We, as humans, interact with our environment through our senses. We experience culture through taste, calm each other’s nerves through touch, investigate through smell, navigate through sight, and generally communicate through hearing. Every day, our senses engage us in new, raw, and unique learning experiences. So what happens when we lose one of them?
I went about my Saturday the same way I typically would, but this time I was wearing earplugs. Most weekend mornings begin with a hike alongside my fiancé, Alex, and our two dogs. I never considered hiking to be an activity that involved much communication, and in the winter the sounds of nature are relatively still. However, I quickly observed how much talking actually goes on during these moments. Hiking involves very little face-to-face interaction, and one person is often walking a number of paces ahead of the other. Every word Alex said to me sounded like a mumble, and I did not notice much improvement even when he faced me while he spoke. Eventually I grew extremely frustrated and just pretended to know what he was saying. Not to mention, with the dogs off leash, I did not have the comfort of hearing their footsteps to alert me of their presence. This was an especially unsettling feeling.
I’ll admit to needing a break after that experience. My mind had been working overtime trying to fill in all the gaps that I knew my ears were missing. I tried to remind myself that this was only temporary and that I could continue to get through the day.
We were on our way to lunch, and my frustration only grew when I felt like the only thing I could hear was the overwhelming hum of the truck. I asked Alex to speak louder and slower, and even though he obliged, I could tell that he was getting tired of it as well. By the time we got settled in the restaurant, we had both tired of constantly saying “huh?” and gave up on talking altogether. It was in those silent moments within my head that I realized how incredibly isolating living with a hearing loss could be. The way in which we communicate is a main contributor to what makes us complex as human beings. When there is a total disconnect between the speaker and the listener in a conversation, communication fails, words get misinterpreted, and those involved just give up altogether.
Shortly after lunch we had a small gathering with a few friends. I found this setting the easiest to hear in while wearing the earplugs. There was little background noise, we were sitting facing each other, and I felt far more engaged in this scenario compared to the other two. This did not go without incident, however, as I did hear softer sounds wrong and had to clarify words often. When my friends got tired of repeating themselves, they often just said “never mind” and moved on with the conversation. I was more taken aback by this than just not talking at all. I was completely aware that I was missing pieces of the story, yet no one bothered to truly take the time to explain them to me.
Through this experience, it became blatantly obvious to me that our senses are completely interconnected. By suffering a loss of just one sense, such as hearing, we lose out on other aspects of life that would not have typically occurred to us. For instance, if I lost my sense of smell, then my taste might also be hindered. In this circumstance, having this (albeit temporary) hearing loss not only hindered my ability to communicate, but it also hindered my ability to interact with my environment.
The next day, I went on a hike without the earplugs in. The sounds of winter were not as deadened as I had initially thought them to be. I heard leaves in the wind, birds chirping, the footsteps of my dogs, and my breath in my chest: And I listened.
By Alyssa Tricola