Inside Voices Please

Recently I had my hearing tested, because I wasn’t able to hear what my dining companion was saying across the table in restaurants. The raucous sounds around me were drowning out our conversation. My companion could always read my lips, but I’m not able to do that. I went to the audiologist and described my misunderstanding of consonants. But in normal situations, I could hear everything else quite well. I scored 100% on the words spoken in my headset, but I missed 30% of the high register tones sent to my brain by some weird-looking gadget which touched2 places on my head. Apparently, it’s this 30% of high frequency sound that makes up the sound of consonants. The ENT, on seeing the report, suggested that if I weren’t blind, I’d be on the border line of needing a hearing aid, but since I couldn’t see expressions or read lips, I should give them a try.

I did try them for over a week and returned them after experiencing almost painful amplification of the sounds around me. The world is already full of noise. I knew that, but having it amplified, even with the sophisticated technology of these highly rated hearing aids, it was driving me nuts. Upon wearing them home and then taking Dora out to play in the back yard through the garage, it sounded to me like she had tap shoes on. I was bewildered until I realized it was just her toenails on the concrete garage floor. I concluded that I could do without that 30% of the highest register of sounds. I could hear birds very clearly, probably more clearly than anybody, because I pay attention to them. So what if I missed a word now and then? But the problem is not that the words around me are too soft. Just the opposite.

Everywhere I go, I hear people shouting to one another, when they are standing 2 feet apart. When I’m in a room with bare walls, such as a locker-room, a stairwell, or restroom, the sound is deafening. When I’m in a restaurant, the noise of the table near me, where people are vying for center stage in the conversation it’s not only annoying but also impossible for my tablemates to hear one another. It’s not just me. I’ve been with a group of friends who have turned right around and walked out of a restaurant, because the voices were so loud. Haven’t these people ever heard of using their inside voices when they are inside? Do they all have to project like 3-year-olds whose natural and constant volume is loud?

when I’m in my back yard, I can hear the conversations of my neighbors on their patios 4 houses away. I concede that they are indeed outside, so they might be justified in using their outside voices, but the people they are speaking to are just a few feet away. I guess party equals alcohol equals turn up the volume of everything. Maybe I should get hearing aids after all and turn down the volume on the world.

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The Scare of My Life

You all know about the troubles I have with airport personnel, everything from pushing wheelchairs at me to sky caps who can’t speak or understand English. But the experience I had in Philadelphia on my way home from my daughter’s was the most terrifying I have ever endured.

Twice, I told the flight attendant that I was able to walk down the steps off the plane, and twice, I told her that I did not need a wheelchair. Hadn’t I just walked up the steps to the plane? But there I was, ready to deplane, and there was the guy ready to hook up a ramp, and at the bottom of the steps, there was the sky cap with the wheelchair. This is such an old conflict that it bores even me. In retrospect, I should have taken the wheelchair, although I don’t know what I would have done with Dora. Put her in my lap?

After going in and out of elevators and being ushered onto a bus to take me from one end of the airport to another, and after rushing through a crowd of people at the door going back into the airport, I suddenly felt the floor beneath me moving. With horror, I realized that we were on an escalator. Not only did I have no verbal warning, but I was outraged that the sky cap had put my dog in danger. Now I know that many people with guide dogs use escalators, but I do not. When I got my first dog Mindy, my instructor recommended that I never use them, because if the dog’s toes or hair on her legs should get caught in the machinery, her legs could be shredded. The image was so ingrained that even though the school changed its policy and insisted that every student learn to use an escalator with the dog, I hated that part of the training and would hyperventilate by the time we stepped off. I learned the technique, which was to put my left hand firmly under the back strap of the harness and lift the dog as we approached the stepping off place. When I trained with Dora, I convinced the trainer to skip that lesson, because every building these days has either a staircase or an elevator, due to the ADA. I would never have to use an escalator. But here I was, frantic and scared to death that my precious baby would be hurt. All the time that I was yelling at that sky cap, she kept saying, “You’re OK,” but I wasn’t afraid of the escalator. I use them all the time, but never with my dog, and I always insist on finding the railing with my right hand before stepping on.

Realizing that I had to handle this awful situation, I put both arms around her middle, stuck out my right foot, and when I felt the end of the steps disappearing into the floor, I lifted that 77-pound dog to safety.

Instead of being joyous at my success in saving her legs, I gave that sky cap a dressing down she had never heard before. I hope she understood and had nightmares that night. I explained to her that first, she should have asked me if I could do escalators. I had been asked if I could do stairs over and over but never asked if I could do the escalator. Secondly, she gave me no warning that we were about to step onto the moving surface. She claimed she had been told to take me on the escalator, but she failed to say that to me. Clearly, this young woman had not received proper training in assisting a blind passenger. It’s the same old story, but with a dangerous twist. I was shaking with fury and wanted to cry. But I didn’t have time to cry. I had to make my connection. No wonder when I got to Columbus, the first thing I wanted to do was go have a stiff drink. I wanted to write a letter, but to whom? I don’t know, and it wouldn’t do any good. But it makes me feel better writing to you.