My name is Luciano Moreira and I’m a a brazilian ENT surgeon. As some people know, my wife Paula Pfeifer is deaf. I met her soon after she got her first cochlear implant (now she has both implants), which made it easier for us to get to know each other.
However, using a cochlear implant or a hearing aid does not mean you can hear normally. First of all, these devices still need to be turned off when you take a shower, go to sleep, dive, or when they have a problem or the battery dies. Besides, listening through technology has certain limitations.
In our three years together, I have learned many things medicine does not teach you about deafness and love. I am sure many parents, children, husbands, wives, and friends go through situations similar to the ones I am about to describe here.
On the other hand, as a doctor treating people with hearing loss, I am used to face two different challenges every day:
1.Diagnosing hearing loss and its extension, and deciding what is the best way to rehabilitation
This may involve using hearing aids, a cochlear implant, as well as as speech therapy for hearing stimulation and training.
2. Helping the person with hearing loss adjust to their social and family environment
It is my job to help their relatives, friends, and co-workers to understand that oral communication has two sides, both equally important: one person speaks, and another must listen. Quite frequently, the second challenge is more difficult than the first.
All of us have had a hard time understanding someone who speaks too fast, is not too facially expressive, or talks with a monotone voice. It is common for some people, when they begin to lose their hearing, to say they are not deaf — it’s just other people who cannot articulate well what they say. Many times this excuse is actually a half-truth. Someone who speaks too low, turning their back, or not saying the words properly is not helping good communication. This is true for everybody, especially those who have hearing loss.
So, if you spend time with someone, either at home or at work, who has hearing loss, please bear in mind that their hearing aid or cochlear implant are not psychic tools. They cannot capture your thoughts. Speaking clearly is the least each of us can do.
MY WIFE IS DEAF: how do we face hearing loss with love?
Considering my experience both as a doctor and a husband, I would like to share a few tips which can improve a lot your communication (as well as your relationship) with people who have a hard time hearing what you say:
Communication does not depend just on hearing
All of us read lips, faces, bodies, and environments. Those who hear with the help of technology rely even more on lip reading. So, if you wish to be understood, look at the person you’re talking to, and be clear and articulate. Living with Paula has helped me speak better with all my patients and friends, including those who have no trouble hearing.
Hearing loss is not solved by increasing the volume
Deafness has many different causes. There are lesions in structures with very different roles. The tolerance some people using hearing aids have to loud volume is very low. It can be too uncomfortable for them. In these cases, shouting should be avoided, as it may make things even worse.
The safety of the hard of hearing depends on you
If you cover your nose with your hand, you will not feel any smell. Close your eyes and you will be in the dark. Don’t eat and you won’t feel any taste. Don’t touch, don’t feel textures. For most people, every sense can be completely shut off, except one: hearing.
Sounds are everywhere, all the time. Even if we put our hands on our ears and try to not give sounds as much importance, we cannot live in silence. It is thus easy to understand how sounds are important to our safety. If a person with whom you live cannot hear well, be attentive to sounds indicating danger, especially when that person is without their aids or implants. Take responsibility for protecting them.
Don’t try to be a deaf person’s ears all the time
In spite of what I have just said, anyone who’s seeking their hearing rehabilitation can and should use (as well as train) their hearing as much as they can. So, let the deaf person find their way around. Encourage their hearing independence.
When I am with Paula, it is always easier for me to make a voice call, instead of letting her do it. However, if I did not encourage her to speak on the phone, how would she become capable of doing it? Sometimes, I insist she makes the call herself. She may not like it at first, but after making the call she has a proud expression on her face.
There are situations particularly bad for the hard of hearing
People using hearing aids and cochlear implants are able to hear well in silent environments, but they may find it very difficult to understand what people say in noisy places. This makes social and family gatherings with a lot of people quite wearing. Others should be understanding of this.
Learn all you can about hearing loss and its treatment
Hearing rehabilitation is based on science and technology. It is therefore a field in constant progress. Those who live with hearing loss every day have many challenges, and they may not be able to keep up with every new thing.
Your help may be important in discovering a new wireless accessory, a new and more adequate phone, the best way to arrange furniture in your home, or a restaurant where the light and the noise allow for a pleasant dinner together.
When I began dating Paula, I thought just being in love would be enough to circumvent every difficulty her deafness would impose on us. I couldn’t be more wrong. Her difficulty made me more attentive, devoted, and aware of my role in communication. This was how I realized that, once you are in a relationship, deafness is not something to be circumvented, but a unique chance to be close to a person you love in a way you didn’t know existed.
Support Paula Pfeifer’s work. She is a hearing rehabilitation activist in Brazil and she is deaf herself – two cochlear implants.
Paula Pfeifer is a brazilian writer. Two of her books about hearing loss, hearing aids and cochlear implants can be found in english and spanish in Kindle.
SOCIAL MEDIA I AM DEAF BUT I CAN HEAR
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