Tag Archives: deafness

“Deafness Separates People from People” A Note from my Wife Judy on Being Deaf During COVID-19

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Helen Keller wrote: “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.” 

My wife Judy has had a moderate to severe hearing loss since birth or shortly thereafter. She asked me if I would post something that she wrote about her experiences being deaf during COVID-19. I will give an introduction and then post her comments. Her comments will be in bold print. I ask you to read them, share them, and if you encounter deaf or other people with significant hearing loss please show them the simple common courtesy of paying attention and treating them as people with intelligence.  If you don’t know sign language don’t be afraid to write notes and take extra time to help them understand you. It will pay great dividends

Judy has been wearing hearing aids since she was about seven years old. In school she was subjected to surviving the best she could in regular classes where she missed a lot of what was taught in class. But she did her best. She became a vociferous reader, learned grammar rules and how to write, and began her steps to become an exceptional artist. Despite that she was often ridiculed and ostracized by other kids, and some teachers because of her deaf speech, inability to understand, and the hearing aids themselves.

She did her first years of college at our local Junior College where I met her. She began to learn sign language and also took German, and she can function decently conversing with Germans when we travel to Germany.

We both went to California State University at Northridge where she became part of a deaf community through the National Center of Deafness. There she continued to learn sign language not just in class but because she was now part of a good sized community of deaf and hard of hearing people. She was able to get specialized counseling for academics and surviving in the hearing world. I became part of that world and became good enough in sign language that many of her deaf friends assumed that I was deaf because they couldn’t hear me talk. My best teachers were her roommate Kendra and friends Vick and Gael.

Judy has a moderate to severe hearing loss.  She has always used her hearing aids to her maximum ability, learned to read lips, and used sign language interpreters or interpreter/note takers in class. She graduated but as we moved into the real world she was subjected to much discrimination and occasional ridicule. If you know deaf or severely hard of hearing people many have speech impediments and voices which are easily identifiable as being deaf. Judy spoke well enough for most people to understand her. Some people thought that her speech was maybe because she was German or from somewhere in else in Europe. Others assumed that she was either stupid or developmentally delayed, because of her speech. It was very difficult for her.

During the course of the 1990s she lost another 30% of her hearing in the low frequencies. Without hearing aids it is almost impossible for her to understand speech. Now with very high tech hearing aids turned to her hearing loss she does much better hearing, but still struggled with speech. After an experience in dealing with a woman at a fabric store who asked about her being deaf because of the way she talked, Judy resolved to improve her speech. She went back and got intensive speech therapy which has made her speech virtually indistinguishable from a hearing person.

She speaks so well now that unless people see her hearing aids they assume she is not deaf. Audiologists and speech pathologists are surprised by her speech comprehension and speech. She far exceeds the expectations professionals have for a person with her hearing loss. In fact there are many people who have similar hearing loss to her who wear cochlear implants.

But COVID-19 has hit her hard. She cannot lip read through masks. Now we both prefer that everyone wear effective masks in order not to spread the virus. Because she speaks so well when she goes to a doctor’s office or somewhere she is not known people assume she is a hearing person and she has to fight to convince them to believe that she is deaf and get them to be as clear with her as they can in their communication with her. That is frustrating for her.

I am now working to get my sign language proficiency back, not just for her but because I now have a neurological condition related to my PTSD. This condition effects my speech discrimination, in other words I have a terrible time understanding speech except in one on one conversations with little or no background noice or cross talk. In many situations I am functionally deaf. Judy has far better speech discrimination than me. There were times before COVID-19 that she would tell me what people said.

So with that in mind please read Judy’s words. I hope they are helpful to you in communicating with deaf people you know or encounter.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

I have a severe hearing loss. Although I fully support the wearing of masks, and I shun those who won’t wear them, people with masks often are near impossible for me to understand.

My therapist recently had to change offices, and the receptionist refused to believe that I couldn’t hear her, despite the fact that I told her four times. By the time my therapist came to get me, I was in tears. He had to tell her twice that I couldn’t hear her, and she was shocked. Yet, she still insisted in talking at me two more times. Apparently she thought I was making it up? The last time she talked at me, I just stared at her. Now I hand her a note with my information and make her write down any conversation.
This week, I saw my primary care doctor. I first saw the nurse. I informed her that I did not hear well, and she snapped at me that she was NOT going to take off her mask. I don’t remember making that request. I did ask her to look toward me when she talked to me, which she ignored. She started yelling at me, thinking this would help, while talking to the wall. Frustrated, I remarked : “ You don’t get many deaf people, do you?” She became angry. She asked the wall another question, and I asked her to turn toward me. She got louder. By the time my primary care doctor came in, I had a headache. My primary care doctor is very soft spoken. She let me move my chair a bit closer. Despite the fact that her voice is so much softer than her nurse, I understood most of what she said very well, and she had no problem repeating herself. I love this woman.
Here are my tips for communicating with people with hearing losses, especially when wearing a mask:
  1. Believe a person when they say that they can not hear you.
  2. Don’t yell. This doesn’t make your voice any clearer.
  3. Do not lose your patience. How do you think I feel?
  4. Write notes if necessary. There is no shame in writing a note.
  5. Look toward the person while talking to them. If you talk to the wall, you will be even less understandable.
  6. Be polite and treat the person with dignity. It’s disheartening when people get exasperated.

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“ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A few nights ago I watched the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” As I mentioned in my last blog both the series and the film have been important and long lasting parts of my life. It is interesting because when I was first commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on 19 June 1983 in the Medical Service Corps, and September 1992 became a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, subsequently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve as a Chaplain. I also served as a Armor Officer in Texas during seminary. On 9 February 1999 I turned in my Gold Oak Leaf as a Major in the Army for the two Silver Bars of a Navy Chaplain Corps Lieutenant.

Now, 21 years after that move I am a washed up Chaplain and Navy Commander mostly abandoned by fellow Chaplains for openly and honesty dealing with the ravages of PTSD, abandonment which created moral injury that I have never recovered from, no matter how hard I prayed the Daily Office, or studied scripture and theology. Without going into such detail that it would harm me even more in much current fragile emotional state, I can only say that I was abandoned, ghosted, and off revamped by the senior Chaplains who sent me to war, of course I was a very willing volunteer, and then ensured that every subsequent assignment would be harmful to my career, while certain senior chaplains treated me in the most malicious and evil manner knowing I needed a continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care, ripped me away from it sending me on a three year geographic bachelor tour, away from home and those supports.

I also continue to suffer physical and neurological disorders related to combat. One is a combination of serene Tinnitus, and abnormal degraded speech comprehension without corresponding hearing loss. The neurologist thought it was due damage to my auditory nerves and auditory processing center related to PTSD. My speech comprehension was rated in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people process speech better than me. In order to understand speech in individual conversations or in large groups I have to be completely focused and not have any cross talk or background noise. This makes it difficult to function. Basically, I am functionally deaf unless I am completely focused on whoever is talking and they are speaking clearly enough for me to understand. Judy is really deaf, and she understands speech better than me much of the time.

During Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen the 4077th’s Chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy is exposed to a mortar blast and suffers Tinnitus and hearing loss, which continue to get worse despite his prayers.

In one of his prayers to God, one which resonates much with me, he cries out:

“Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it? I answered the call to do your work. I’ve devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ 

My situation doesn’t simply involve my inability to understand speech but the residual effects of PTSD: hyper vigilance, anxiety, severe depression, sleep disorders, nightmare and night terror disorders that have resulted in injuries including a broken nose when battling the phantom like images of assailants in my dreams.And most recently under the stress I feel, horrible angry outbursts that are so unlike me. They make me feel horrible, but a decade of death threats, internet stalking, being called an “enemy of America”, and for supporting the rights of Blacks a “nigger lover” and “wigger,” and condemnation by Christians for caring about the rights, safety, and decent treatment of LGBTQ as enabling sin against God, but I never saw Jesus turn anyone away. The greatest hurt I experience is when Christian friends attack, condemn, and abandon me, especially over the past five years as so many became members of the Trump Dictatorship Cult. It took a while but I don’t take it anymore and after slicing and dicing their arguments leave things in their hands as where to they want to go with our relationship. Some cut me off and others make sure I know how rotten I am before they cut things off. Back in the early days after returning from Iraq while melting down and being thrown out of my former Church I culled a lot of them preemptively from my social contacts. A few have since renewed and reconciled but not all.

No amount of praying ever changed anything. I still believe in God, but I struggle every day. Sometimes I don’t feel that I am of any use, but too many people tell me that I do. Even so the fourth verse of the M*A*S*H them song, Suicide is Painless rings true for me now. I don’t have the answers. That verse says: A brave man once requested me to answer questions questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be” and I replied “oh, why ask me?” 

Something that Colonel Potter said to Father Mulcahy and Mulcahy’s reply seems a pretty good place to end this before I sign off from this post:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

So here I am, an old, broken, washed-up Chaplain and priest who is a better historian than many looking to the next phase of my life, with Judy and the puppies, but even so, without a Parish, without an institutional Chaplain position, or any formal place of ministry, I will still be a Priest, and serve whoever comes into my life, even when I struggle and doubt.

Since I am going to have to get a bit of work done  house and do my damnedest to finish the illustration section of my book so I can send it to my agent and publisher tomorrow, which means whenever I wake up, I wish you all peace and safety.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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You Don’t Know What You’re Missing Until You Find It: Judy Experiences Real Hearing

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/

Peace, Steve+

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