How I Went Sane

By J.L. Walls

Apparently when I wasn’t looking, I went crazy. Who’d have thought?

I always got irritated with family and friends when they would speak over the television or radio. I used to tell myself it was because I was enjoying the program.

I always stood in the corner during a party. I was trying to be hidden and forgotten. I used to tell myself it was because I was shy.

I always sat in the desk right in front of the teacher. I used to tell myself it was so I wouldn’t be distracted. My friends said it was because I was “kissing up.”

I often got funny looks when having a conversation with someone. They looked as though my reply was odd. I used to tell myself that it was because I was speaking my mind.

People in my father’s house always complained about how loud he kept his television. I laughed. They must have been joking because it wasn’t too loud to me. To me it was just right.

So here I am a 28-year-old college sophomore. That’s right. After ten years of getting nowhere in the business world, I finally realized I needed a college diploma. Okay, I thought to myself. No problem! Yeah, right.

On my very first day in class at a large, intimidating university, I figured I must be crazy. That was the only explanation for what was going on in my life at that very moment. In front of my class, a class of about a hundred students, stood a very large middle aged man. He had a voice like a tuba. I don’t know how else to describe it. His voice was so deep and so loud. The problem was, all I heard was “WUBBA WUBBA homework WUBBA WUBBA exam…” I could only understand every second or third word. The rest left me completely mystified.

Okay, granted, this was a statistics class and most people would consider the subject itself mystifying and mysterious. Now think how hard it would be if you couldn’t even understand the professor.

The man was not foreign. From what I could tell, he had an everyday sort of American accent, nothing unusual. But no matter what I did, I could not understand this man with the loud voice. No one else in class acted as though there was anything amiss. Yes, I thought to myself, I must be going crazy.

A few days later I was sitting in my doctor’s office for a routine visit. I asked him if he could get me in for a hearing test. He looked at me with a weird expression on his face and said okay. A week or so later, I was at the “ear doctor’s” office. I wasn’t worried. This was just something that needed to be checked off my list of things that could be causing me problems with the lectures at school.

I got pinched, squeezed, ticked, and stuck. Not really, but the ladies of this office had been sitting around inventing new ways to torture someone via their ears. Everything was tested: my ear drum, the little bones, everything. Finally they take you into the black box of death. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s a box barely large enough to fit a chair. It has a window to give you the illusion that you’re not cramped into a metal box, but it doesn’t help. I was told to sit there and indicate when I heard the beeps. “No problem,” I told the lady. Then I got bored waiting. It took them a long darn time to turn on that machine that makes the beeps. The whole time, the lady outside the box is talking in my ear saying, “Even if you think you hear a beep, let me know.” Sheesh! You said that five times already, I thought to myself. Finally, we got down to the beeps.

The next part was the kicker. The lady outside the box was going to say words and I was to repeat them. Soon thereafter, my world caved in because it finally dawned on me what was really going on. The nice lady sitting outside the box was saying “Wubba.”

Please, dear God, let this be some sort of joke.

I started to cry. I kept saying, “I can hear your voice, but I can’t tell you what you are saying!” It was the worst experience of my life.

Later, the doctor and the nice lady took me to a room and sat down with me. According to all of their tests and probes and pokes, I was legally disabled. Me! Disabled! DIS-ABLED! ME! Not possible. I was told that my hearing loss was due to nerve damage or deterioration. It could be inherited, I was told. I guess daddy really is deaf as a post. I would never regain any of that hearing back. I cried again.

I finally realized why I hated parties. I finally understood why I had to have conversations in quiet rooms. I finally understood why I was crazy. I could hear people, I could see lips moving, and I knew words were coming out. But no matter what I did, I could not understand what was being said. I was hard of hearing. Not deaf, no, that was something too easily understood. No, I was like the little old lady with the ear trumpet saying, “Eh? Speak up!”

Later that week, I went and spoke with the nice lady in the disabled student services office on campus. She said that she was a translator for the deaf. Hmmm. Who’d have thought such a job existed? She let me borrow a little lapel microphone and headset. There was a small transceiver attached to the microphone, which sent a signal to a small receiver attached to my headset. This would help me hear my professors in class, she said.

The nice lady in disabled student services advised me to go to vocational rehabilitation. They could help me with things like hearing aids and pay for some school expenses. Hearing aids? For me? Oh, boy.

I made an appointment to see someone in vocational rehabilitation. It took a month. A whole month, just to get in to talk with someone about what was going on! During this time, my professors at school are using my little microphone, except one. Dr. Tuba-voice doesn’t care to wear it.

When I finally got into vocational rehabilitation, I encountered a very unpleasant surprise. My counselor was completely deaf, she only signed, and she didn’t think anything was wrong with my hearing.

“Here,” she said, pointing to a piece of paper. “This says your hearing is normal.” On the paper that I had brought with me from my doctor’s office, under a lot of gobbledygook, it said my tympanic membrane and my ear drum were normal—not my hearing.

“Are you sure that you don’t just have ADD or ADHD?” the lady asked. I was shocked. Of course I didn’t! I didn’t have any problem sitting for long periods of time and reading. I could focus on things and keep my attention on them just fine. I definitely did not have ADD! Regardless, she said that they could not help me. Besides, she added, I wasn’t seeking a vocation—I was only going to school. I started to cry. It seemed that I wasn’t deaf enough to satisfy this woman or her interpreter.

After I walked out of the not-nice deaf lady’s office, I called my friend at disabled student services. I cried. I told her everything that happened. She told me that I was most certainly hard of hearing—legally, according to the social security administration’s definition. “You need hearing aids,” she said. “Give it one more try.”

A month later, I went back to the vocational rehabilitation office and was very firm. I told the lady that I was indeed entitled to their services, that I was indeed hard of hearing, and that I definitely need help. I finally got through to her. We began the process of getting assistance. The first step was to get a second opinion, another hearing exam. Sigh.

The whole time I’m fighting with vocational rehabilitation, the school is fighting with Dr. Tuba-voice. He still refuses to wear my assisted listening device. He says he has a “booming voice” and doesn’t understand why he needs to wear such a thing. Little does he know that one of the ranges that my hearing is most deficient in is the range in which his voice falls.

Two months later, the semester is almost done. Dr. Tuba-voice has finally conceded defeat and is wearing the assisted listening device. Too little, too late, I say. I barely passed the class. Not bad, considering I couldn’t hear any lectures except the last two. And still, no word from vocational rehabilitation.

At the beginning of the next semester, I’m finally granted approval for vocational rehabilitation’s services. Four months later, I get approval from them to order hearing aids that they will pay for. I cried.

A few weeks later, I was called to pick up my hearing aids. I took my best friend with me because I was too scared to go alone. “Don’t worry,” he kept saying. Yeah, okay.

The nice ladies at the hearing center put in my hearing aids and attached them to a computer to tune them. After a few minutes, they said that they were done. They asked me what I thought about the aids.

“Everything is too loud,” I said. That was perfectly normal and it would just take some getting used to, they reassured me.

My best friend and I walked out their door and into a beautiful summer day. I suddenly couldn’t see. My friend looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t speak. My throat was sealed shut. Finally I croaked, “I can hear the birds. I can hear the trees rustling.” Once again, I cried.