Wha? Wha? …The Sounds of Silenceby Marnie Macauley January 3, 2017
My dear San Diegans: Our fabulous editor caught my “admission” of deafness in an earlier column (not to mention the fact that I “Wha? Wha?” her on the phone). So in this column, she asked that I tell you the ganza about living in semi-silence. I rarely talk about it, except to apologize to assorted clients, friends, and yes, even the power company for responding 10 minutes later to the question “What’s your name?” So here’s my story. If you feel an ounce of pity, send Chinese food.
THE EARLY YEARS
The year was “back when.” I was five. In school I got a note pinned to me. I flunked “hearing.” With each grade I also broke the kid-code – I ran to take the front seat in all my classes. Colds made it worse. Mom took me to “a hearing guy” when I shnarfled. “Eustachian tubes!” was the diagnoses. I was “blown out” at least 30 times.
Today, modern medicine with its marvels has also created a country of meshuge moms. If a child can’t read at 2, we hear “Oh G-d. We have to test him for ADHD or Asperger’s!” “Back when,” no one got crazy. Bubbe said, “She’ll grow out of it.”
I didn’t. Later, I started noticing something. Noise. Not people talking. Not music playing. I heard … click-ringing. Like a crazed cricket took root inside my brain – with a bell. So I did what any child would do. I poured stuff in my ears. Water. Syrup. Seltzer. When my parents noticed I was getting a concussion from banging my head against hard objects, it was time to take action. THE GAWGEOUS DOCTOR … UM, THE
A friend recommended we stop futzing and go to his doctor on Park Avenue, which, let me tell you, is a long way from Queens. He was a sweet old guy. Within five minutes he said … “Little girl, I’m taking you across the hall to see my son.” Mom teared up. Wha?
Seems Doctor-Son was famous for one thing. Oy, did I have the thing? We passed through a sea of patients waiting (for a year) for sonny and sailed into his office on his Daddy’s wing. His name was Dr. Alan Austin Scheer. ANCILLARY NOTE: He was the handsomest man I had ever seen or would ever again see. An auburn-haired Burt Lancaster he was. My mother, the Queen Victoria of marital loyalty, went into shock, her jaw hitting the floor. The gum I was chewing hit the wall, bounced onto a replica of middle-ear stapes, then hit him in the face. Using a tuning fork, the whole shmear took five minutes. I had “the thing.”
“Your daughter has otosclerosis,” he said, when we managed to stand upright. To simplify, the stapes becomes stuck in place, can’t vibrate, you grow deaf. He was excited. I was his “youngest” candidate for surgery to replace the stapes, one ear at a time.
“But,” he cautioned, “by the time she’s 40 it will hit the nerves, and she’ll be deaf.”
My mother got hysterical. I retrieved my gum. “Forty?!” I thought. “Yeah, right. We’ll be on Pluto by then!” ANCILLARY NOTE TWO: This was November 22, 1963.
“Ninotchka.” That’s what I was watching at 3 a.m. three weeks after the operation. I couldn’t hear Garbo (then, who could?) because temporary scar tissue had formed. “It will fall out in three weeks” Dr. Gawgeous explained. Suddenly, I heard a WHOOSH. And when Garbo said “I should hate to see our country endangered by my underwear.” She sounded like a Swedish James Earl Jones. I thought I went deaf in the other ear, which also wasn’t terrific. It was three weeks plus 10 hours, plus “Ninotchka.” I ran to the window. I heard birds. I ran downstairs, I heard the fridge hum. I hummed. I heard. And I cried.
The years passed. The other ear started ping-ringing, and I was now sitting on my professors’ laps. It was time to do the other ear. Especially as I had a major mid-term coming up.
“HAPPY 39TH DEAR MARNIE”
… Wha? Were we on Pluto and didn’t Dr. Gawgeous warn mom … yesterday?
The next week I had a big confab with Geraldo’s producer.
Him: “Nice to meet you.”
Me: “Yes … ice on streets, can kill you.”
Him: “So, you’re interested in doing the show.”
Me: “I love doing things in the snow.”
Him: [looking at me strangely]: “Well, you have a solid background…”
Me: [what’s with him an precipitation?] “Yes. Especially when it’s packed ‘solid’ … the snow.”
I sensed I was losing ground here. Then, I tried to call home on a public phone. ET had a better shot.
And, for the very first time, I realized … I’m deaf.
And, for the very first time, I felt … helpless.
And, for the very first time, I got hearing aids … and the lady audiologist said: “You must be exhausted working so very hard to hear.” I fell into her arms sobbing. Now, for those of you who are PC enough to call short people “altitudinally disadvantaged,” let me tell you, we deaf get bupkes. Especially if we’re afflicted later in life. What we get is … annoyance. We are annoying. We don’t look, speak or appear “challenged.” What we do is whistle from our aids, ask “Wha? Wha?” misunderstand you, make you scream and turn up the volume to sonar.
Over a year ago, I took the BL (Big Leap) and let them bore (yet another) hole in my head. Yes. I had a cochlear implant. Is it perfect? No. Is it odd? Not for Mentalo. Is it better? Oh yes. I’m less deaf … but I miss it a little. Trust me, so would you. Being deaf definitely has its advantages …
When I was deafer …
If a boring person approached me and reading his lips I was ready to chalosh, I had an escape. It isn’t easy being boring-by-lip, but they’re out there. Now I hear them. (It was then I PCd “deaf” to “audio-bore-ialis.”)
When my darling husband was alive, he was a snorer. Did I hear it? Of course not. Did I care? Of course not. I couldn’t hear an earthquake when it moved our bed into the kitchen.
Perks. Whether it was bill collectors or (horrors!) telemarketers, I actually made them so meshuge with my “Wha? Wha? Who? Who?” they hung up on me.
Interruptionability: I was an interrupter? Not my fault. Who knew they were talking?
So yes … deaf has its advantages.
And so my journey as a semi-hearing person continues. Has it made me more empathetic? Has it forced my mind to adapt and become laser-focused? Has it made me listen closely with all my senses? Has it helped me write with my heart? I believe so. I still miss the subtlety of music, the mellifluent sounds of nature and the sweetness of the whisper.
So if you read my columns, or you see me coming, and should I say “Wha? Wha?”
Come a little closer … and let me hear the whole you, with the whole of me.