I’m Leah Heizman, 56.
I began to lose my hearing when I was 32. I noticed I wasn’t hearing certain sounds. I never imagined what it meant so I just asked my doctor for a referral for a simple hearing test.
The ENT doctor whispered something in my ear, saw I could hear and said, “Everything’s okay. You can hear.”
Funny that it’s not only society that doesn’t understand. A professional doctor doesn’t understand either.
And more on the medical establishment: at one of my recent hearing tests, the therapist didn’t understand why I wasn’t pressing the button when it emitted a sound.
When I told him I couldn’t hear the sounds, he replied with disbelief: “How can that be? You’re still young.” I had to calm him down by explaining the state of my hearing.
But I’m jumping ahead.
When they finally approved a hearing test with a speech therapist, I was completely relaxed. I had no inkling what was about to hit me. When I left the room, the therapist told me – with a far too serious face – that I have a serious hearing loss and she recommends urgent hearing rehabilitation. In other words, a hearing aid.
I’m never sure how to explain what I felt in those moments to someone who has not experienced the same thing. I looked at the therapist as if she’d just fallen out of the sky. I told her I was 32 years old and that it just can’t be. No way. I thought hearing aids were for people born deaf or for old people. What’s it got to do with me? I’m completely normal.
She tried to tell me that age is not a factor. Children also have hearing aids, but I wasn’t listening. I was in shock. I took my bag and rushed home as fast as I could.
I tried hard not to cry on the bus and when I got home I tearfully told my husband that they’re just not normal at Hadassah.
I ignored the hearing aid recommendation and tried to carry on with my life as normal.
But my hearing, or lack of it, didn’t let me.
I didn’t tell anyone apart from my closest family and even that was with a firm warning not to tell anyone else.
The fact that I couldn’t accept the decree – and not only that but I turned it into a dark secret – just exacerbated the difficulty to unimagined levels.
Relatively speaking, my hearing wasn’t too bad then. I’d be happy to hear now like I heard then.
But that secret soon made my life Hell.
A hearing person cannot imagine how much he uses his sense of hearing and how essential it is to having a normal life.
They knock on the door… and I don’t hear. And then they ask why I didn’t open it.
Yesterday I heard the phone ring and today I don’t. It rings and I don’t pick it up.
My hearing gradually got worse and worse.
I became an expert at lying and half truths. My family didn’t understand what was happening to me.
It was even worse to meet someone I knew in the street.
I meet a friend on the bus. She tells me all sorts of things and I just hear background noise. She’s talking and sometimes turns her head. I try and understand, listen hard, try to read her lips, her body language… everything I can to understand, but I just can’t do it. I smile or look serious when it seems appropriate and try to guess what she’s talking about from the one word I may have heard.
Sometimes I pretended I heard but the make believe didn’t always work.
The horror of those situations transformed me into a solitary, pathetic, anti-social creature.
I tried sitting in the single seats on the bus, fervently reciting Psalms or moving to the other side of the street when I spotted someone I knew.
Once we were at a wedding and a friend offered us a lift home. My husband was very grateful and couldn’t understand why I was annoyed. Go explain why you’re scared of a drive home. How can I sit in the back, next to the friend’s wife, and actually talk to her? And I can’t exactly keep quiet either…
It was like that for years. Angry… bitter… suspicious and hurt.
While my hearing continued to get worse.
At some stage I finally realized I had no choice. In desperation, I agreed to have a hearing aid. It was so hard to get used to. By the time I’d got used to it, it turned out it wasn’t actually helping that much.
It was as if the frustration and the pain were never going to leave me, until…
The Almighty obviously had mercy on me and led me to Shema Kolenu.
They healed my wounds and accepted me with all my craziness (I only told them my first name, I was only prepared to go in there under cover when no one could identify me, etc.)
Suddenly I had friends.
Other women like me. People who understood everything I was going through.
When I didn’t hear the first time, they said it again, 10 times if necessary or wrote it down. Anything so I would understand.
I wasn’t weird. I was one of them.
It took a little more time till I completely ‘defrosted’ and I could tell people I couldn’t hear or that I’d lost my hearing.
The reactions are worth a blog in themselves…
Even today, when I’m completely open in talking about deafness, I can’t bring myself to say the words, “I’m deaf.”
It’s hard enough just to write it.
I am hearing impaired, hard of hearing, anything you like, just not deaf. That word does not exist in my vocabulary.
Now, after a long and painful personal journey, I am calm and accepting of myself. I can truly say I have been rehabilitated.
I now work at Shema Kolenu, in charge of the games room and the library. I love my work and the social life and I participate in the activities for the older women.
The main hardship with hearing impairment is the detachment from society. The adult activity at Shema Kolenu provides me with the social life I need, and the work even more so. I am in constant contact with the staff of school teachers, nursery teachers, speech therapists and assistants who all understand the pain. They are always considerate and never treat me as if I come from outer space.
The journey is still not over. With the encouragement of the Shema Kolenu advisory team I have decided to go for an implant, which will enable me to hear. I’ve been through the tests and I’m now waiting for the operation.
I hope and pray with all my soul that I will experience the realization of Isaiah’s vision: “The deaf will hear and the blind will see.”