You may have observed many differences in movies of different languages and countries or even novels or stories in many languages. However, one of the strikingly common features in all these stories is the representation of great sympathy for anyone who is blind and a complete disregard for anyone who is deaf!
The scene is all too familiar and stereotypical where you usually have an old man who is confused and a comic relief who hears something funny and that becomes a big joke! Almost always, such scenes will garner applause from the audience and will be met with widespread laughter and ridicule without an ounce of sympathy.
Even the most popular comic series of the yesteryear like ‘Tintin’ and ‘Asterix’ did not spare the deaf. So, while in Tintin you have Professor Calculus, introduced as being deaf, whose encounters, replete with humour, are centred on the fact that he cannot hear properly even though the truth of the matter remains that he is super intelligent. In one of the adventures of Asterix called ‘The 12 tasks of Asterix’, you have a scene where the two heroes pay a visit to a government office. Though the whole premise of getting a permit is very relevant and hilarious, to say the least, the first encounter was with that of an old man who is deaf wherein the sequence spirals into the very familiar downgrading comedy. Maybe the metaphor was the portrayal of government officials being deaf to the pleas of the general public. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter remains that the disability of an old man was being ridiculed.
Even super heroes have not escaped this injustice. So while you have super hero who is blind like the Daredevil, you can never have a hero (Forget ‘Super’!) who is deaf.
Do not get me wrong since you do have classic movies like ‘Koshish’ which is one of the rare instances where the deaf and dumb have been given their due credit. But such examples are truly rare. If he or she was blind then immediately you will have a change of emotions, so to speak.
Of course we can always assume that real life is often a far cry from ‘reel life’ but in the case of hearing loss it may very well be true. The moment you have some vision problem then however old or busy you are, it is one of the first things you would consider. Whilst if you or anyone you know who is under your care, which could be your child or parent, and if he or she is experiencing any kind of hearing loss then you would most of the times take it lightly and try to intervene only in the very severe or rare cases. Interestingly, when the affected party is a child, the older ones often get the cold shoulder till the crisis become severe.
In fact, it is a known fact that from the very moment you seem to have some trouble with your vision you tend to seek immediate intervention. Quite on the contrary, you tend to resort to bypass methods if you are deaf. You avoid group interactions and mainly stick to one-to-one interactions. I know of many patients who always turn their face to the side which has the better hearing ear to listen to conversations. One particular patient came to me with neck pain and not hearing loss and on probing further mentioned that he gets this pain when he had to turn the head towards one side during long conversations. It was only when I asked why he had to turn so much that we diagnosed a hearing loss.
Another patient announced to me that he can hear perfectly well in the light but loses his hearing in the dark. Though sounded silly and strange at first, it was only when we found that he had hearing loss we understood that he was doing lip reading. This of course cannot be done in the dark. In fact, the hearing loss was so slow that he did not even realize that he was doing lip reading. It was literally as if he was seeing the words! Most people would just disappear into their own shell away from social life and socialization, while others would start to neglect, ignore or even completely exclude them from discussions and social life. Or, many who still are brave and deaf do join the conversations in the middle by giving totally unrelated opinions while the listeners squirm awkwardly and maybe give a social smile or may be just look shocked.
If you do not know he or she is deaf then you may very well think that he or she is not paying attention to you and if you do know he or she is deaf then you would always have a doubt whether he or she had heard and understood you properly or not!
Mostly people would try to correct the hearing only if it affects their profession while most would not even try.
The first step in all of this is to understand that the problem exists and acknowledge it.
Then the next step is to try and find out the type of hearing loss. Most conductive hearing loss issues are treatable, whereas in the hearing loss where you have nerve weakness the only treatment currently available is the hearing aid.
The moment you tell that you need to wear spectacles most of us would readily accept that. But the moment you advise that the patient needs to wear the aid, then in most cases, the patient either refuses or delays it for as long as possible. This is particularly concerning since it has been proven that if you do not go on stimulating the weak nerves, they become more and more weak and you end up needing more stronger hearing aids when you did not accept the initial hearing aid in the first place. And the vicious cycle continues! I have often seen neglected old people in homes who do not speak to anyone and no one speaks to them. Then suddenly the son or the daughter gets an epiphany and decides to get a basic hearing aid to alleviate his or her guilt rather than the hearing loss. Many a time, they get a hearing aid which does not either work properly or is not given after proper trial and that is another one down the literal drain.
Understand that unlike spectacles, you cannot just wear the aid and expect them to work. The body accepts the aid gradually and only after prolonged usage does the aid become a great companion. So, most of the times we encourage patients to meet the audiologists as much as possible in the initial days and fine tune the aid for their convenience.
In fact, hearing aids like the cochlear implants if started at a proper early age makes sure that the child does not become deaf and dumb and ends up with a normal life in a normal school. That is nothing sort of a miracle! And while spectacles have some improvements, the hearing aids of the recent times are technological marvels and you would actually feel proud (later of course!) to wear them. The constant problem of battery also has been taken care by the rechargeable ones and many have Bluetooth, touch sensitivity and GPS chips!
My first advice is normally to urge people to get a good digital hearing aid with proper number of channels and wear them at home initially. Later on, I have seen that they themselves will be so comfortable to take it outside so to speak. It helps that if you wear the aid for at least 10-12 hours in a day it makes a good probability that your loss will not progress further and it makes sense to make a good investment in the first place. Also since you do not see anyone wearing single spectacle; it obviously makes sense that you wear hearing aids on both the affected ears for proper balance and comfort.
Therefore, the next time you are in a fix whether to wear the hearing aid or not because it is embarrassing remember that it is more embarrassing when you do not hear things properly and no one gives you any sympathy. All you get is only ridicule and disdain and the only way to fix all that is to face the stigma of having hearing aids since the stigma of hearing loss is more serious!
About the Author:
Dr. Sriram Nathan, an ENT and Head and Neck Surgeon working at the Narayana Health Hospital in whitefield, Bengaluru.
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