Saturday, 18 February 2017

How do you know what it feels like? (1)

From the trivial to the serious: this occurred to me when I first tried to learn to ski – and second and third, gave up after that.  I am not naturally athletic (not even vaguely) although I swam and played tennis to an acceptable social standard when young.  So skiing was always going to be a challenge.  There weren’t any slopes in South Africa so my first ski trip was in my twenties after I had moved to London.

Somehow I couldn’t get my body to do what seemed to be required. Admittedly a loathing of being cold and fear of falling didn’t help – the snow might have looked soft but the nursery run was hard packed.  It occurred to me if only there were some sort of suit – sort of physical virtual reality – that I could put on and then it could move my body in the way it was supposed to go. Once experienced then perhaps I would have a better chance of succeeding.

After a few more attempts it struck me that, while the family were all loving it, I was hating it and I didn’t want to spend my very hard-earned holiday being cold, miserable and scared, so I gave up. It was also cheaper to be the non-skier!  The best holiday was in Vail, Colorado where they have the most fabulous public library with huge picture windows, comfy armchairs and a fire where you could sit and read and look at the beautiful scenery. I met the family for lunch and in the evening and had a wonderful holiday.

Now for the more serious: about seven or so years ago I realised two things, firstly that if someone spoke at a meeting of ten or twelve people, I was having difficulty hearing the person at the end of the table.  Secondly at my Livery Company’s annual banquet at Mansion House where the tables are wide and against the background of 250 people talking enthusiastically, I was struggling to hear the person across the table from me.

There are various ways of doing this yourself, but I took a hearing check over the phone. The result was that my hearing was “normal for my age” - most unsatisfactory.  I was furious as it seemed that the assumption was that as I got older I would get deafer and that would be OK.  About two years before that I had experienced deafness in one ear after a bad sinus infection and it still felt “blocked”.  I went to see a specialist and he confirmed that I did have hearing loss – the upper register, and that the infection had caused a narrowing in the ear but this was not relevant.

Whether I wanted to do anything about it was entirely up to me.  The loss wasn’t severe but I was finding it inconvenient.  I have never forgotten his explanation. If you have lost some hearing, the brain makes up for the bit you don’t hear.  If someone is talking very quickly or with an accent or in a noisy environment, it takes the brain a bit longer and the concentration required is greater and that’s when you run into trouble. In a noisy environment you sometimes just give up.  That is why deafness can be socially isolating. 

The next blog will be about how this related to “how do you know what it feels like”.  If you have hearing loss you will understand and if you don’t, please read.

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