The other day I was out walking with the kids and a friend’s dog along a residential street in our neighbourhood. The kids were ahead of me: the boy bouncing a tennis ball in the way that boys bounce things, and the girl holding on to the leash of the dog.
It was quiet, a holiday in Canada, the streets were empty of noise and people, and the odd rain drop was falling from the sky.
As we strolled, I suddenly heard a deep, repetitive beeping sound:
I panicked momentarily. My hands felt along my pockets of my rain jacket, and my eyes darted around me.
Did I bring my wallet? Or my bag?
I didn’t. My phone was in my left pocket, but my right pocket was empty save for a couple of dog biscuits, and some tissues.
In my head I did a quick calculation. The last time I heard this sound I had about 10, maybe 15 minutes before the battery in my left hearing aid died. How far away were we from my friend’s house? How long would it take to drop the dog off, have a quick chat, and then continue home with the kids?
The two deep beeping sounds were my alerts that the battery was about to die on me.
This is always a thing, for a hearing aid wearer. If I go out, I must remember to bring extra batteries along. Especially if I go someplace where there are people who will inevitably communicate with me.
But here’s my question: why do I panic? Even if it’s a short-lived kind of panic, for a few seconds after I hear that double beep, I feel my heart rate increase a bit, and I suck my breath in.
The prospect of being caught ‘deaf’ without a functioning aid still scares me, even after fourty plus years of experiencing varying degrees of hearing loss.
Why is that? What would be so terrible if I was without hearing in front of my friends, my kids?
We ended up at the friend’s house, had a few minutes chat, said goodbye to Molly and then continued on home. About five minutes later, with both kids walking ahead of me, I heard the familiar jingle:
Ding dang dong dooooooop.
That was it. The battery was dead.
And I suddenly went from hearing footsteps to hearing nothing.
Silence, as I mentioned in a previous post, is a welcome luxury for me when I can control it. When I can choose it, on purpose. When I can prepare for it on my own terms.
Unforeseen, unexpected silence, when I am not prepared for it, or when I didn’t purposely choose it, is an unwelcome, anxiety-producing event I try hard to prevent.
Pondering this brings me back to a situation engraved in my brain, and quite possibly the reason for my panic-filled reaction to the jingle:
Many years ago when I was in early pregnancy with my first, I was working part time as a merchandiser at a local Home Depot. I was not employed by Home Depot and didn’t wear their uniform, that orange coloured apron customers seek out when they need assistance. But I was working alongside the staff there, in the seasonal department, arranging plants and flowers into their display cases.
If a customer approached me with a question I couldn’t answer, I directed them to the HD staff. Most of the time, customers didn’t approach me as I did not have the apron on. They didn’t know who I was even though it was clear I was working there.
This suited me fine.
But one time, an older man did approach me. I remember distinctly what happened, as if it happened yesterday (and yet that was thirteen years ago…)
I don’t remember if I had one or two hearing aids at the time. At one time, my right ear had some hearing in it, but after I lost it all, no aid was able to compensate. I did struggle with hearing quite a bit even back then, and always worried about hearing people in the work environment. But it’s one thing to tell a colleague that you have a hearing loss, since you are likely to work with them repeatedly. To mention your dis-ability to some random customer feels odd, weird, to me.
The customer, an older man, must have talked to me for a while despite the fact that I never made eye contact with him. I was hunched over, moving plants into their colour coordinated display cases, when suddenly he tapped me on my shoulder and started yelling at me.
“You are so rude, I’ve been asking you questions and you just ignore me, walk away!” he yelled.
“I’m sorry, sir”, I remember saying. “I’m not a Home Depot employee, there’s one over there who can assist you.”
This response in itself stumped me, too. Why would I say that first? Why would I not acknowledge the fact that I did not hear him?
Why is this shameful to me?
I don’t remember exactly how far I went explaining myself to the guy, but I was in a business environment and had ample customer service experience in a variety of settings prior to that merchandising job, so I do know I maintained a professional attitude. The customer was upset, and I get why, but my eventual answer that “sorry, I didn’t hear you” clearly didn’t satisfy him.
I get that too.
It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it. How much did I owe a customer who by now is irate that his needs weren’t met? A better question might be, how much do I owe myself in a situation like this?
While walking home with my kids in complete silence the day the hearing aid battery died unexpectedly, I thought back to that incident. I wondered if that was the moment that defined why I felt panic and anxiety at the sound of the battery dying jingle.
I contemplated about this perception of being ‘caught’ without extra batteries, how it was making me feel inadequate in some way. Or apologetic in some way, embarrassed.
Seems until I understand the answers to these questions myself, it is mighty presumptuous of me to expect others, hearing-people around me to understand.