Deafness at the Expo

I had a hilarious experience today that I promised would not show up on the cochlear implant forums. I didn’t promise, however, that I wouldn’t blog about it. Names have been changed to protect the innocent… 🙂

One of my sons is profoundly deaf and has had a cochlear implant for 6 1/2 years. I am a volunteer for the company who markets his implant, which so far translates loosely to getting a free volunteer appreciation dinner at a decent restaurant once a month. Hey, it’s a night away from the kids, and I get stimulating adult conversation as a bonus. Volunteers are supposed to keep a log of our time if we desire, and can earn points with the company which can be used to purchase merchandise such as batteries or cables, but since my life is pretty harried, I rarely have time to do much formal volunteering.

Today, however, there was a senior citizen expo in town that actually fit my schedule, so I consented to go work the booth. Most of it consisted of talking to seniors about hearing loss and explaining how a cochlear implant differs from a hearing aid. If you have a significant hearing loss and don’t benefit from hearing aids, you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant. Hearing aids merely amplify sound, including background noise, so many people spend thousands on them and then end up tossing them in their drawer because they hate the sound. Everything is louder, but their perception and understanding of speech hasn’t improved.

First a bit of background…Megan, who works for the company, has a cochlear implant herself. She has amazingly clear speech and hears remarkably well with her implant. Most people don’t even have a clue that she is deaf without it, nor that she even has an implant because it is hidden by her hair.

An elderly woman came up to our booth and Megan asked her if she was familiar with cochlear implants and began to explain a bit more about them. Understand that the exhibition hall was very crowded with lots of background noise including some music to which a women’s dance group was performing at the end of the room. This woman remarked that she didn’t have a significant hearing loss herself, but that her mother did. She mentioned that her mother had hearing aids but never wore them because she hated them. Megan jumped on this bit of information and asked a few more questions to see if this woman’s mother might be a possible candidate for an implant. Unfortunately, the woman was very soft-spoken and tended to put her head down a bit when she spoke. As she was replying, she said, “Well, she wouldn’t need anything now, because she is recently deceased.” Megan missed that bit of information. I have normal hearing and I barely heard the word “deceased.”

Megan’s next question? “Does your mother have a hard time understanding you when you speak to her?” The woman looked at Megan as if she had three heads. I started to get the giggles and had to turn away. Megan continued, saying, “Because if your mother can’t understand you when you are speaking to her, even with her hearing aids on…”

Meanwhile I was off to Megan’s side, stifling laughter and trying to discreetly sign to her “Dead. Mother is dead“. She caught the sign “dead” out of the corner of her eye, and realization hit. She had been asking this woman if her dead mother could understand her when she spoke to her? She offered quick condolences and the woman moved on. We both stood there with sweet smiles pasted on our faces until the woman was out of sight and then both turned around and busted a gut laughing.

Neeldless to say, she won’t live that one down for a looooong time. Can you hear me now?

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