Three years ago after moving to Salt Lake City, I attended a banquet with my boyfriend honoring ski patrol. He volunteers at the ski resort on weekends and the banquet is a big event among them. That night, we had a great time together. I had my old hearing aids which weren’t the best for my hearing loss and the gathering was a little smaller. We ate, we listened to awards (me not hearing all of it but enough) and then we danced afterward, closing the place down.
We skipped the following year because my boyfriend had his appendix taken out. Later that year, I bought fancy, new hearing aids which were a big difference from the old ones. I could hear the radio in the car again, small social gatherings were easier and I had a few new programs in them, one for toning down noise.
Last year, we went again expecting to have as good of a time as the first year. We were early and I started chatting with people I knew. As the place filled up, it became harder and harder for me to hear. Music played in the background, the crowd was larger and I kept leaning closer and closer to people to hear them. People tried talking to me but it was no easy task. They were polite and after small talk, turned around to talk to other people. While trying to talk to one lady, I realized I was relying on speech reading heavily. That shocked me. I’ve never had to do that before!
My boyfriend played a role in a gag award so he was preoccupied jumping up and down to visit or setting up the award scenario. He is undiagnosed A.D.D. His attention span is short and that kind of environment is distracting to him, making listening hard or focusing on any one thing. He was everywhere interacting with everyone as I slowly withdrew from everyone.
I couldn’t hear conversation at the dinner table. My boyfriend was called for the gag award and I sat at the table close to tears. I knew the gist of the award but couldn’t laugh with everyone else. Never before had I felt ‘deaf’ at an event. I changed programs on my new, super-duper hearing aids that didn’t work. It was just too noisy. I even took them out to see it would help but nothing made a difference. As I sat there lost in a sea of noise, I noticed happy people all around me laughing often at the gag award. I couldn’t take it so I got up to go look out a window.
My boyfriend sat back down at the table when he was done. After ten minutes, he looked around for me and motioned me back to the table. They started giving service awards and I missed my boyfriend’s name being called out, unusual for me. My boyfriend talked to everyone except me and I could barely hear him.
The more I started freaking out, the harder it became to hear so I wound up back at my window, looking over the snowy night landscape trying to soak up it’s peace. I tried deep breathing. I took out my phone and attempted texting friends to show myself I could be social in some small way but it was Saturday night and they were busy. Mostly, I stared out the window, trying not to cry.
My boyfriend came up to me. “What’s wrong,” he wanted to know.
“I can’t hear,” I told him.
“So what. You know you can’t hear at these kinds of things.”
“Yeah but I really can’t hear.”
“Come back to the table and I’ll help.”
That didn’t turn out well either. He wanted to be talking to the others and when he repeated for me, he looked resentful. He didn’t understand my mood at all. In my meltdown mode, I couldn’t make him understand either. I wound back at my window taking a break from the stress. About fifteen minutes or so later, he realized I wasn’t at the table once again so he came to me.
“What’s wrong,” he demanded.
“I told you, I can’t hear.”
“Well, if all you’re going to do is cry, then go home.”
I couldn’t believe he said that. I went over to my purse, got my keys and started for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going home.”
“Wait, stay. The dancing will start soon and you know how much you like dancing,” he said holding my arm but my tears were about to spill over. I stood there for a moment, wondering if I could pull myself together enough to enjoy the dancing. Before I could answer, he added once again, “Or go home if you’re going to cry.”
I left without looking back. He came home about half an hour later and I could not make him understand what was going on with me. It took me months to be able to put into words; it was the first time noise rendered me deaf (but it hasn’t been the last time).
The whole scene ran over and over in my head for a few weeks. What could I have done to make it better? Maybe I could request copies of their notes. I could take my FM system next time or request CART. Knowing how hard it is for someone with A.D.D. in that kind of environment to help me, perhaps I could invite a friend. I talked about it all with my boyfriend off and on over the last year, but he truly did not understand my position until about two weeks before this years banquet.
Searching for other words to use, I told him he socially abandons me often. I don’t expect help for everything but some help is nice. I have certain needs to be met if we want to continue to go out to these type of events. Those words sank in and he apologized.
We weren’t sure if we really wanted to go this year, should we skip it? We both had a sticky residue left from last year’s disaster but we continued to talk about it all. I told him I didn’t want to give up on socializing but I need to new ways to be able to enjoy them. I listed all the options I thought of to help me this time around. We decided the day before the banquet to go. It was too late to request notes or CART but we could take my FM system.
With all of that firmly in mind, we went to the banquet early the next evening. He introduced me to the main speakers and we showed them my FM system. They agreed to wear it without reservations. The place filled up and it was all the noise I remembered. My boyfriend didn’t present a gag award this year so he stayed beside me through most of it and helped me with table conversation filling in the topic as needed.
They announced the awards would be starting soon so my boyfriend and I went up to give them my FM system. The main guy wore it around his neck and as they started speaking I could hear about half of what they were saying, piecing things together nicely. Soon I had hearing people asking me what they were saying because there was enough noise they couldn’t hear the PA system. That made me smile.
A few times they forgot to give the transmitter/remote to a new speaker which gave me a hearing break. Over all, it was much happier experience. One of the guys from our table got up to speak and he held the remote in the same hand as the PA microphone. That worked better than it hanging around people’s neck. When he sat back down at our table, we thanked him and he suggested taping it to the microphone next year. Great idea!
When dinner was done and the music started, I visited with some of the women around the table, letting my boyfriend visit with his friends. I sat close to the girls and they made sure I could hear, repeating as necessary. They asked questions about hearing loss and my FM system and I told them all about it. A few wanted to pass the information along to relatives.
This year, I danced and it felt good. I still hear enough to pick up a good beat and a lot of the songs were ones I knew making it more fun. My boyfriend and I went home happy, proud of this years accomplishment. Sometimes bad experiences are learning experiences. Maybe there are happy endings if I don’t give up.