Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unisex Phone Calls

(Picture: My children) 

Before cochlear implant surgery, my audiologist warned me about limitations to expect with artificial hearing.

Concerning voices, she said, “If you find you’re able to talk on the phone (not all CI patients are able to), you won’t be able to distinguish between male/female voices. They will all sound the same. You will have to ask people to identify themselves in order to know who you are talking to.”

“Wow, no way. What’s that going to be like? Every voice will sound the same? That’s so alien! I’m not going to know if it’s my husband?, My son?, My daughter?,” were my internal, disappointed thoughts.

“But,” she said, “you’ll be able to use a phone.” 

Disappointment turned to an hopeful thankfulness, and I decided I’d just have to wait and see what it would be like.

About four weeks after hearing, I was walking around the lake where I live, and heard a voice say, “That’s my kite. That’s my kite up in the sky.” I didn’t see who was talking, I didn’t read lips; but, I heard a child speak very clearly. I turned to locate where the voice was coming from; and, to my left, along a grassy area, was a father holding a string to a butterfly kite, and a little girl, about 4 years old, standing next to him. She was looking straight at me with excited delight and glee.

I was so glad I heard her... 
#1: Because she was proud, and wanted someone to acknowledge her kite. 
#2: Because it was then that I realized that if I could understand speech without lip-reading, then perhaps I’m one of those fortunate CI’ees who’ll be able to talk on the phone. 

 I walked hurriedly home, and told my husband I needed a phone. So, I chose an hot pink Razr :-), and was put on the family plan with T-Mobile, ha! I called Randy (husband) a few times a day, and told him he had to talk to me every single day so I could learn and practice.

(Now, three years later, he jokes that while he was excited for me, he was wondering just how much these daily phone calls, throughout his workday, were going to affect his work ethic. I’ll write about the effects that he’s gone through, due to me, another time.)

OK, so Randy tells my parents that I got a phone, and had been talking to him every day. He was proud of me, and felt I was great at it. Now, you have to realize that I hadn’t called anyone else yet. I was busy practicing with my husband. I was comfortable with him. I would always know it was him who was calling, because nobody else had my number…or so I thought.

Out of the blue, while driving on the freeway (this was before it became illegal in California), my phone rang, and I answered, “Hi!” “Hello, Gina!,” was the voice I heard, and I immediately knew it was my dad.

“How could this be? I thought I wasn’t going to distinguish between a man and a woman’s voice, and he didn’t identify himself or anything. I immediately knew this was my dad!,” were my confused, excited, bewildered thoughts. “Dad? Is that you?,” I asked. He was so emotionally affected, and softly cried, “Yes, it’s me. Randy gave me your number, and said you could hear on the phone now.” 

From there, began the slowly emerging courage to give my number to other people in order to talk to them too. Oftentimes it’s difficult. People have different accents, tones, sounds, and speeds. For a long time, I couldn’t decipher which of my two daughters was on the end of the line…they’d respond kind of hurt, taking it personally; not fully understanding my limited demise. Moments like those can cause a deaf person to withdraw from moving forward, because the potential hurt of unintentional situations are simply not worth it. But, thankfully, they continued to practice with me, and gave me the opportunities necessary to grow, learn, and become better at it. My son, who lives in London, England, calls me from time to time, and, while he seemed to be uncomfortable at first (when I’d struggle), he has been very good about hanging in there, repeating when necessary, and making sure I am understanding him. I notice that he slows down a little to help me hear his words more distinctly. (Thank you, Chris :-)

Yet, it’s true; my audiologist (Jane) was right. Oftentimes I can’t tell who is on the other side of the line. Sometimes I can’t distinguish if the caller is male or female. So, how is it that I can learn to decipher some, but not all? Jane says it’s because I naturally pick up on distinct traits within a person’s voice, which provide ways to distinguish specific people. She’s emphatically certain it’s not because I HEAR the difference the same way hearing people do. According to her, the brain is that smart and adaptable.