I’m deaf. Even with hearing aids, I often misunderstand what is being said, especially in places with background noise. It’s a constant curse.
My hearing was damaged during the fall of Saigon. The North Vietnamese began their attack on city just before sunset on 28 April 1975 with a rocket attack followed by artillery shelling. I was holed up in the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) building at Tan Son Nhat on the northern edge of the city. The shelling went on throughout the night and much of the next day. I finally escaped by helicopter under fire after dark on 29 April.
During the shelling, I and the two communicators who had volunteered to stay with me to the end were in the communications center of our office suite. Exploding rocket and artillery shells hit close enough to us that the room lurched throwing us to the floor. The explosions were the loudest sounds I have ever heard.
At first, I didn’t realize that I’d suffered hearing damage. I had amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to muscle fatigue, inadequate diet, and sleep deprivation. Worse, I had all the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI)—panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and irrational rages. It wasn’t until I got back on my feet during the autumn of 1975 that I realized my hearing was defective.
Even then, I did nothing about it, dismissing it as trivial. But over time, it got worse. My wife finally insisted that I have my hearing checked. I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss in both ears, particularly in the upper frequencies. I got hearing aids.
With aging, my hearing loss has deteriorated further. I have learned to read lips, but if an interlocutor turns away from me, I lose comprehension. I don’t hear common sounds others are aware of—crickets, highway noises, sirens. Worse, I have trouble hearing music, and I’m a trained musician with a BA in Music from the University of California.
If I could find a way to correct my hearing, I’d certainly avail myself of it. But deafness is not without its side benefits. I sleep through noise that disturbs others. I’m rarely distracted by annoying buzzes, hums, and crackles. And I savor the quiet that allows me to write. That is my vocation. I’m grateful for the inner peace my deafness allows me.