A Journey Through Hearing Loss

By Cathy Sveinson, Selkirk, Manitoba

My journey with hearing loss began when I was in my late 30’s. I had grown up on a farm around several adults who were obviously hard of hearing and my siblings and I got a lot of chuckles out of listening to them attempt to communicate with each other around the dinner table. There were a lot of “ehs”, huhs”. and “what-did-you-say’s” as well as talking over each other, misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

At first I found my hearing loss somewhat of a convenience, as my husband was a horrific snorer, and I worked a lot of night shifts, so when I went to bed and slept on my good ear I couldn’t hear the snoring or the phone ring, or the kids playing.  But as time went on, it became quite a serious inconvenience. Working as a nurse, I found it increasingly difficult to hear blood pressures and, chest and heart sounds through my stethoscope, and would often have to get my co-workers to verify my findings.  Being the only staff member on the night shift was quite anxiety provoking as I was always worried that I would not hear a patient call me, or if someone fell out of bed.  Taking doctor’s orders over the phone was awkward at times, especially if there was a lot of activity and talking around the nursing station or if the person speaking had an accent.

I decided that I needed to have my hearing tested, and I could have it done in the hospital where I worked.  I was taken aback when the audiologist told me that my hearing was within normal limits.  This was frustrating for me, as I knew I had difficulty hearing, my kids would tell me that I didn’t hear things correctly and my own mother, in her 80’s would tell my sister, “Cathy doesn’t hear me when I talk to her!”  I continued to have yearly audiograms and was always told the same thing – “your hearing is within normal limits.”

In my early 50’s, I had the opportunity to change my area of work and this involved standing in front of a procedure machine which was quite noisy, and with the doctor standing beside my bad ear, I soon realized I was in trouble.  A visit to a new audiologist proved that I did indeed have a significant hearing loss in my left ear, and I was fitted with a hearing aid.  I soon realized that I had been missing out on quite a few sounds, like my footsteps on the sidewalk, the birds singing, and someone at the door.  So life went on, things were definitely better with my hearing aid, and I thought I had adapted to this very well.  Then one morning, two summers ago, I suddenly realized that I could not tell when it was raining outside if I took my hearing aid out, I would have to look out the window to see if it was raining or if it was windy.  If I was in the basement, I could not hear anyone at the door, or footsteps on the floor, or if the appliances beeped, and so on.  So, back to the audiologist who again confirmed that I now needed to wear two hearing aids.  I must say, I was not happy, and wondered why this was happening to me at my age, which was now early 60’s, so I asked my family doctor to refer me to an ENT specialist, who promptly told me that “It’s just your body Cathy”, there is nothing else to say.  She did send me for an MRI just to rule out any abnormalities, and of course she was right, it was negative … whew!

Realizing that I now was officially a member of the hearing Loss community, I knew that I needed to find some resources to help me learn to live with this disability.  So I Googled “speech reading classes in Manitoba” and  suddenly had a wealth of information in front of me.  I learned about the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and what they had to offer, and through them, I met an amazing woman, Gladys Nielsen, who changed my life.  I signed up for her classes called “Managing Your Hearing Loss Sound Ideas”, and learned so much from her and others in her class.  It is really quite amazing the number of places and resources there are in Manitoba for the hearing impaired.  My eyes were opened to so many things that would make my life more productive and safer, so much so, that I now felt confident enough to share my story about my hearing loss with everyone and anyone who would listen.  This past spring, the pastor in our church was going to be absent one Sunday, so I decided to get up on my soap box and share my story with our congregation.  Quite a few people were not aware that I wore hearing aids or that I indeed lived with hearing loss. I would like to say I inspired two ladies who were putting off getting their hearing tested to get it done and they both now have hearing aids, and are again enjoying the little sounds like the birds singing.

So continues my life living with hearing loss. I am again enrolled in Gladys Nielsen’s speech reading class with a close friend beside me who also wears hearing aids.  I felt a review of the course I had already taken would not hurt. My new hearing aides are amazing, everything is so much clearer.  I continue to promote good hearing health and encourage folks to learn to live with their hearing loss and tell them where to go to get information. I am sure I sound like a broken record at times. Now, if I could just get my husband trained to live with my hearing loss, life would be great… but that’s another story for the future.

I would like to thank Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Manitoba Chapter and the Society for Manitobans With Disabilities for all the good work they do for the people living with disabilities. I would not be where I am today if I had not learned of these valuable agencies.