Deafness and Masks

I’ve written several times in this blog about my loss of hearing and how I cope. During my years in Vietnam, I regularly supported troops on the battlefield with signals intelligence, so I was subject to the extremely loud noise of guns being fired close at hand. The during the fall of Saigon, I lived through shelling and rocket fire so close that the building I was in jumped and jolted. I didn’t realize that my hearing was damaged until I returned to the states. I put off getting hearing aids because I was managing to get by. Then I made a discovery. I went to the Kennedy Center to see the Royal Shakespeare but couldn’t understand what the actors were saying. I had my binoculars with me, so I tried them. I was shocked to discover that when I could see the mouth of a speaker, I could understand what he was saying—I was reading lips.

Humbled, I went to have my hearing checked and learned that, indeed, I was hard of hearing. I got hearing aids and have used them ever since. But even with them, I often can’t hear what people are saying on the telephone, and, in face-to-face conversations, I have serious trouble understanding what someone is saying unless I can see his mouth. So I make a point of watching my interlocutor carefully.

Then in 2020 came COVID-19. For the protection of themselves and others, responsible people (almost everyone) started wearing coronavirus face masks. That meant that their mouths were covered. There were no uncovered lips for me to read.

So I have spent more than two years repeatedly asking others in masks to speak slowly, distinctly, and loudly, so that I can understand them. Almost everyone complies but after a few sentences return to their normal way of speaking, leaving me in the lurch.

Hence the rewards of combat. Lucky for me, other outcomes of my days on the battlefield have more than offset my hearing loss. Most important among them is my pride that I risked my life in defense of my country and saved lives.

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