“I lost my hearing at the age of 2 1/2 years. My family were all hearing. When my aunt pulled up in the driveway and honked so I’d get out of the way, I looked up and smiled, and returned to playing. I didn’t move, because I hadn’t heard the horn. She said to my mom: “You need to have her hearing checked!” That was the first sign that anything was wrong.
When the doctor examined me, he labeled me not “deaf,” but “profoundly hard of hearing.” My hearing family was stunned, and my single mother of modest means didn’t know where to begin.
My first recollections of being different from other children was being made to wear the old, bulky hearing aids that looked like car batteries that you wore around your neck. They hung down on your chest like a neon sign that read: “I AM DIFFERENT.” I died inside every time I had to walk into a crowded classroom; not only did I have to wear this contraption that allowed me to hear just a fraction of what everybody else was hearing, but I had to wear a bra-like contraption that the big square device sat in. As you can imagine, the kids were merciless in their teasing. “Rachael’s wearing a bra!” they chanted. I grew up being called names like “stupid,” and “retarded.” But there wasn’t anything wrong with my brain. And there wasn’t anything wrong with my heart, either-my heart heard every unkind word that the hearing kids hurled at me.
At age 6, I’d had enough, so I took it off my clumpy hearing aid and threw it in the school garbage before going home. Mom asked me where it was. I gathered up my courage and told her in no uncertain terms that I was not wearing it ever again; I’d rather be stone deaf and not hear the torturous words like animal and monster. Mom must have understood that day, because she managed to scrape together enough money to purchase the expensive ear-sized hearing aids. I’ll never forget that-it was like the clouds parted, and I felt hope flooding back in. I didn’t have to wear a bra. But more importantly, for the first time, I heard the sound of my own voice as I repeated after the speech therapist the word: “Sac-Ra-Men-To.”
Because I was the only deaf person in a hearing family, no one learned sign language. This was both good and bad. Because Mom was determined that I wouldn’t be different than the rest of the family, she decided to put me in public school where I was forced to learn to speak intelligibly, and to lip read exceptionally well. The teachers advised her to put me in Special Education classes with the developmentally disabled, but Mom wouldn’t hear of it; she was determined for me to make it in the world, minus the labels. It was sink or swim! At home, I communicated with my family well enough with my hearing aids, but I was always the outsider, because when they laughed at a joke, I didn’t know the punchline. When there was a family issue, I didn’t hear the rest of the story. Again, I was the odd man out-even within my own family circle. I silently wished and hoped they would learn to sign with me, but they never did. I was just Rachael to them; they didn’t see me as different. But in the real world, I was the odd one, the outsider.
Today I’m a deaf adult living in a hearing world, and I’m thriving-because I’m what is concidered a high-functioning deaf person. But the hearing aid is still my lifeline-that which connects me to my partner, my job, and my family. And though I have adjusted to being different, and even take pride in overcoming the many challenges I’ve faced, the day-to-day reality of being deaf is still very challenging. While the hearing aid I now have isn’t as obvious as the one I started out with 40-some years ago, it has it’s limitations. I can hear low sounds like thunder, but I’ve never heard a bird’s song. I’ve never heard the sound of rain falling, or the ocean crashing, or any other subtle or high pitched sound you take for granted everyday. I’ve never heard my partner’s voice clearly; I can barely make out my own. And yet I am grateful for the sliver of hearing that I do enjoy. And what is it like to sign? It’s like speaking several languages, except one of them is spoken with my hands. It’s cool…and yet, it attracts a lot of attention.
Over the years, I’ve lost more hearing aids than I can recall. One time I went on a roller coaster and my hearing aid went flying out of my ear! I panicked-Mom would kill me. Until it was replaced 2 weeks later, I felt lost and alone; frightened. Without sound, the world closes in. A few years ago my partner Nina was holding my hearing aid in her pocket so I could go swimming when she spaced and jumped in the water with it. An expensive mistake, as it cost several thousand dollars to replace it. Over the years my hearing has faded, as happens to everyone. Who knows-some day you might need a hearing aid, although I hope not! Because my hearing has steadily declined, I’m not able to depend upon anything but my lip-reading skills, and sign language. Even so, I encounter people who mumble, talk too fast, or don’t face me to talk; and yet they expect me to understand them. It’s as frustrating for me as it is for them, but I keep smiling-because I’ve always believed it’s a beautiful world, and I’m delighted to communicate with the hearing…heck, I’m engaged to a hearing person who is just now learning sign language. Over the years people have remarked what a positive person I am despite my challenges. It’s because I’ve learned that we are all different in one way or another, but those differences don’t need to divide us; they can be used to unite us when we work together.
In the spirit of working together, I started this campaign to purchase a new hearing aid; a really special one. I didn’t know what I was missing until I wore out my last hearing aid, and was given a high-powered loaner. I tried it on in the audiologist’s office, and when the technician asked if I could hear her voice, I had to fight back the tears. Hear her voice? She was yelling at me! I couldn’t wait to race home and tell my fiancee that I could hear her–I could hear her! When I walked through the door, she asked how the visit went, not knowing I’d been given the most state-of-the-art, powerful hearing aid on loan. When I heard her voice for the first time, I stood frozen in the doorway fighting back the tears. So that’s what she sounded like…it was a dream come true. She jumped up and down like a kid when I told her the good news, and dragged me outside into the storm. “Listen,” she said, “Listen to the sound of the rain!”
I heard the wind howl and my eyes went wide. “What’s that swooshing sound?” I asked, and she laughed–what a big laugh she has! “That’s the wind, silly! And those are frogs-do you hear them?” I heard everything, and it was my turn to cry.
Rather than elect to have surgery for a cochlear implant at my age, when my audiologist gave me the chance to try the Phonak Naida V90 , I jumped at the chance. I miss hearing birds singing. I miss hearing my dog Romeo bark, and I miss Nina’s voice-especially her laugh. The Phonak Naida V90 is a very special hearing aid, almost like having a bionic device in your ear minus the surgery. It amazed me-I did’nt want to give the loaner back! But when I learned about the price, I gasped. It costs nearly 3,400, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee: a lifetime of being connected again to this wonderful world, and its magnificent sounds.
Donations of any amount will be greatly appreciated. I’ve never asked anyone for anything before, but my partner assured me it’s okay to reach out and ask for support when you really need it. This new hearing aid will enable me to maintain close communication with my hearing partner, to hear music I’ve never been able to listen to before, to experience the sounds of nature, and to work more effectively with my coworkers.
The Phonak Naida V90 features are good for severe to the profoundly deaf. Read about it here.
Thanking you in advance for making my dream come true!
To support Rachael’s fund, visit GoFundMe.com.