This is a very personal post as it deals with my wonderful wife Judy aka the Abbess of the Abbey Normal and very real struggle that she has faced her entire life to hear. Judy was a neo-nate baby back when survival rates were not so good. Her late father used to talk about when she was in the hospital that he overheard two doctors at his place of business talking about the baby girl who wasn’t going to live. But she survived. However, something, God only knows what happened and auditory nerves were damaged leaving her with a serious hearing loss. Her loss is what is known as a “ski-slope” loss. She had a decent amount of hearing in low frequencies. The loss cuts halfway into the speech range and she has almost nothing in the high frequencies. Unfortunately her late parents didn’t pay much attention to things like this and it wasn’t until First Grade that a teacher noticed that Judy could not hear very well and talked funny. She started speech therapy in second grade. It was when she was eight that she got her first hearing aid, and the second one came a couple of years after.
Back in those days, the mid 1960s hearing aids didn’t do much for people with this kind of loss. They basically amplified the noise that they heard and nothing else. So if you had a big loss in the speech range but hearing in the low frequencies you only got more of the low frequencies. It would be like if you removed all the treble from whatever music system you use and just turned up the bass with a bunch of distortion thrown in. Such was the case with Judy for many years. In spite of this she learned to function as much as she could as a “hearing” person. She worked hard in speech therapy to say sounds that she could not hear. By the time that I met in my freshman year of college her many people who did not know her simply assumed that she might be German or some other European transplant. She took German in college did pretty well and became President of the German club. She did well enough to get around and communicate with Germans in Germany using her German skills when we were stationed there. In college she went into the program for deaf students at California State University Northridge. It was there that she became much more proficient in American Sign Language. Since college Judy has continued to get better hearing aids which in almost every instance have allowed her to gain more hearing capability. As this has occurred she has continues to do things that a person with her amount of hearing are not supposed to do. She sings second soprano in her church choir and plays the guitar. All of these things according to the numbers should be impossible for her, but she has developed great speech discrimination despite her hearing loss, but even so still misses a lot.
Now Judy never really knew what she was missing for many years. Every time she got new hearing aids they would be some improvement, sometimes a lot of improvement over the older versions. This became much more dramatic with her first set of digital hearing aids. However, even with relatively recent technology featured in her current set of hearing aids her hearing is only 62% of normal, in other words a 38% loss. This is not bad compared to the 77% loss that she has without them. So even best case she misses a lot and cannot understand things like words to popular songs on the radio or a CD player. She cannot hear much that we in the hearing world take for granted. If she wants to hear she may have to keep the aids up so loud that they cause headaches. Until they developed hearing aids which could be adjusted for directional use in a crowded environment the background noise at restaurant or other public venue would make it very difficult to hear who she was talking to. She cannot hear someone whisper, nor understand if someone turns their back on her as they talk even with her current hearing aids. She has worked her ass off to speak well, sing and play the guitar. She has a good voice; most people do not know just how bad her hearing is because she does well so many things that she is not supposed to do within the parameters of her loss.
It is funny how many Christians, especially Charismatics and Pentecostals have been uncomfortable with someone with this kind of disability around. It seems that many have a hard time dealing with the fact that there are some people who do not get healed. The fact that Judy has suffered with this all her life and never been healed has made our life at times in church rather interesting as people had words from the Lord that she was going to be miraculously healed and often wanted to pray for her, which most of the time Judy allowed them knowing that they meant well and if God wanted to be healed that it would happen. Since we had seen many other miraculous things in our life who were we to limit God? At the same time it was never a problem for us that she was not healed, unless of course she lost the use of a hearing aid. During this time I don’t think that either of us subscribed to this being either an attack of Satan or the will of God. For us it kind of fits in the, well…to put it in the street vernacular “shit happens” category of life, even to good people including Christians. There is something in Scripture talks about the rain falling on the just and the unjust so I think that both of us believe that this is part of the human condition and not something personal on the part of either God or the Devil. Since Judy was a baby when she lost her hearing I have a hard time believing that somehow God caused it or foreordained it. I guess I’m a pretty bad Calvinist or Augustinian huh?
Now I do believe in and seen what I would have to describe as miracles, including a fair amount in our lives. At the same time I do not see these as a daily occurrence. Miracles are such because they are not ordinary daily occurrences no matter how hard we believe and want them to be. Some people for no fault of their own or God’s never get healed, in fact there is a 100% certainty short of the Second Coming, which I believe will be triggered with the Cubs winning the World Series, that all of us will die sometime in our lives, some even more than once, like Cubs fans.
Last week this changed. Judy has a pair of hearing aids with a very new technology that has leveled the playing field. She is now experiencing what it is to really hear for the first time in her life. It has been at times a very emotional experience as she heard certain sounds for the first time, or the nuance or depth of other sounds. Things that she could not do before like understand someone who was not directly facing her, for example someone behind her at a stadium or in the car. Or hear the soft staccato sound of rain water coming down the drain spout, or hearing the shower upstairs from downstairs and understand song lyrics on the radio or CD, and movie dialogue. With each new experience hearing things that she has never heard before and often being so overwhelmed that she starts to cry, she knows that she has crossed the Rubicon and cannot go back. She realizes what she is missing all of these years and and wants to make sure that she never goes without it again.
Her hearing aids are loaners which she has on a trial basis. We are praying that Tricare will approve her new hearing aids, and while I expect that somehow it will work out but Judy is dubious. I keep on telling her like Donald Sutherland’s character “Oddball” in Kelly’s Heroes “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”
Now they are quite expensive and we hear from her Audiologist that Tricare seems not to be doing much approving for new hearing aids. Before this was seldom an issue. However for some reason I am hopeful. What has surprised us is that some Christians have suggested finding a way to lose or destroy the old hearing aids to ensure that she gets the new ones. This was shocking because neither of us could do that, even if we wanted to. Now I might pray for them to die, or for the dog to eat them or for Judy to get caught in a sudden cloudburst with no cover so they would short out, but we can’t in good conscience destroy or lose them. Now there is the possibility that one has developed a short after we went to Kira’s outdoor wedding due to moisture accumulation in the heat and humidity. If that is the case and it is dead or dying then the hearing aids may have made the decision for us and that would be a good thing, it might be the first time that I have been thankful for the awful humidity back here. So like a team that is down in the 4th inning by a big score we can always pray for rain…right?
I do hope that she gets the new aids with no delay or just a minimal one. The difference that they have made in her life is amazing and it is really cool to see how well she is doing with them. I am blown away with every new discovery that Judy makes. You can find some of her thoughts about this at her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess at http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/