I woke up one fateful Saturday morning the 14th of February to find an unexpected parcel sitting at the bottom of the front door. Rubbing my eyes, I trundled towards it and picked it up. As soon as I recognised the handwriting, I gasped and immediately took it to the living room and placed it in front of me on a low coffee table. Knowing what it is, I looked at it for a moment then took a deep breath and gently ripped it apart. After almost four months of tinnitus hell, I thought, at last! After I’d opened the parcel, I took the transparent object and connected it to the tiny equipment, inserted a small, silver circular battery inside the equipment and put it in my left ear.
Then I switched it on.
Suddenly, I was inundated with various sounds I hadn’t heard since November when I had lost my last hearing aid during a drunken shenanigan at a nightclub: the humming of traffic from the outside, the dialogues on television… The experience was simply indescribable. It was as though I had heard sounds for the first time in my life and it was almost impossible to conceive. Four months of silence was long enough for me to actually forget what certain noises had sounded like. I had even forgotten what my own voice had sounded like so when I heard myself speak for the first time in four months I was taken aback. ‘This is my voice?!’ I thought. I used to hate it! Now it doesn’t sound so bad! Oh, how I’ve missed sounds so much and I wanted to hear everything again, so the first thing I did was open the violin case and lift out the most sentimental item in my life – the only solace whenever I’m down. You seriously have no idea what it feels like to hear something you have a passion for again. I turned to YouTube and CDs to listen to a variety of music for a couple of hours just totally enjoying myself. I felt like the happiest person alive.
Then something hit me. I quickly ran to get my phone from my bedroom and flicked through the video clips. I stopped when I saw my baby niece. I sat down and played the clip I had recorded during my home visit last month. My eyes instantly filled with tears and I had a lump in my throat as I watched the clip and heard her gurgle playfully for the very first time in my life…
So, I guess this is what people mean when they say they cannot live without sounds – the voices of their loved ones and music in particular, the rain patting gently on the windows, the rhythmic thumps of a train as it slowly passes by, the roar of the thunder. For me, I’ve learned that you would have to go through a certain period of time without hearing anything at all to know what it truly is like and to completely understand why some things in life are so precious.
As I have been deaf since birth perpetual silence is something that is naturally all too easy for me to conceive. However, having been exposed to the very first sounds at a very young age meant I immediately became dependent upon them as I grew up. The fact is that the past four months have been the longest I’ve ever gone through without hearing anything at all. At first, I was naturally indifferent but as days turned into months I started to miss things I enjoy hearing more and more. I also had to broaden my visual awareness and peripheral vision to compensate for the lack of hearing and it wasn’t easy. There has been a few incidents where I was almost hit by cars because my eyes just simply got tired of constantly watching. You have to bear in mind that as a deaf person, I use my eyes all the time to communicate: reading sign language, lip-reading, which is an exhausting activity and can put a strain on your eyesight, looking out for strangers’ body language in situations where I would not hear public announcements (on the Tube for example) in case of unexpected changes, and so on. At the end of every single day, my eyes just wanted to sleep.
Further to this, I inevitably developed a life-draining condition – tinnitus: those annoying, incessant sounds of ringing, whistling and buzzing inside your head that drive you insane because they just never stop. Apparently, your brain is so used to hearing natural sounds that when you stop hearing them your brain, starved of sounds, starts to replace the absence of real sounds with ‘noises’ fed off by the tinnitus. So the perpetual silence is constantly blighted by those unpleasant ‘noises’.
So, you can imagine my utter joy upon the revelation that the four months of tinnitus hell was about to end when I finally put in my hearing aid, and I let out a long breath of relief.
After almost half a day of indulging myself in music, I stopped to take a break and sat down again. I smiled as I read my mother’s letter that came with the parcel because of her wise, motherly advice: “Now, look after it, son!”
And no doubt I intend to.
By Daniel McManus.