A plea on behalf of the hearing impaired.

In 1970, while in Quan Loi, Vietnam, I experienced a great miracle which both preserved my life and stole my future. Quan Loi was a forward firebase for American army artillery, a base carved out of a jungle of rubber trees by massive B52 bombing. Inside the perimeter of the base, many rubber trees still stood. It was beside one that the miracle occurred. The Vietcong would fire off mortars and occasionally, huge rockets at our base, then fade into the jungle or down into their tunnels while we were climbing out of bunkers or pulling our dead and wounded out of the rubble.

On this day, I was outside when a rocket exploded beside me–literally. These rockets were so large I could actually feel a pressure wave before it hit. Before I could articulate the thought “holy shit, something’s coming”, I felt what I could only describe as a giant hand pushing me to the ground, and then covering me, as the rocket hit and obliterated a rubber tree near me. The sound was muffled by whatever was covering me, but it was still incredibly loud. When I came to my senses, all that was left of the rubber tree was a smoking crater. My body was completely protected from the explosion and the shrapnel from the rocket and the tree.

I couldn’t process what had happened, but about 17 years later, when I read the Book of Daniel, and it described how an angel of the Lord protected Daniel from lions Daniel 6:24, and protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnacebook of Daniel , I finally understood. This did happen to me. But while my body was protected, I didn’t realize that my future was in some ways stolen. My hearing was permanently damaged, but the gradual deterioration was so subtle and insidious that my first conscious realization of hearing loss wasn’t until 15 years later. I was in a friend’s kitchen and my back was turned. She came and faced me and asked, “why are you ignoring me? I just asked you a question. You ignore questions a lot.” I really didn’t even hear the question, nor did I ever consciously ignore other questions. In that moment, the incident in Quan Loi came back to me, and the thought “I wonder how long I haven’t been hearing people.”

That is the insidious nature of hearing loss. How many people in your own life same suffering from the same malady? Here are some signs that someone you know is suffering from hearing loss–and might not even know it:

  1. When in a group he seems distracted or inattentive, and doesn’t participate much. If the cause is being unable to hear, he isn’t participating because he’s afraid to say or ask something inappropriate.
  2. An obvious sign is ignoring a question or answering the wrong question, especially when you aren’t face to face, or frequently asking you to repeat questions.
  3. Nodding of the head as if agreeing, but actually pretending to understand and follow what others are saying.
  4. Getting defensive or dismissive when the issue of hearing is brought up. For reasons I don’t understand, wearing hearing aids feels like advertising a disability and carries a stigma of being old, while wearing glasses bears none of that embarrassment, and is even a fashion statement.
  5. Withdrawing from relationships and avoidance of group situations, because of the fear of miscommunication.

I tend to be explicit about my disability with people I meet. Others are very reticent. But all of us hearing-impaired would appreciate your willingness to ask what accommodations you can make (like speaking louder or enunciating more clearly). Thanks for reading.