should be thankful more often.

There is simply no better way to improve your attitude, than by listing your “thankfuls”.  We all decided to find opportunities more frequently, to find “listing moments”.  I found one tonight in the bathtub.

I had been reminding Chloe we were “headed to the tub” for over an hour.  She continued to bump my arm to remind me that we should head there.  I don’t think she’s is really that crazy about seeing me behind a mountain of bubbles (especially if she has a long enough memory to recall that first one), but she is rather fond of “ditching” the 14 month old puppy for awhile.

So with Chloe relaxing without a puppy chewing on her hind foot, and me sunk neck-deep in a mountain of bubbles, I decided to “list my thankfuls” for the day.  Top of my list for today was my wonderful church, DCC, my family, and my patient hound who is also my ears and “steady brace”.  But I found myself adding, “being allowed to pray for someone new”.  Small thing THAT to most of you I reckon!  But do you know something?

When you acquire a disability later in life, there is nothing quite so wonderful as discovering you still MATTER.  That you can make a difference… even in a “small” sort of way!  I asked someone if I could pray for them, and they replied, “yes… absolutely”.  I found myself listing that as a “thankful”.

In not hearing well, it’s not like I can pick up a phone and encourage someone with a “howdy”, “whatcha doin’?” or “yes men are idiots” verbal commiseration.  I can’t run to a local coffee shop in order to “talk about everything and nothing” as it takes a lot of patience to deal with my confused expression and request for a repeat.  I can’t even stand around church after the services, and agree with a fellow mom, “YES!  My teens are giving me gray hair!”  Because… what they really said is, “having tenure is really rare!”  (This really happened… grin.  A teacher was bemoaning how difficult it was… and here I thought she was talking about how difficult TEENS are!  Grimace…)

So imagine the PRIVILEGE, the JOY, to be reminded you can make a difference with a prayer!

I found myself thinking in that tub full of bubbles.  Not just listing “thankfuls” either, nor wondering if in twenty years I’ll resemble the water-wrinkled skin I still idly scrubbed at with my sponge.  What a difference it would make if every person — no matter their disability — could discover one small thing that they could do that MATTERED… to SOMEONE… SOMEWHERE.

Perhaps it’s because I go to a support group once a month of people who no longer hear well… or hear at all.  They want to make a difference.  They know they still can.  One lady can cook so well that she makes Betty Crocker hang her head in shame. She brings mouth-watering, waist-altering goodies to every meeting.  One plays the guitar… beautifully, and she blesses others with her music.  One simply emails the rest of us often as her hearing loss is also coupled with an extreme form of Meniere’s disease.  She doesn’t get out of the house much really.  Yet, her words and encourgement travel more “miles” than any one of us ever attempts by car.

I go to training 3-4 times a month with Chloe at Fidos For Freedom.  She loves the interaction with her trainers and “buddies”, and I love the interaction with people who are clients and therapy dog teams.  I love to see new clients realizing for the first time, the independence their new partner will give them.  Independence to do “normal” life things, in order to help them find ways to make that difference… to SOMEONE… SOMEWHERE.  Chloe has given me confidence in ways that is difficult for others to understand.

I trust her alerts.  I trust her knowing “what I need to hear”.  I trust her steady brace on stairs, and her quick retrieve of dropped items.  I don’t “sweat the small stuff” anymore because she covers all of that for me.  It frees me up to re-discover the emotional high of investing myself in some small way for another.  That’s something I was unable to do prior to my “match”.  Thanksgiving can happen in a bathtub.  Choose to be thankful… even if it isn’t in a mountain of bubbles!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal