This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit disabilityarts.online.

Disability Arts Online

> > > > This Hearing Thing - by Allan Sutherland from the words of Wendy Bryant

21 November 2011

Wendy Bryant's story gives an account of what it was like growing up with a hearing impairment, from her early school years onwards.

Aspects of my childhood

I guess aspects of my childhood
were great and really nice.
I had my two brothers and
I was really close to my second brother,
my parents were both around,
we lived in nice houses.

I remember at the end
lots of memories of playing a lot
and riding our bikes round local streets
and somehow it’s always sunny
unless it was snowing
and we had lots of trips up to London
to see my family, extended family.
And to visit my Nan’s house.
And there was this contrast between Chelmsford
where I lived
which is sort of Essex market town really
and East London
where my family all came from, where it was all
much more busy and noisy and crowded.
Although, always enjoyed it.
Yeah, and lots of people
and family gatherings and stuff
so in that sense it was
what you would call
a happy childhood.

But I think
in terms of the hearing impairment,
it was more difficult.

Early memories

I was in places where people were talking
and I knew they were talking
but I’d no idea what they were saying.

When I was about three `
I can remember going to a nursery school
or something
in a church hall
and, I didn’t really like it anyway
because I didn’t like the hall or..
I didn’t like the colour of it
green or something.

And I didn’t know
what I was supposed to be doing.
And I couldn’t hear
what I was supposed to be doing.
And so I didn’t go there again.

I made such a fuss about that one
that my Mum chickened out.

Nursery school

I still remember
really not having any idea
what was going on,
just copying people, but I don’t,
never remember
anyone saying to me
‘Oh it’s because you can’t hear properly’.

I dunno, I don’t know whether
I even realised I was supposed
to know what was going on.
I’m so visually oriented and,
it was really easy to pick up
what was supposed to be happening,
you could always work it out.

It was only
when people pointed it out
or I was clearly not doing
what I should be doing,
getting into trouble for it,
that it became more difficult I guess.

Hell’s bells

So, um, I suppose,
you know the point
at which I sort of realised
that something wasn’t right
was definitely in the first school I went to. 

And I was terrified. (I don’t think
that was anything to do
with the hearing impairment).
It was very different to the nursery school,
there was a lot going on
a lot of talking and chattering
and I couldn’t really understand
what I was supposed to be doing.
I would sort of latch on to individual people
to try and act as a kind of guide.
There was one girl who said to me,
ëOh when the bell goes
you don’t have to go in’.
I could sort of hear the bell
and I can remember hearing the bell,
but I do remember being so worried about this.
And then thinking
well maybe the bell didn’t go
maybe we don’t have to go in
and really not being sure
about what I should do.

Because I’ve got a lot of tinnitus,
never being really able to trust
what I could hear anyway,
especially sounds like bells
and beeps and stuff like that,
it’s always been difficult to know
with my hearing
what I’m hearing
or is it tinnitus.

I got into awful trouble,
ëI’m surprised at you Wendy,
we thought you were a good girl’
kind of stuff.
And me thinking, ëwell
I’m still not sure that what I did
was actually wrong’.
But anyway.

Playing about

I got quite used to watching telly
and not really being able to hear it.
If I could hear it, it was a bonus,
but to me what people were saying
became quite irrelevant.

Don’t remember it being an issue
with friends playing,
because it was all so physical,
we were always jumping around and fighting.
I mean my brother and I had
very very involved games,
we’d play these sort of endless
games of little figures
and cowboys and Indians
and stuff like that.

And again you know
I really don’t remember it being an issue.
(Maybe he just spent his whole life
shouting at me.)
But I’ve still got images of myself
down the garden pottering around,
singing to myself,
really not at all worried about it.

It was only when I got to school
that it became an issue I guess.

Fitting In

I have an image of myself
being very dreamy actually,
very sort of not with it,
but being quite, it was quite okay to be like that
and sort of sitting there,
not listening to the stories,
never listening to the stories,
catching the odd word,
making up my own stories,
reading, reading, reading,
doing all the maths and stuff

and because I was you know
quite good at all that
I could get it all done quite quick
and then do other things as well,
so I guess they didn’t worry about me,
because I sat quietly
and I’d stopped getting myself into pickles with other children,
I had my best friend
and I played the recorder
and did dancing
and as long as I didn’t have to do anything
that was you know
involved specific instructions on my own,
(I think that was the point of
absolute terror for me that I would be,
you know, ‘Wendy do this!’,
because you know a big part was
whether I could actually hear or not
what was being said.)

But maybe the teachers knew,
maybe they figured it out,
I’ve absolutely no idea.

Disappointment

I do remember, probably every teacher
I ever had throughout school
at some point saying to me
‘I’m really surprised at you,
I thought you could do
better than this,
I’m really disappointed,
why did you get such a low grade?’

And I would never say
‘because I didn’t hear you’,
because I wouldn’t think that was the problem,
I still didn’t really,
even though I’d had these tests and things
the way my hearing came and went
I didn’t have the capacity
to work out
where it was all going wrong.

Hearing tests

They used these different tones
which I now know
from having hearing tests since,
different tones, you’re supposed to say
whether you can hear them or not.

I never know whether the tinnitus started then
or whether I’d already got tinnitus
that just happened to be
really inconveniently
the same as audiology test tones.
They couldn’t figure it out.
So there’s me saying
I could hear some things
and not others and then
you’d get this awful buzzing noise
and I couldn’t tell whether it was the test
or whether it was my tinnitus, you know.

So as far as I am concerned
audiology tests
are slightly limited in their validity.
If you’ve got tinnitus, well
they don’t really work very well.
I can remember sitting in this office
with big, big headphones on and being asked
if I could hear things.
Horrible.

Horrible experience,
I didn’t really know
whether I could hear them or not.
I had no idea.

Tonsils

I don’t know,
when I was seven, eight,
whether I had my tonsils out
because they thought that would
clear up my hearing or whether
that’s what I was told.
But I do remember
in hospital for a week, you know
having this painful operation
made absolutely no difference
whatsoever to my hearing.

But this horrible, horrible anxiety
that my mother had
about leaving me and you know
the whole sort of big thing
about me going into hospital
and all that and you know I can only think
that must be what I was told,
‘Oh we’ll sort your hearing out’.

School Telly

We had to watch a lot of telly.
(They’d probably got new tellies in the school
or something you know.)
We did spend an awful lot of time
watching telly and of course
I could never hear it.

So, I’d watch you know
and just hope that some words came on,
written words on the screen
that would tell me
what the hell was going on
because I’d no idea.

And that teacher
was a bit difficult in some ways,
she was a bit kind of scathing,
so it wasn’t good to not know
what was going on
and I’d sit there through a programme
thinking well I wonder
what the hell that was all about.

And the best film I can remember
watching in junior school
was one about how to behave at funerals.
It was blooming obvious what it was
and what we were supposed to be...
I still don’t know why we had to watch it.
I have this vivid image of black cars
and people dressed in black
and all looking sad
and you know that whole sad thing.
Didn’t need the dialogue to know what that was about.

Secondary

I was in this classroom
where I didn’t know anybody
with this horrible teacher,
she was vile, she was such a vile woman.
She was, she was just totally,
she never missed anything,
so all my kind of dreamy stuff
didn’t stand a chance.

I had her for five years
as a teacher and I have to say
every hour I spent with her
I was in a state of terror
at what point she was going to ask me a question
I couldn’t guarantee to hear.

And I kind of started off really badly,
because we ran out of chalk in the classroom,
and she said to me right Wendy Hall,
will you go and get some more chalk,
it’s in the wuhwuhwuhwuh.
I went outside in the corridor
and just stood there and thought okay,
somewhere around here
there’s going to be some chalk.

And I just stood there
and thought I’m not going back in
because I’m so scared of this woman,
because she’s just so horrible
and I’m not, I can’t run away,
so I’ll just stand here.

And fortunately someone came along
and said, what’re you doing here?
You know and I said I’m looking for the chalk.
She said It’s just there!
And it was on, there was a flight of stairs,
and it was on one of the stairs
by the banister, you know probably
slightly above my eye level,
I don’t know where people keep their chalk, you know.

Sunday school

Actually, Sunday School,
I remember him saying
‘If you keep your mouth open
the flies will fly in’.
And I was sort of looking, ‘you what?’
‘If you keep your mouth open,
like you do Wendy’,
(because a lot of the time
I had a blocked up nose
with all these colds). Flies?
What is he talking about?
And you know again,
that sort of little dialogue in my head
always Have I heard him right?
What is he saying?
Why is he talking about
flies going in my mouth?
Is he a weird man or what?
Obviously never having heard,
there’s some saying or something isn’t there,
you keep your mouth open
and the flies will come.

Secondary

I was in this classroom
where I didn’t know anybody
with this horrible teacher,
she was vile, she was such a vile woman.
She was, she was just totally,
she never missed anything,
so all my kind of dreamy stuff
didn’t stand a chance.

I had her for five years
as a teacher and I have to say
every hour I spent with her
I was in a state of terror
at what point she was going to ask me a question
I couldn’t guarantee to hear.

And I kind of started off really badly,
because we ran out of chalk in the classroom,
and she said to me right Wendy Hall,
will you go and get some more chalk,
it’s in the wuhwuhwuhwuh.
I went outside in the corridor
and just stood there and thought okay,
somewhere around here
there’s going to be some chalk.

And I just stood there
and thought I’m not going back in
because I’m so scared of this woman,
because she’s just so horrible
and I’m not, I can’t run away,
so I’ll just stand here.

And fortunately someone came along
and said, what’re you doing here?
You know and I said I’m looking for the chalk.
She said It’s just there!
And it was on, there was a flight of stairs,
and it was on one of the stairs
by the banister, you know probably
slightly above my eye level,
I don’t know where people keep their chalk, you know.

Sunday school

Actually, Sunday School,
I remember him saying
‘If you keep your mouth open
the flies will fly in’.
And I was sort of looking, ‘you what?’
‘If you keep your mouth open,
like you do Wendy’,
(because a lot of the time
I had a blocked up nose
with all these colds). Flies?
What is he talking about?
And you know again,
that sort of little dialogue in my head
always Have I heard him right?
What is he saying?
Why is he talking about
flies going in my mouth?
Is he a weird man or what?
Obviously never having heard,
there’s some saying or something isn’t there,
you keep your mouth open
and the flies will come.

I remember people saying

I found that,
providing you didn’t ask people
more than once
it was okay
so always ask people
who were going to tell you
they could hear that was alright.

And the only big, real, real big problem
was dictation, and especially French.
(I did French and German,
didn’t have Latin dictation,
I loved Latin because there wasn’t any of that
but French and German
I always got dictation.)
I mean they could have been saying anything..
With English dictation as well,
I could usually make that up,
I got quite good at making French up.
The teacher saying,
I really don’t understand this,
you’re an A grade student
but you’re failing dictation
and I’d just sort of look at her and think,
well why d’you think?

What’s the point in dictation?
I just could not see the point
of some woman spouting off a load of French
and you’re supposed to write it down.
Well why do that?

What’s in a name

I found friends, I made friends. 
In the second year at school
I had a nickname which was
Bendy Wendy What Dumb
and I think part of it was,
the Bendy Wendy was the rhyming
but also I was jumping about
and not particularly good at sitting still for a long time. 

And the What was very much
about What?’ 
I was always saying What? 
I couldn’t hear you.  What?’ 

Dumb because
I didn’t know what was going on
half the time I guess,
I don’t know.

That particular person
kind of coined that nickname,
she was a sort of, she was okay,
she was alright but at times
I thought I’m not sure I like
being called Bendy Wendy What Dumb. 
But never mind, we all have a name. 

And I actually made a better friend later
who called me Smudge,
because of the shape of my nose,
being a bit squashed,
and that felt a better nickname really.

The Good, the Bad and the Family

My father took great pride
in being well, healthy and it was all,
we were a perfect family.
Family comes first.
And you know
it’s taken me a long while to realise
that that’s not a value everyone shares.

My Nan was a hospital cleaner
and loved hospital things,
loved all that kind of illness
and things being wrong with people.
So there was all that kind of other side,
it was okay to have something wrong with you
and you didn’t have to be this perfect specimen.

But I know when I started to wonder
about why I couldn’t hear,
(which I don’t know I’ve done
in any really clear way at all)
I certainly became aware
of these different impairments
like my auntie’s deaf in one ear
and my Mum is blind in one eye
and all that sort of stuff.

But there was never any issue,
okay my Mum used to fall over a lot
because she didn’t have the depth judgement
from being blind in one eye,
so she’d trip over things.
But that’s what Mum did, she fell over.

It did vary hugely.

It did vary hugely.
Sometimes I could hear absolutely fine,
soon as I got a cold
it was back to the strange world
of not being able to hear things.

Orthodontics

I do anything new,
any new experience where
(that still is true to this day)
where I don’t know the setting,
I don’t know what the voices,
what the voices are gonna sound like,
is always a challenge.

You know the whole kind of thing
about being stuck in a bed
and people coming along and muttering at you,
and not really knowing
what was going on and what’s happening
and feeling horrible.

Careers advice

I was quite interested in people.
I didn’t like helping people,
I just liked finding out more about people.
I was quite intrigued by
you know I’m not that bothered about,
I never have been all that bothered
about helping people to be quite honest.
I think it has got a limited usefulness.
But I do like finding out
what makes life interesting for people
so occupational therapy came up as an option.
I looked at the course
and saw they did anatomy
and thought great!
It’ll really help my life drawing.

OT training

I suppose I came out of school
aware that I couldn’t hear as well and,
and I, I believe that my hearing stuff had,
was kind of, one factor to do with
wanting to be an occupational therapist,
because of emphasis on doing
rather than sitting around talking.

Making friends was interesting
cause I’d start all over again.
But I have absolutely no recollection
of hearing being an issue.

The OT course was so structured. I mean
we would do making splints
and doing woodwork
and printing, anatomy,
stuff with the bones and you know.
It was great.
And went straight off to do a placement.
Within two weeks I was in
a big psychiatric hospital
in a work rehab unit
doing printing with schizophrencs.
And, yeah it was really interesting
and I loved all this focus on doing things
like talk to people about what you’re doing
but not have the focus on the talking.

There were aspects of it that were wonderful
and then there were aspects that were excruciating
like the psychotherapy stuff.

Group work

They had these awful groups
where you sit round in a circle
and people would mumble
about what they were feeling and um
I just couldn’t understand
I couldn’t hear what they were saying half the time
but I couldn’t see what the point of it was,
I really really couldn’t.

I remember sitting there
thinking it’s not doing anything for me,
I’m not engaging with it,
um you know being told,
particularly by some psychoanalytic
or psychodynamic people
that it was a defence,
that my inability to hear
was a refusal to listen,
all this kind of crap,
you know you’ve only got a problem
because you don’t wanna hear.

Nobody, I never,
this whole thing about telling your story,
that was never really a thing in those days,
it was all about catharsis
and you know, debriefing,
it just didn’t make any sense to me,
I’d get all upset,
tell this terribly upsetting story
and then all sort of oh
wuhwuhwuh
defensive this or whatever,
mumble mumble
and I’d think well what’s going on here.

Well sometimes quite clearly
I don’t want to hear,
but that’s not why I don’t hear.

Relaxation

As therapists we had to learn
how to do relaxation. You lie on the floor
in a darkened room and somebody
mumbles relaxing words
and of course I hadn’t a clue
and you’re supposed to shut your eyes,
so all my visual cues,
I couldn’t see what I was supposed to do.
So I’m lying there on the floor
thinking okay, I have
no idea what’s going on here
and this is supposed to be relaxing,
getting more and more worried,
so I used to sneak one eye open
to see what other people were doing.

And in the end the only way I got round that
was to get hold of, you know, a book,
find a book with the instructions in,
find out what they’re saying,
so that I could memorise them
so I’d know for next time.
Um but that, that horrifies me that,
although I still see students doing it now
they just do not think about the fact that
people might not be able to hear.

And even worse, the visualisation techniques
where you can’t second guess where they’re going
to take you past a running stream,
along the beach, up the mountain...
And then this, you know, horror of horrors,
you’re supposed to paint a painting
based on this bizarre journey
you’ve just been on in your visualisation
and then me not knowing where the fuck I’ve been,
what’s been going on
and sitting there thinking what am I supposed to paint?
And there’s me who loves painting
and thinking what was all that about.

The Voice of Experience

It seems to me so important
to think about people’s experiences
and it’s only recently I’ve been thinking
it must be part of this hearing thing.

Because my experience is different,
I don’t assume everybody has my experience
and I don’t assume that they necessarily understand mine
and therefore in order to understand their experience I
need to find out, just ask
in the same way I guess
I wish the people doing relaxation exercises had said
‘Is there anyone in here who has trouble hearing?
Because if so, make sure,
come and sit next to me’
or you know ‘here’s the words’ so,
you know there’s so many ways of getting round it
but they didn’t even think about it,
that’s just very sad really.

Of course when I do my relaxation groups
I’d make sure everyone could hear
and Speak Loud and Clearly.

Oxford social life

I had a wonderful social life in Oxford. 
I think the interesting thing about Oxford social life
is that it’s very geared around doing things
and charging about having parties
and punting and you know
and I did all of that
I did the champagne parties
and the kind of wonderful, wonderful time
and met my husband
and that was great and we went,
walked round Oxford hand in hand
and it was all very romantic and stuff.

Mumbling Husband

He is very very prone to mouth ulcers.
So what happened was that
when his mouth got really sore
he would mumble suhmumumuh.

It took me to about nineteen ninety-four
to realise that that was the problem,
because we would have these awful situations
where I would just get so cross with him
and say ’You know I can’t hear.
Why are you mumbling?’
And he’d say ‘Coz my mouth hurts’.
And I’d think ‘Are you doing it to wind me up?’
I think if I’d have realised
that something actually so basic was,
was actually really unhelpful and difficult for us,
then I might have taken my hearing issues
a bit more seriously in my twenties.

I suppose I thought solving mouth ulcers
was easier than resolving
a life-long hearing problem.

Assessments

I think the big sort of landmark next
was when my son was born.
I was working with a Community Mental Health team
by this stage and doing a lot of generic work so,
all the first time assessments of people come to the GP
and they’d send them over to us.
And so it felt absolutely critical
that I heard their story right
and most of the time that was fine
but there were times when
people weren’t speaking very clearly
and I was having to check the thing.

I suppose I evolved strategies
um where um you know
I’d make sure I had a paper in front of me
so that I could write if they were talking
and they could see what I was writing
so that you know they’d correct me
and make sure I fed back
and said have I got it right
and I suppose it made me seem
like an incredibly caring
and properly listening person
which is probably a good thing
but it was also about checking
that I had heard right.

Decision

One of the people I had been working with
in the mental health team who,
things had gone very well with the work I did with her,
she was, you know she kind of
really worked on sorting her life out
and stuff and it had all gone really brilliantly
and she thought I was such a fantastic therapist
that she sent her daughter along to me
who was in crisis.

And this daughter was obviously convinced
that I was going to sort all her problems out
there and then in the session.

She proceeded to sort of
mumble her way through the next hour,
a total monologue
and I couldn’t get her to you know sort of stop
and make sure I’d checked things.
So I was left with this awful sense
that she’d told me all this stuff,
I’d no idea what she’d been talking about.

She went away saying she felt much better,
but I thought the risks of that were so horrendous
that it was actually irresponsible
not to do something about my hearing.

Sorting out

I was going up the hospital all the time to the GP
all the time with my son
so I said to the GP I really want
to sort my hearing problems out
and yeah she was the usual kind of
why what’s the problem sort of thing,
new mother, can’t concentrate your hearing.
So eventually she said let’s sort your son out first.
It wasn’t that he was very poorly,
it was just there were various investigations
they wanted to do, check he was okay.
Sort him out then we’ll sort you out.
So I said ‘how long does it take, a referral?’.
She said well I think about six months,
and I said well can you refer me now
so that by that time he’ll be sorted out.
So lo and behold!
I did get my appointment from ENT
and then went through the hearing test
and the little routine where I’m trying to work out
what’s my tinnitus and what’s a hearing test,
then I went back to the consultant who said
there’s a very strange read-out for your hearing test
and you know we’re not sure
what’s going on with you, we don’t understand
why you’ve got problems but any way
you clearly have got problems.
Hallelujah!
You know somebody sort of listening.

Diagnosis

She had a good look at all my palate
and everything and then said
‘Ah I know what the problem is!’.
And it’s, my eustachian tubes are flattened,
so they don‘t drain properly
which is all to do with the shape of my face,
which means that,
the recurrent blocking up means that
my inner ear doesn’t function properly
or my middle ear, I’ve forgotten it all now.
At the time it all made perfect sense.
But the reality was, I had ongoing problems,
they would get worse when I had a cold,
and there was nothing they could do,
they didn’t really want to operate on my palate
which apparently was squashing my eustachian tubes
so therefore I was stuck with it
so would I like a hearing aid?

Hearing aid

It was really really weird because
although I could hear, it did make a difference,
I could hear that my muttering boss
wasn’t talking anything helpful at all. 
So I hadn’t missed anything with her. 
You know I was confident when I saw
people in the mental health team that you know was okay um
but I still you know found that
I’d be switching off because I was tired
having a new baby and he was still repeatedly ill,
repeatedly getting chest infections and stuff,
so it was hard work, so I decided
on the strength of that I’d change my job
and move back into a hospital setting
where I thought at least there’s a shared responsibility
so that if I do make any errors
according to my hearing
or the fact that I’m so shattered
because I’m a new Mum,
then, you know it won’t matter,
it will be, there’ll be more monitors and checks. 

So I did it for that reason
and I was glad I did it
and the hearing aid was great, and you know
I kept running out of batteries and not realising it
and losing the batteries
and stuff like that but I found that
I could use it at work no problems
but I couldn’t use it anywhere else.
I found restaurants were hopeless,
it was so noisy, anything to do with children was awful
because it was just amplifying everything
so you know sort of screams would go through me
I thought oh god too much noise.

Batteries

The audiology department,
they told me I had to bring it back,
and bring back my little brown book,
which was like something out of the sixties,
and it was all signed when you took batteries in,
you had to bring all your old batteries back
and they recharged them and get your new battery in.
But for me, going to the hospital,
especially once I had two children,
meant driving to the hospital,
although it’s not, about thirty minutes walk,
you know with children it got more complicated
and trying to park at the hospital,
waiting in the audiology clinic
along with everybody else
just to pick up some batteries,
I mean it was just,
it was just like ridiculous.

It took me about ten years to realise
you can buy hearing aid batteries in Boots.
 

Lost

I lost a hearing aid. 
My son was about six
and um that was interesting,
well with one of my son’s friends
fell off the climbing frame
and there was blood everywhere
and I must have just come back from somewhere,
I had a hearing aid in my pocket
along with a load of tissues
so I was mopping up blood and everything
and the hearing aid must have got
thrown away with the tissues, but anyway,
that meant I had to go back up the hospital
and say ëI’m really sorry
I’ve lost my hearing aidë
and had to pay eighty pounds for a new one
and you know they were a bit cross
and I’m really ‘Terribly sorry,
it’s a busy life..ë

But that time I got a digital one
and that was quite exciting.
They said, ëOh you were due an upgrade’.
I think that one they said
I had to pay a new one
but I could get an upgrade.
It’s like a mobile phone. 

No, I’m getting really confused
with my hearing aid stories
because Miles would have been six,
which would have been
nineteen ninety-seven,
the digital one came later. 
Rewind.  Delete all that.

Distractions

When I first started working here at Brunel,
we used to be on the Osterley Campus
aeroplanes coming over
every three minutes,
so that was really distracting
because I’d get didoodidoodidoodidoo
coming through every time a plane went over.
I mean, I got used to it,
but it was like ‘here we go again’.

The other thing that was annoying
when I first started working here
was people’s mobile phones
because they, they would always
set the analogue hearing aid off
didoodidoodidoo again
and I’d know immediately
if someone’s phone was going off,
even if it was on silent,
because it would interrupt it.

And that’s when I went back to them
and said, this is driving me mad,
have you got something better and they said
oh yeah you can have an upgrade
to a digital one, and that was great,
I was so excited about that.
It was especially configured for my needs.

Training course

I remember one excruciating
training course I went on
where I said, you know,
I’m a hearing aid user
and they said ‘Oh great,
we’ll use the amplifying system’.
And unfortunately the first speaker
was a woman with Parkinson’s disease,
who had uncontrolled movements,
so she was, she was sort of writhing
and she had to have this
clip-on mike and amplifier thing,
it was a nightmare,
because she was just brushing,
it was driving me mad,
it was getting caught up in her arms,
meanwhile I was picking up all this
prrm and brrh and clicks and whirrs
and it was in this tiny room,
really small room
where I would have been able to hear anyway.

The assumption was
‘Oh we’ve got a hearing-aid user,
we’d better do all this’.
And it comes back to the thing,
you know, just asking people,
showing them what the situation is
and making decisions based on that
is much better.

So anyway I was,
I was hugely embarrassed by that
because I felt this woman, her needs,
because she was presenting,
her needs were actually
much more important than mine.
It’s that kind of PC thing
that people feel
they have to be doing the right thing.
It’s not always helpful.

Surrey County Council

I changed jobs to social care
to Surrey County Council
because the mental health stuff
was really getting too much with the children.
I was working in acute mental health care,
had a lot of suicides and it was hard.
And you know things weren’t fantastic
with my husband.
It was just easier
not to work in mental health.

And in social care, it was great
you know they cottoned on
to the fact I was a hearing aid user,
gave me a space where I could sit
with my back to the walls
so I wasn’t picking up stuff behind me
and also when people spoke to me
the sound would bounce back
and I could hear it,
offered me a phone with a different ring and,
it was, it was amazing, such a revelation,
to be offered without having to ask
and to be able to do it
without feeling like an object of curiosity.

Names

Working here was interesting,
dealing with classes of students
and not being able to hear
and also dealing with lots of different ethnicities,
different voices, never really knowing
what voices I was going to be hearing. 

I’ve made a special effort
to make sure I could understand people’s names,
hear them properly and say them,
which of course, like in the strategy of mental health,
people take that as me being really interested
and making an effort to make sure I’ve got it right,
but it is also about me not wanting
to use a wrong name because I haven’t heard it right. 

It’s funny how having a hearing impairment,
in some ways you’d think would be
quite a social difficulty but in other ways
it means you sort of appear much more interested,
which is nice I think.

Explanation

So twelve weeks later
I went to see the muttering doctor again.
I knew, as soon as I saw the name
I thought oh no!
this is going to be a nightmare,
I haven’t got anybody with me,
I’m on my own, so I went into the hospital,
into the clinic room with him
and he, he’s like this
uhduhduhwuhwuhrurur.
And he looked at me expectantly.

So I said I can’t hear you,
you’re going to have to speak clearly,
I’ve broken my hearing aid,
I need a new one,
so this ‘Oh, So What’s Wrong With You Then?
‘I’ve broken my hearing aid’.
I thought I’m not going to tell him about the dog,
it’s just going to get too complicated.
‘I need a new hearing aid.’

Binaural

He said I can’t understand why
they only gave you one hearing aid,
he said it’s a really bizarre decision,
he said you’d be much better with two
because you’ll be able to get directional sense
and stuff like that, he said
you know the loss in your both ears
it’s not major but it’s moderate,
you know it’s going to affect things,
so I said, Great, I said, when can I have them?

I thought wow!  I can’t believe
I’m getting something state of the art. 
He’d actually read what I did
and thought about it before I got in the room
which was just wonderful. 

So he put them in
and had it all wired up
and sort of fine tuned it all
to my particular hearing needs
and then he said right
I’m gonna show you
what these hearing aids can do. 

*/And it was amazing.
He was sitting next to me
and then he started walking away
and then he walked across the room
and the sound switched from one ear to the other. 
And I thought that means in a room full of students
I’ll be able to have a better idea
when a sort of voice comes out of nowhere
with a question, I will be able to pinpoint them
so much more accurately.

Before, you know, it had been like
where was that? who was that?
whereas now I can, I’m pretty sure,  you know,
(it’s probably not as accurate as a lot of people)
but I can get a much better idea
of where the voice is coming from.
So that was fantastic.

Simple experiences

I think it’s interesting talking about
what seemed to be quite kind of
simple experiences that actually say,
it feels like cliches doesn’t it,
being listened to, being taken seriously,
having things being accessible
that make so much difference.
My husband moved out five years ago
and, yeah I wonder if the kind of tensions around us,
how much of that was to do with
this sort of disastrous combination
of mouth ulcers and hearing loss,
or whether that was just one of the things,
because there were just times
when it seemed like,
doesn’t matter what I did,
I wasn’t going to be able to hear
or I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

Advantages

I think there are great advantages
to being slightly deaf, though,
I mean, you know I can sleep soundly,
I sleep through anything,
because I don’t hear,
and I don’t, you know I can switch off very very easily
and not hear things and doesn’t bother me,
I’m not worried about the fact
I can’t hear what people are saying
cause I’m not that interested.
And that’s, that’s awful.
But I suppose it’s meant that
I have a particular focus,
which has been an advantage in other ways .
I can think of my dreary in-laws
or friends that I’ve got a bit tired of,
which again I find so cruel and brutal,
but there’s ways of being with people,
you don’t have to listen to every word they say,
you know if you’re a bit deaf you can say
oh sorry, what was that?
And they think oh they should have
been speaking louder when in fact
you weren’t listening.

Expertise

You have to become an expert in order to survive.
But then every time, for me,
with the hearing aid stuff,
every time I’ve had a new encounter,
a new episode,
suddenly my expertise is questioned.
You think well, come on
I know when I got my first hearing aid,
okay I can’t give you the exact day,
but I know when it happened,
and I know what works, and I know,
you know, why do we have to go through
this little routine of, oh yes, we’ll get you assessed,
you know be referred,
then you have to be assessed
and then you have to have
the doctor’s pronouncement
over we’re going to do this,
which is a complete load of bollocks
as far as I’m concerned
And you have to play the game,
be the grateful patient,
‘Oh thank you, that’s great,
I’m so pleased’, when in fact
the people who were making
the real difference for me are
the audiologist who did the hearing test,
who had all the technical skill
knew exactly what he needed to do,
and was able to sort me out.
I didn’t even need to see the blooming doctor.
And the second audiologist,
who explained what he was giving me
and how useful it would be.

I do wonder if these doctors are in it
to sustain, justify their own existence
through, you know, stupid assessments,
oh I don’t know.

Future Prospects

I worry about the future, yeah, a bit,
knowing how older people are treated,
particularly in the NHS and
particularly because I have arthritis
and know that one of the realities will be that
maybe I’ll have to have joint replacements
and stuff like that. It’s one thing
being an older woman with arthritis,
but it’s another thing
being an older woman with
two hearing aids and a bit of arthritis.

But I suppose the technology
will continue to improve
and that’ll be great.
And the people
will not continue to improve.

I don’t know how you make things easier
for people working in health care
to acknowledge difference
and engage with individuals
but I don’t think the current situation’s
going to make things any easier.

Three things

When I first qualified,
I knew there were three things:
I wanted to work in community mental health,
I wanted to be an art therapist
and I wanted to do research.

I started by doing,
I did research very early on in my career
in various different places.
I did the community mental health thing
and that was great,
remains a kind of a passion
and the art therapy thing
I got very disillusioned about
because of all the muttering I guess .
Also this bizarre idea that, you know,
you do a painting
and it’s then interpreted by the expert,
which drove me absolutely crazy.

And I did this drama therapy training,
which was much more positive,
but I suppose I always knew
that I would be looking for an environment
which would enable me to do research.

Brunel

I signed up to do my master’s degree at Brunel
and, the first thing I had to do here
was a presentation after about six weeks
and the tutor at the time said
‘Have you thought about doing any teaching?
Because you’re really good at it.’

I was doing the sessional teaching
within well the next term really,
they had me in doing that and from there,
at that, at that point, that coincided
with me becoming
extremely disillusioned with social care .

We had a new boss in there and she ,
she was the sort of woman,
oh, she took it all so emotionally, so,
she’d say you must take another case. (We
always had about a hundred people
on the waiting list so we knew,
all these people waiting for OT.
I, I think it’s criminal,
you put more money in,
you get more OTs to sort out the waiting list.
I never got that, it was always about
redefining need and eligibility and all that crap.)
And she would sort of burst into tears
if I said no to taking another case,
(because I was only part time
and as far as I was concerned
there was no point in having loads of people
and not actually being useful for them).

So I’d had enough work in that kind of environment
and Brunel were offering me work
I ended up with a kind of portfolio
of different sort of freelance things
for a couple of year or two,
about eighteen months,
and then decided I was going to bite the bullet
and try and be an academic.

In academia

If I’d understood
what an academic environment is really like,
I would have done it a long time ago,
because I love it. But on the other hand
I’ve got eighteen, nineteen years
of field work experience,
you know I never did management,
I was always working with people using services,
service users. So the depth of my experience is,
it’s great, you know I’ve got all these stories
to tell to students, and they love that,
this very strong working knowledge
of what it’s like to be out there with real people.

I see it’s so easy to get sort of,
to get sucked in to all this theorising,
but you know I can ground it,
and continue to do so, cause you know,
bring people in here and um
make sure you know that it’s an interactive thing
between us and the outside world.
So it’s brilliant,
I wish I’d done it before.

Comments

Colin Hambrook

/
12 June 2014

Marguerite these are Allan Sutherland's individual poems from a transcription of the words of Wendy Bryant. They could be published as a straight transcription, but that would lose the artistry. The line breaks are there intentionally as a way of emphasising the expression behind the individual's voice.

Marguerite Boyle

/
31 May 2014

I very much enjoyed this poem as I have hearing aids myself. This poet is very brave in following a career where every one else was a hearing person.

However as a poem, it is too long to be read in one sitting and maybe should be in two parts? But I am not sure where the division should come. Also would it not be better in a prose format?

Add a comment

Please leave your comments. They will display when submitted. DAO encourages critical feedback, but please be considerate. DAO reserves the right to edit or remove comments that don't comply with our editorial policy, which you can find on DAOs 'About' pages.

Your e-mail address will not be revealed to the public.
HTML is forbidden, but line-breaks will be retained.
This can be a URL of an image or a YouTube, MySpaceTV or a Flickr page (we'll handle the media embedding from there!)
This is to prevent automatic submissions.