Michelle Quayle: Audiology = Shushology

Posted on February 28, 2012



Growing up, I’ve been told my deafness has become progressively worse. How much ‘worse’ it you get when you’ve been profoundly Deaf from birth is beyond me.

Wearing hearing aids from eight months old to the sweet age of sixteen sounds the same to me. From my big sister screeching “Michellllllle” to the tinkle of my wee, yup sounds about right.

I had an impulse one day to try hearing aids again. I know what this is going to mean. It means I’m going to have to make the dreaded trip down to the audiologists.

I comfort myself with the thought that surely they won’t be as bad as my childhood days. Those trips to the audiologists were enough to scar me for life. Poking and prodding to fit my ear moulds deeper & deeper til they “accidentally” pricked my ear drum. Cue a bawling red-faced child clinging on to her mum for dear life.

What were they doing you might be thinking? They were trying to stop the whistling from my hearing aids. The whistling that no matter how fast I ran, chased me around the playground, followed me skipping down supermarket aisles and even echoed in the public toilets as I sat innocently swinging my legs.

They claimed the deeper the ear moulds, the less my hearing aids would whistle. Nothing worked. Years later, a student Deaf audiologist assistant made my ear moulds comfortably tighter to prevent air going in. That whistling that hunted me down for half of my life? Gone. In a split second.

I walked into the audiology reception.

Signing, I said: “Hi, I’m deaf”.

The receptionist’s eyes widened. Looking at me like I’d grown another head overnight.

After what felt like an eternity, I looked at her with a kind of “well?” expression and she started spluttering & stuttering, making her go all red in the face. Time to put the lady out of her misery I thought as I gestured for a pen/paper. Relief washed over her.

After writing down my details, I asked her to wave me over when the audiologist called out my name & sat myself down in the waiting room.

I spotted one of my favourite magazines on the rack. Fought the urge to flick through seeing as I would have to wait for my turn with my eyes glued to the front. The girl on the front cover is wearing an amazing dress. Wonder where it’s from? That dress would look really good with those shoes I bought last week. But I can’t read a damn thing with quick glances. Darn it. I make a note to myself to have a look after my appointment.

The audiologist came out.

Great, I thought as I saw a guy mumbling with what looked like a hairy slug across the top of his lips. Not just any ordinary moustache, a big fat one. Every lipreader’s nightmare. Just great. I glanced over at the reception, looking for a sign that this man may be calling my name. Nothing. Hairy slug guy is looking at me now still mumbling. After the fifth mumble, I gestured “Me?”, well I was the only one left in the waiting room, and he nodded.

The hearing test alone is enough to leave you looking like a lunatic. Frantically looking up around your head to see where all the beeping & honking sounds are coming from. I can’t see any pretty cartoon birds flying above. Nor do I remember banging my head. Then I remember. It’s the echoes in my ears from the hearing test that’ll hound me for the rest of the day.

Hairy slug guy sat down.

“I’m sorry” he says “your Deafness has deteriorated, so much that it is off our charts”. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Cry with laughter. “Sorry,” he said. Sorry for what? For me or for you? Sorry that I’m “broken” or sorry that you can’t “fix” me? Someone really should tell him to shush.

The audiologist went on to say that the VERY expensive top of the range hearing aids would be wasted on someone who would only gain so little benefit. “I don’t want an expensive digital hearing aid” I explained “an old analogue hearing aid will do me perfectly” Only to learn that analogue hearing aids have been discontinued. My heart sank. Just like that time the lady with the thick orange make up at Boots told me that ‘Baby Cham’ lipstick was no more.

Some idiot “genius” created digital hearing aids. Now I’m not slating them. It’s just that they don’t work for me. I’m no expert but I think they’re best suited for people who have heard/recognised actual sounds before. Apparently you need to train your brain to get used to the sounds.

But I’ve been wearing analogue hearing aids since I was eight months old. People who have lost their hearing strive to get their hearing back, but I just wanted the sounds I heard as a little kid back, the few sounds that I only know too well. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Especially one that’s just officially been diagnosed as Deaf as a doorknob.

The giant hairy slug started wriggling again & I could make out the words ‘Cochlear Implant’. Nothing new there, the medical “answer” to everything these days. I stood up, thanked him kindly and walked out with my head held high.

Someone once told me that audiologists were ‘failed dentists’. To be a dentist you’d have to get an A to get on the dentistry course, anything below and you’re left with the audiology option. A second best choice.

I’d hate to label audiologists but I’ve yet to meet one with a passion for their ‘customers,’ deaf people.

You’d think in this day & age, they’d at least add some basic Deaf awareness & sign language training as part of the profession. Hard to believe the answer is, in the majority of places, they don’t.

That was my last ever trip to the audiologist.

I’ll never hear the sounds of birds singing, waves crashing on the beach or a piano tinkling away. Or the sound of an ice cream van jingle as a little girl. I’ll never hear someone munching crisps loudly at the cinema, the sounds of screaming babies or a thunderstorm when you’re trying to sleep at night.

Who cares, how can I yearn for something I’ve never heard? I’ve never known better. Or worse for that matter. I enjoy watching sunsets, having a peaceful night sleep. And I learned how to tell the time quicker than other kids so I’d never miss the ice cream van.

So when people ask what is deafness, that is why the last words to come out of my mouth is “oh it means you can’t hear.” That may be a hearing person’s answer, but it’s not mine.

When you’ve never heard anything before, why would you say you can’t hear? If I asked someone what is ‘hearing,’ they wouldn’t say “it means I can’t not hear.” Deafness is not necessarily a bad thing.

I don’t need to hear things to feel I belong. I don’t belong to an exclusive club of who can or who can’t. There’s no label for who I am. I’m just me.

As for that amazing dress on the cover of the magazine, damn it, I forgot all about it. At least the boyfriend, aka our bank manager, will be pleased…

Michelle Quayle grew up in Manchester and currently lives in Derby. She works for a Deaf charity and recently discovered the world of tweeting & blogging, which she calls “an outlet for my ranting & raving, and quite possibly an anchor for my relationship after my boyfriend declared “why can’t you be normal?!” She’s 27 and was born Deaf into a Deaf family. Her dream is to become a Teacher of the Deaf. She says “all views expressed here are the makings of my very own limited edition mind, as my Dad likes to call it.” Check out her blog, Geeky Dumb Blonde, by clicking here and follow her on her Twitter account.

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