In My Own Words - Hearing ups and downs by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Life with a hearing impairment is an adventure and those who know me well know that I’m not particularly fond of adventures. My idea of excitement is to learn that an author I like has a new book coming out, or something nice has happened to a friend. When I originally planned this column, I only had good news to share, but other recent events reminded me that being able to hear is not something to take for granted.
The good news is that for the first time in almost 20 years I’ve had music on in the background at my house. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? But, for someone who almost always had music playing and then was unable to hear it, it is a big deal. I’ve pulled some CDs from the basement and have been listening to them. Some of the music I remember and can hear the melody and understand the words. Other music seems completely unfamiliar – the songs blend into each other and I can’t tell when one has ended and another started – but at least it sounds like music. Previously, music was just noise – and distressful noise at that. I used to leave the room if someone was playing music and, in most public places, it’s still unpleasant if it’s loud enough for me to hear. However, I’m thrilled to have any music available. Some favorite songs still fill me with an indescribable joy.
I had a scare a few weeks ago when I realized that I was not hearing as well with my left ear – the one with the hearing aid, not the cochlear implant. The sound was muffled worse than normal. The sound in that ear is staticky at the best of times, but, for the most part, the hearing aid complements the CI. What was also disturbing is that the lack of sound meant I was hearing a low level of buzzing/ringing in that ear. Fortunately, the problem was easily solved. There was wax in my hearing aid mold and in my ear, and, once that was cleared, things returned to normal (or rather, what’s normal for that ear). Wearing the CI and the hearing aid help keep the ringing/buzzing under control, which is a good thing because, when I don’t have them in, that noise can become very loud. Just think of an irritating sound that you can’t escape because it’s in your head. So, I am grateful that my devices make my life far more pleasant than it would be otherwise.
Unfortunately, I was reminded of another downside of a hearing impairment when I had to make a phone call to a New York state agency. At home, I have a captioned phone: it types what the person says. To make things simpler for everyone, I tell people that I have a hearing impairment and that I may be delayed in answering if I have to read the captioning. With the CI, I can actually get some speech, which usually makes the process easier. However, even when I explained this to the two people I talked to, they didn’t seem to understand. My captioned phone typed “person inaudible” and I had to keep reminding them to speak louder and clearer. This also meant I was unable to hear them, which made the process even more difficult. The first person understood better than the second. The second only realized there was a problem when I read back what the machine had typed, which made no sense. I was so frustrated after a half hour of this that I was ready to scream. It didn’t help to be told at the end of the conversation that the phone call was a waste of time because, even though New York state sent out a letter saying I had to make the call, there was already a change in state policy that made it unnecessary. 
Some days I almost forget I have a hearing impairment. Other days, I miss a great deal and/or have no idea what is being said around me. How I cope depends on what else is happening in my life. While I am grateful for the help I get from my hearing devices, there are still times I wish I could escape from this world of indecipherable sound and noise. Then, of course, I acknowledge that I don’t really want to separate myself from my community, no matter how tempting it seems at times. I also know there are disabilities that are far worse than mine and I remind myself to be grateful for all I do have.