“How do you hear?” is a question I’ve heard countless times. “How does it feel to be deaf?” is a close second. Everyone can “imagine” being deaf and are able to recreate a “deaf environment”, much the same way as one can recreate a “blind environment”- by simply closing your eyes. I have covered this in a previous post (“Feeling a BANG!”). Receiving a Cochlea implant has helped me regain my hearing, but to what degree? I have noticed that the first question is always asked for one of two reasons:

  • Out of pure curiosity
  • Out of “frustration”

I have been deaf and using a Cochlea for nearly 17 years now, but my family and friends are still baffled by my hearing. I think, for my mother especially, the line between not hearing and not wanting to hear is really thin. This is partly my fault because she caught on that when I was younger I would pretend not to hear sometimes, so she probably doesn’t know what to believe anymore! But I can stand next to you, look you dead in the windows of your soul and not hear a thing you are saying. I’m hearing something alright, but I don’t know WHAT it is. This is where my “what did you say?” is met with frustration. Most times I can understand the frustration because one moment I can hear you mumble under your breath, but two minutes later I can’t hear you speak at a normal volume. I laugh at my friends’ frustrations and insinuations that I don’t want to hear them because, well, they are my friends. The game changes when you are made to feel bad about it, or a teacher, lecturer or persons of authority believe you deliberately don’t want to hear. I’ve had my fair share of those.

So HOW do I hear?? I can’t compare my hearing with that of a normal hearing person because 17 years is a long time and I can’t remember how I used to hear prior to losing my hearing. I’ve attached a video clip from my most recent annual visit to my audiologist Gill, at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, to help explain “how” I hear.

Unlike normal hearing persons, I choose how I want to hear. The volume and sensitivity of my hearing aid is adjusted to my liking. It is adjusted to a level of hearing I feel comfortable with. I don’t choose a level that imitates normal hearing. Even if I wanted to, I won’t be able to because in order to imitate normal I need to know what “normal” is. Plus, I believe technology will never be able to imitate the natural work of God. This level of comfortability is achieved by Gill playing beeping sounds of different volumes and tones, and I select what I’m comfortable with. My “chosen hearing” is then tested in a booth where I have to repeat words and phrases that come out of a speaker stationed smack in front of me. One of the reasons why a speaker is used is to eliminate the dependence on reading lips. How hard this was you can witness for yourself.

The type of hearing aid we wear also plays a role on how we hear. The latest hearing aid is always trying to beat its predecessor, like technology in general. The hearing aid I have tries to balance out sounds. That’s why shouting at me to help me hear you won’t always help. I’ll still hear the wind and cars behind you, and you’ll just look like an idiot. In large crowds and restaurants I’ll seem anti-social. I often try chirping in on conversation of which I think I could hear the topic. When I’m wrong, like I am most times, my reply is “Well, we have a new topic now”.

This was the first time I have recorded a visit to the audiologist, and it was also the first time I saw myself doing all the tests from a third person’s point of view. I saw a vulnerability in myself I’ve never seen before. The amount of people who have accompanied me to the audiologist I can count on one hand. During last year’s Fees Must Fall protest, I was heavily disadvantaged when the university I’m attending adopted an E-learning approach. My learning material came in the form of YouTube videos and voicenote recordings. I’m not alone in my struggles, and I hope this post and video clip gave you a better understanding of how I hear, and the plight of the Deaf and hard of hearing.

Your boy.

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