Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hearing Aids, Humility and Parkinson's Disease

Leaning over I whispered to the lawyer beside me at the counsel table, "Can you hear the Judge?" He looked at me quizzically and nodded. Now what do I do! It was an important case and I was representing several major clients who could lose millions of dollars depending on what the Judge was saying. I thought objecting or putting up my hand would be a career-limiting move in the lawyer-crowded courtroom. But even with my hand cupped to my ear all I could pick up were mostly muffled words. I was 40 years old and seemed to be going deaf.

Hearing aids have been an embarrassing reality for me ever since. When I realized that others were hearing what I could not, such as in Court that day, I had no alternative but to see an ENT specialist. The diagnosis; Otosclerosis. For those who care to know, it the growth of bone in the middle ear affecting the stapes – like arthritis of the ear bone. Beethoven and Howard Hughes had it, as does Frankie Valli (maybe that explains the falsetto - you have to be older than 40 to get it). The choice was clear. But I was bothered by the "deaf and dumb" stigma. I feared those strap-on earmuff hearing aids. Was not this all something for old folks? Little did I know that the same fears, stigma and misunderstanding would hit me a short time later in life in the guise of Parkinson's disease.

I did not choose my hearing loss that has resulted in the need for my increasingly noticeable hearing aids. I cannot even blame it on playing too much Led Zeppelin at 120 decibels through headphones. And despite my misspent youth, neither did I choose nor facilitate the onset of PD and its increasingly noticeable tremours and other manifestations. Both embarrass me and leave me feeling self-conscious. But why?

It occurs to me that both of these shortcomings, the loss of hearing and dopamine production, confront and do damage to my fragile, I-can-do-it-all false pride. A pride in an image that I want to project in order to protect disclosing the real "me". There is something that is whispering (or in my case, shouting), "People will not accept the shaky, half-deaf person that I am."

The resulting conviction is that I need to get over my "image", and learn honest humility.

Embarrassment is a curious thing. Most of us get embarrassed if we clumsily trip upstairs or take a spill while showing off. But those who struggle with balance because of Parkinson's and do a face-plant due to what others not so secretly characterize as an apparent lack of sobriety or agility are also embarrassed. Must they be?

What am I learning from being embarrassed? First, I now try to slow down a bit before I jump to conclusions about the shortcomings in appearance or behavior of another. This is often thinly veiled prejudice; judging without the true facts or applying a false standard. Second, when other people misjudge me (at least to the degree I know about it) I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. It is rarely mean-spirited criticism of who I am, but more often a lack of information, thoughtfulness or even self-esteem on the part of the observer. Third, I try and recognize that the difference between humility and humiliation is that the former results from an understanding that we all have shortcomings and weaknesses, whereas the latter results from a misunderstanding that shortcomings and weaknesses are unacceptable in others and ourselves.

I do not expect to suddenly stop being embarrassed about my hearing aids and PD symptoms. But if, as is said, humility is a virtue, then inevitably schooling is needed to achieve it. “Life is a long lesson in humility” (19th century Scottish dramatist, James Barrie, the originator of Peter Pan).

1 comment:

  1. My dad wore hearing aids all the time I knew him. He had his nerves in his head injured when a gun on board a boat during WWII was tested while he had his plugs out eating lunch. So all I knew was talk loudly - same for my brother. We have actually been asked to leave restaurants and libraries because we have such strong voices - they carry. Yes, I get embarrassed about that, but I don't realize I'm yelling as that is just how we talked in my house so daddy could hear us.

    Now Mom has lost a lot of her hearing and aids, and most of my earlier blogs were about the hearing aids, her losing them or breaking them due to her dementia.

    So finding a blog about hearing aids that wasn't one of mine on, made me feel kind of strange. I never once thought dad was embarrassed by his hearing aids. However I remember a time when a lady at a church made fun of him because he answered a question incorrectly and she repeated the question over and over and over as a chant. I wanted to choke her - would you have represented me in court. However, dad never knew it and never felt embarrassed. He rose above so many problems and crisis: mom died when he was 8 and that ended his education, he went to WWII at 18 or 19,, lost his hearing, at 40 got diabetes, later had numerous strokes and heart surgery, but he rose above all that to become manager of the gas plant that furnishes gas to all 176,000 homes in Amarillo, and to pastor at least 5 churches on the side He was highly respected and when he died his funeral was attended by more people than any other funeral ever at that church.

    So whether you are hard of hearing, a screaming ninny like me, or a shaking PD patient, I don't think it's about those things, it's about the character of the person. That's what people judge, not those other things.