Being Hard of Hearing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

My kiddo asked me to write something about what it is like to be hard of hearing during the pandemic. They have a class project where they are doing a zine, and they wanted share my experiences during the pandemic for their contribution to the publication. I have 100% loss of hearing in one of my ears from an infection I had years ago, and the other ear has about 30% loss of capacity. Making it pretty difficult for me to understand what is happening in noisy situations, which has only gotten worse with social distancing and the wearing of masks. It isn’t something I have written about, so I was happy to respond with a blog post on the subject.

The reason behind the loss of hearing in my left ear occurred almost 30 years ago when I got an infection while on the road. The loss of hearing wasn’t all at once, and it was something that played out over the course of about a decade following the infection. Over those years I didn’t have very many jobs that provided me with health insurance, and with a generally hectic work schedule I have never prioritized doing anything for my hearing. I have gone into the doctor to have my hearing tested twice with the intention of doing something about it, but the answer is always that hearing aids wouldn’t do much, and I would have to go in for surgery to leverage my good hear and wire it up to my left ear to improve my situation. Something I am always hesitant to do, resulting in my leaving things the way they are. However, the pandemic has pushed me back in to get my hearing tested because it is getting harder for me to interact with people out there in the real world.

Over the last twenty years of losing my hearing I have learned to read lips. I wouldn’t say I am expert level lip reader, but I depend on looking at someone shape of their mouth to know what they are saying in most situations. This practice allows me to extract one or two more words from each sentence, adding to what I think I heard the person say. Allowing me to piece it all together to make sense of what is happening in any situation. Leaving lip reading a pretty critical element for me when it comes to engaging with people in stores and on the street. As soon as the pandemic hit and we started wearing masks, I began to find it near impossible to engage with people in person, and when you combine mask wearing with six feet of distance, it is pretty unlikely that I will hear what someone is saying to me. When you add in a youthful workforce who aren’t always the best at enunciation and speaking loudly, you end up with an old man asking, What? What? Sorry I didn’t hear that? An awful lot. Which I assume is also pretty frustrating for other people, as well as it is for me.

I am guessing there are a lot of people who say something to me on the street who end up thinking I am pretty rude for ignoring them, and the people working at the grocery stores or restaurants end up thinking something is wrong with me. Luckily for me, I do not go to restaurants very often anymore, and the number of times I order takeout is limited to once every couple of months–additionally I am very fortunate that my wife does all of the grocery shopping. Otherwise I would be pretty uncomfortable on a daily basis. In the early days of the pandemic I found it pretty exhausting to have to engage with people, and without being able to read lips I was having to work twice as hard to get anything accomplished. My inability to read lips is just part of it, I’d say that I also depend on a number of facial expressions to know what is happening, which leaves me confused and missing a lot of signals. I do not know any other people who are hard of hearing, but I can only imagine that masks are affecting other people in similar ways, adding to the reasons why we are all feeling isolated and alone in this world that is continuing to be shaped by the pandemic.