Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Deaf Awareness Week : Pt 1 : A Bad Ear Day

This week is Deaf Awareness week. My original post to kick off the week was intended to focus on a different aspect of Deaf Awareness however events today led me to a rethink.

People often talk about having a Bad Hair Day when events and conditions conspire to make your hair look like the most unkempt and mis-shapen mess ever to grace a scalp and put even Neaderthal man ahead of you in the hotness stakes. Well for me, today was a classic Bad Ear Day.... Read on and find out why.

The day didn't get off to the best of starts with me waking up at 5am (an hour before I needed to) and spurning more sleep for fear of oversleeping and being late leaving for Bexhill. Things got worse, and grosser, when I sat at my desk and brushed my hair behind my ear with my hand and feeling something dry there and finding a dead fly.... ugh... Not sure if it had been in my ear or just in the hair but it rather put me off putting my right hearing aid in for a large chunk of the day.... ugh (again)

Later in the morning, having arrived onsite, I found I was having trouble hearing the customer across the desk from me and I remarked that there seemed to be a lot of background noise like chatter coming from down the corridor. The reply I got bothered me slightly as it transpired that all was quiet in yonder corridor... Hmm... I carried on for a little while but after a while found the 'noise' rather distracting so I went to the loo for a minute or two to see what was what. I turned my hearing aid off which resulted in genuine silence which meant that it wasn't a particularly bad round of Tinnitus to blame. This laid the blame directly at the Hearing Aid's feet. This led me to get a little teary... It really is very important to be able to hear especially when you're representing your company on a customer's site. Luckily the customer was very understanding and sympathetic which helped.

Anyway, after the realisation that the Hearing Aid was possibly faulty I posted on Facebook the news that I was teary due to 'my Hearing Aid creating lots of background noise that isn't there'. This yielded a fantastic, and unsought, response from my friends who were all very encouraging, one even said that it bought a tear to her eye.

Many people think that Hearing Aids restore hearing for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to near perfect levels. Sadly the truth despite, and possibly because of, technology being so 'advanced' these days does not match these perceptions. 

The reality is that athough technology has moved a long way from the simple amplification of sounds to noise reduction and sound shaping and programmable hearing aids the hardware is ever more delicate due to miniaturisation and complexity. For example, ears sweat... a lot... Wearing Hearing Aids entails wearing plugs of pliable plastic resin which seal the ear. This means that sweat doesn't escape the ear via the normal way and instead rises along the tube towards the Hearing Aid itself. Even though they are dried out and aired nightly inevitably some moisture will make its way into the fragile electronics. As we all know water and electronics are not the best of friends and when they do meet typically they make a new friend called rust. I have had one Hearing Aid die for certain via this method as I saw it opened up in this state. 

Additionally Hearing Aids now have multiple microphones (you can see two of these in the image above near the top of the Hearing Aid and there is anoother in the base). These are usually covered with a very fine gauge gauze mesh that needs to be replaced from time-to-time. Further, there is now a small sponge type material placed in the elbow of the tube (the part of the tubing that is directly connected to the Hearing Aid itself) this also needs to be replaced from time-to-time as well. Besides these items there are countless other things that can, and do, go wrong. 

All of these things can have an affect on the quality of sound being received by the hearing aid and also (in the case of the elbow sponge) output by the Hearing Aid. Sounds can be muffled, deadened or affected in other ways or totally blocked in some instances. It can be simulated to some degree by hearing people when ears are clogged with water after swimming. The lucky thing is that in that case you can be sure that it is only a temporary effect and so not at all distressing.

Anyway, while following the events from afar (I'm working onsite this week) my partner decided to try and help by finding out where I could get something done about the misbehaving piece of technology. Here's her account as posted on Facebook:

Mike's hearing aid is broken and he is away from home. I called 111 to see if they could tell me where he could go. It went something like this...
Me: My partner's hearing aid is broken he can't hear anything without it. Can you tell me where he can go?
111: Not really, we need to be able to ask him some questions.
Me: Can you tell me what the questions are so I can get you the answers?
111: No they have to come from him. Can't he call us?
Me: No he won't be able to hear you.
111: If you call him will he be able to hear you?
Me: No.

I do wonder sometimes how the Human race is going to succeed and prosper in the future when there's increasing evidence, such as the above conversation, of wrong headed (utterly daft perhaps?) thinking going on in this world... 

Maybe today's events are perfect example of how awareness can be improved, by making people realise that there is a very real effect on the ability of a person with Hearing Loss or Deafness to engage with the world and make use of basic services, such as the NHS 111 phone line, and also that just because they wear Hearing Aids it doesn't mean that the Hearing Loss or Deafness is any less of an issue.

Postscript : I forgot to mention... The battery in the misbehaving Hearing Aid also decided to die today as well!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Fear and Trepidation...

OK, so I may be overstating it somewhat, but I do tend to get slightly nervy when staying in Hotels or away from home, especially when I am on my ownsome.

I always, half-jokingly, said that the first sign I'd get that there was a fire in the house when I was asleep was my big toe getting slightly warm! There is more than a grain of truth in this and it does, sometimes, leave me sleeping restlessly when I'm on my own. This often ends up with me waking up on a regular basis and then taking a while to get back to sleep. 

A similar situation occurs, as it did last week, if I have to leave early (like Oh My God is this what it's like before breakfast early) to be onsite. I often end up with the double-whammy of first of all not being able to get to sleep in good time and then waking up on an almost hourly basis to avoid oversleeping! 

Alarm clock? Tried that; doesn't work as i have an excellent internal body clock that means I usually wake before the alarm but this process goes to pot on days when I have to be up on time and I end up getting paranoid about sleeping in. Last Tuesday was a typical example with me waking up at 3.30, 4.45, 5.40 and 6.40 before giving up the ghost and just staying awake anyway for fear of actually oversleeping after all.

So what do I do to make sure I get alerted in the event of fire when staying in a Hotel? Absolutely nothing is the answer to that one... I tend to duck out of mentioning my Deafness to reception staff for God knows what reason but probably because of that inner feeling of not wanting to either put people out or feel I'm deserving of special consideration. I hate being different and yet clearly I have to acknowledge that I should make some concessions on my own behalf and accept that there are some things I really should do no matter how demeaning it may seem or that it marks me out as different. I guess that last statement is the key to all this; I really do prefer to stay in the background and to not be noticed.