The Stranger than Strange Hearing Conversations

The other day I mentioned to my husband that I thought we had a problem with our hot water heater. I know this doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with hearing, but it does so bear with me. I explained to my husband that I had taken a shower and noticed the water took a long time to warm. I proclaimed our fourteen-year-old water heater to be near death. Because he likes hot showers as much as I do, he took me seriously and ventured out to the garage to look over our tank. When he came back in, my husband found me with my head deep inside a cupboard, searching for a bowl. Without thinking, he started talking to me. “There’s rust all over the top of the water heater. I’ll call a plumber. We’ll need to decide what kind of tank we want since ours is no longer made.” Righting myself, I realized he had been talking to me, but I had only picked up one word, which didn’t make sense to me given the problem at hand. Instead of asking him to repeat, I simply said, “What did you say about Saturday night?” He bit his lip. I knew right away that he hadn’t said anything about Saturday night. So he repeated the part about calling a plumber and the decision we had to make about replacing our hot water heater.

Over the years we’ve had many of these kinds of conversations. My husband sees me as a normal person and forgets that my best hearing happens when I’m facing him. Our merry-go-round conversations happen frequently. He’ll ask me what we were having for dinner to which I say, “no one is coming to dinner. It’s just us.” When he goes to the supermarket to pick something up, he always asks me if I need anything. To that question he might get a variety of answers like, “I didn’t know there was something wrong with the car.” or “no need to go out today, honey, the dry-cleaning won’t be ready until Friday.” You might say, I’m the great hearing faker. My sister-in-law recognizes my behavior. She always takes me from pretend hearing back to hearing reality by saying, “that’s not what I asked you. This is what I said.” My husband has his own way of dealing with my fake hearing attempts. His body language, mouth dropping, eyes rolling are all sure signs that I got it wrong.

My hearing mishaps spill over into our social life. I don’t always tell people I have hearing loss. When first meeting me, the husband of a friend of mine was very puzzled by my fake hearing behavior. One day, he pulled my husband aside and asked, “Why does your wife always answer my questions inappropriately. She seems so bright and intelligent, yet she goes off subject.” My husband set him straight about my hearing loss. Since, our friend corrects me politely, “Oh I really wanted to know about…”

Those of us who suffer from hearing loss are told that we shouldn’t fake hearing. If you’re not sure what someone says, you should ask them to repeat. Our doctors and audiologists remind us to keep our hearing aid and cochlear implant batteries fresh. Most of us know that it is better to face the person you are speaking with. Those of us who are in relationships realize that serious conversations need a room with little or no background noise.  I try following such advice. But there are times when even my best hearing efforts fail. I must say that after living with hearing loss for over forty years, it no longer bothers me when I mess up. I shrug when answering a question inappropriately. If someone points out my hearing errors, I correct myself. For me, hearing mishaps are part of the adventure of meandering through the hearing world even if it means wondering what I’m going to do next Saturday night whenever I have a hot water heater problem.