When I say I am deaf what does that mean?

My ambulance and hospital experience really pointed out to me that when I say, “I’m deaf” it seems to mean close to nothing to the hearing world.  If I can voice it then I’m exaggerating.

So what do I mean when I say I’m deaf?  I could say Hard of Hearing, but that is even less clear – less descriptive.

Without my hearing aid on (and its been off a LOT recently because I could not get it in my ear) means that I can’t understand 90% of the conversations in my daughter’s home.  Sometimes I don’t even know if someone is talking.  At other times I know they are talking but I can understand nothing of it.

It means that I can’t hear wet shoes squeak on linoleum or the sound of a whistle being tooted on outside.  It means I can’t hear the school bus come, but I can watch the dog and know that the bus is here.  And it means if I am wearing my hearing aid I want to scream at the sound of the squeak of wet shoes and the shrill whistle being blown.  God save me if I have a HA on when you turn a car stereo on and it is full blast.

Without HAs I’m in a world of my own.  I read a lot.  My daughter’s therapy dog is my best clue as to when something is happening.  She makes me long for a hearing ear dog even more.

Being functionally deaf means I don’t understand the words to songs.  I generally don’t recognize voices. I may not hear cars coming and if I don’t pay attention I could be road kill.  It means not hearing rain on a fan in a window so if I know it is going to storm I have to check so the fan doesn’t get wet and short out.

It means that quite often I hear two-thirds of what you just said and my brain is madly plugging the bits and pieces into a framework and filling the gaps to make sense of it all. Its hard work. Please don’t make it harder by looking away when you speak. If I really don’t get what you are saying I may make you spell a word out for me.  I don’t accept, “Never mind.”

Just when you least expect it there will be a lull in the background noise and something said sotto voice will ring true in my ear and I’ll hear it.  How?  I don’t know how.  It just happens.  Its a rarity, but clearly you think I can hear it all the time.

If someone says to you, “I’m deaf” the best thing you can do is inquire:

Do you need an interpreter?

Do you need a pen and paper?

How can I best speak to be understood by you?

Thoughts for the day on life in my quiet life.


  1. Good to see you up and around. (I did see your post on mental illness, too.) You would have been proud of me last night, at the ASL meetup. I actually had a couple of complete conversations! I told one woman about Felix, and about Lashonn White. I also told some people about your accident. It was amazing, to be able to be telling people things – and understanding their responses. It’s slow going, but bit by bit, I’m picking it up. We still need your steady hand at the tiller, however. Let me know when you’re ready to start coming back. We’ll do what has to be done, transportation-wise.


  2. I struggle to hear with my CI. Most people sound like they have been huffing helium. If there are people on two different sides of me, I cannot hear both of them, I have to look at their mouths to really get it.

    I can’t hear anything without my CI except for the occasional very loud sharp noise, like if I cough, I can hear part of it. With the Ci, it’s hit or miss. But people think a CI is magic and when I got it I should be able to hear everyone like I used to.

    People I don’t know often think I’m not deaf because I can talk. I will tell them, I lost my hearing less than 2 years ago, I didn’t forget how to talk, but I can’t hear me talking. I ask people twice to look at me when they talk, if they continue to talk while looking away, I ignore them, then they’ll look at me and I’ll say, “did you say something? I couldn’t tell since you weren’t looking at me.” Some people will just talk to my husband. Sometimes it’s a relief because I’ve been fighting to hear all day, and he knows all about me, but I’m the patient, I want to be told exactly what is happening, I NEED to answer the questions about ME.
    I’ve only been asked once if I need an interpreter, I was impressed i was asked, and told the person so, but I explained that I know very little ASL, I’m learning but fear an interpreter would just confuse me more.

    When I had surgery to get my CI I took a little white board and erasable pen. If I didn’t understand I had the staff write it down. But my nurse was Wonderful! She made sure everyone looked at me and spoke slowly. If they started talking while looking at the computer, she would jump in there. “She can’t hear you, you HAVE to look at her.” I loved that lady!!

    oops, another long comment.
    BTW, thanks for your answers to other comments.
    (I have always been the scapegoat, and I appreciate everything you do and have offered. I do refuse to be the scapegoat any longer. It’s liberating. I love my chosen family.)

    thanks again

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