No Wonder They Call It Hearing LOSS!

Maureen Humpel
Copyright 2001

June 1, 1994. I woke to the sound of the alarm clock. Oh boy; another day, another dollar, I thought Time to get up for work. Everything was routine, just like any other day. Traffic on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a real pain in the mornings. Thank god I have my radio. Hmmm; what's this? What's wrong with the radio? Oh no I hope I haven't blown a speaker; Art, (my boyfriend), won't be happy about that. Huh? What? I can't hear the radio at all. It will be a world of trouble when I get home. Hey that was a semi that just passed me; why didn't I hear it? What's going on? Oh God! I can't hear anything!

June 1, 1994, the day I became deaf. I felt so scared, so alone. I continued on to work since I was almost there and went into my boss's office to tell him I couldn't hear anything and needed to see a doctor. Apparently I was yelling and the whole office turned to stare at me. I was appalled to see my boss laughing. I knew I needed to get to a doctor's office and I knew this meant getting back into the truck and driving home. I was petrified to drive. I never realized how much I relied on my hearing to operate a motor vehicle. I crept along at 35 miles an hour all the way home.

I went to Art's place of work and told him, "I lost my hearing! I can't hear anything! I'm scared!" He took me straight to the nearest Ear, Nose and Throat doctor we could find. I expected some sympathy from a man in this particular field but found him to be crass and irritated at my inability to understand him. I thought to myself, is this what is in store for me from everyone? It is this man's job to deal with hearing and hearing loss; if he is treating me this way how will the rest of the world treat me? I was soon to find out.

As time went on I lost more than just my hearing. Art could not handle my world of silence. He could not accept that I was deaf and there was nothing he could do to make me hear again. He could not handle the communication gap that developed between us. He packed up and moved out. He left me when I needed him the most but he also left me when I needed him to leave the most. Had he not left, I would have become dependent on him to be my ears. I would never have learned to stand up on my own two feet or learned to be deaf in a hearing world. With the help of my mother I got myself the necessary "deaf items": TTY, flashing lights, alarm clock, etc. I found out it is very expensive to be different!

I started accommodating to my deafness; I adapted to the flashing lights and learned to use the TTY. Since I had been slowly losing my hearing to begin with, I had some lip reading skills and I started fine tuning my ability. It was not something that happened overnight, however, and at work people had a hard time communicating with me. One day the fire alarm went off and one woman, who had a Cuban accent, tried telling me that the fire alarm was going off. I could not understand,

"The FAIR; we are going to the FAIR?" Finally she wrote for me, "FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!" That could have cost 2 lives if we did not get out in time. I looked into getting a hearing dog after that. My boss told me, "NO WAY! We will not allow a dog in this building!" This is when I learned a little about my rights as a deaf person in the work force and I told my boss, "According to ADA Law you must allow this dog here." I found myself jobless in 3 weeks. Of course they covered their backsides well and I was laid off "due to lack of work in my area," and it had nothing to do with my request to bring a working dog into the workplace.

What was I to do? I lost my hearing, I lost my partner in life, and I lost my job. The only things I did not lose were my bills. I applied for several jobs but always found the same response, "We need someone who can answer the phone. The bills were stacking up. I went to social services and they sent me to Social Security who sent me to social services. After much red tape and running around I finally started getting $450 a month for me and my 2 children to live on. My rent alone was $775. I applied to low income housing and started my life from the bottom. I continued to search for work only to have the door slammed in my face time after time when they realized I was deaf. The hearing world, my home at one time, was turning its back on me, and why? Because I could not hear. No one would give me the chance to show them what I could DO!

One day I got a call from my mother. She said, "My office here in Connecticut needs a temp for two weeks and there are no phones required for the job." Hey! Who was I to be choosy? I needed to earn some money for my kids. I left them with their dad and drove up to Connecticut from Maryland where lived at the time). After a week, the head honcho came to me and asked if I would be willing to take a full time job with their office? They never had anyone before as good at data entry as I was! How could I turn it down? But would my kids move to Connecticut? They lived their whole lives in Maryland. They promised me they would come up and give it one year and if they liked it they would stay; if they didn't they would go to live with their dad. They were not going to stomp on the one chance I had to start a normal life again. I did not have any means to start over, to just pack up and move my things here. I had no money to get a place for me and my kids to live. My mother let me stay with her for a year and my kids stayed with their dad and I worked my behind off. I worked 4 weeks worth of hours in 3 weeks so I could go home to Maryland and spend a week with my kids each month and I scrimped and saved until I could afford a home for me and my kids. (There is something to be said for learning how to live on $450 a month!)

Three years after losing my hearing, I started to live again. On June 8, 1997, I brought my kids to Connecticut to start our new lives together. I think I gave them more than a new home and new schools; I gave them a sense of survival. I showed my children, no matter what hardships life throws at you, there is always tomorrow. No matter how cruel the world seems to you, it is no crueler then you let it be. My struggles weren't easy and God knows I wanted to give up many times; but it built a better me. I learned who I am and what I am capable of. I learned to take the bull by the horns and say NO! You can't take me down! I am stronger then you and I am a survivor!. The past three years taught me that the way people treat me because of my hearing loss does not show my ability or inability; it shows theirs. My hearing loss does not keep me from standing up and living my life as fully as anyone else. Life is not always the way we want it to be but we have the power to make the best of what is given us.. If I had it all to do again, I don't think I'd change a thing.


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