My name is Paul, I am 56 and I am deaf. I haven’t always been; I was born without any hearing in my left ear – which is, to all intents and purposes, a cosmetic attachment. It served no function other than allowing the opposition prop to get a grip when I played. The right one was working fine though, until one fateful day in January 2008.
I went to bed after a stressful and busy week, supervising an office move. I had a headache and a bit of a “buzz” in my head, but took some paracetamol and retired. I awoke next morning without the headache, and thinking how blissfully quiet Splott was on a weekday morning.
For the uninitiated, Splott (or the People’s Republic, as it is known in Labour Movement circles in South Wales) is inner city Cardiff. Shirley Bassey was born here. Forget that bollocks about Tiger Bay – she was born in Splott. It just sounded better probably!
Anyway, I awoke and quickly realised that I couldn’t hear at all. I resisted the temptation to crap myself, though it was awfully tempting, got dressed and came downstairs. What to do? I live alone. My daughters’ are grown up and their mother and I, whilst still very good friends, are separated. She lives the other side of Cardiff.
I know, I thought, I’ll ‘phone . . . no wait, can’t do that! I ended up walking to the GP with a pencil and pad, and spent a fun few minutes “communicating” that way. To cut a long story short, I eventually was diagnosed as having a viral infection, which was by now untreatable and the damage done irreversible.
There you have it. After numerous tests, visits to audiology, a session of having a mould taken of my right ear for an earpiece, and assorted consultants, I now have a hearing aid. Problem solved . . .
Only it isn’t, because I still can’t hear. I hear noise, not detail. I can hear you speak; I just don’t usually understand what you are saying. I have to work at it. I really REALLY have to concentrate, and I find that physically tiring. Worse, I have to explain and pretend to be amused at the jokes; tolerate the bored looks when I ask for repetition; and all this whilst suffering from severe tinnitus as well. I didn’t mention that, did I? Sorry – I do that a lot too; apologise. I have to apologise for being disabled.
Society seems to like “absolutes”. They would like me to be completely deaf apparently. Unable to hear anything at all. Anything less and I am not trying hard enough. But few disabled people satisfy that criteria. Most visually impaired can see something, albeit relatively useless for the main purpose of sight. Many of the mobility impaired can move, but not well enough to walk.
Similarly, I get people tell me of their “League Status” of disability, if they had a choice!! “Oh, you’re deaf? Still, not as bad as being [delete applicable] blind/ crippled/ mentally ill/ a Tory, etc.” – no, I made that last one up. Thank God I am not a Tory. I really would have to end it all then. My response; come here – I have two knitting needles and I’ll accommodate you “pal”.
I am luckier than most, I know that. I endure no pain as a result of my disability (well, not physical!) and I know of many people who do, including someone who is becoming increasingly special to me. Whilst the comments and the attitudes can be hurtful, I am better able to deal with them than many.
I am 6 ft tall and 17 stone, confident, loud and after 40 years in the world of work – much of which has been involved with Trades Unions – I can handle an argument! Rumour has it, I even start a few!
My employers, in the main, have been good. My family have been brilliant, as have many work colleagues and friends. However, I have also had a large degree of insensitivity, some abuse and a complete lack of support from a major Trade Union that I was formerly very active in for many years. I hasten to add, not my current one.
My life has changed. I grew up in 1970’s/80’s and loved the music of the time. I was at live gigs most weeks, often 2 or 3 a week. I did the Festivals and accumulated an impressive vinyl/ cassette/ cd collection. It’s all gathering dust now. I haven’t had the heart to sell it, which I should do, because it feels like I would be selling my youth? Yes, I know – sentimental claptrap.
I have had to change my job. I have had to change my ways too. I have to be a lot more patient, less aggressive and more focused, and that is hard for me. I grew up in the hearing world. BSL (sign language) is no use to me. All my friends are hearing. Lip reading is limited too. At 56, my eyesight isn’t that wonderful either, and some of you still insist on looking away or putting your hands in front of your face, or something.
Anyway, this could be the first instalment or the last. It depends on feedback. I have some personal insight into disability in society, into induction loops and a whole host of things, I may be deaf, but I am still a gobby bastard with opinions. Thank you for listening, and please be grateful that you can…