Life’s curving path affords chance to learn

Day by Day:
Life’s curving path affords chance to learn

June 5, 2017

By Liz Thompson
This Week News

In 1969, I graduated from high school, like so many students did last month.

My granddaughter was one such graduate; she was home-schooled. That decision came about mostly because her father was in the military and moving was inevitable. The admiration I have for my daughter — my granddaughter’s teacher — runs deep.

All my grandchildren are musical and have their own band, with friends included. My granddaughter plans to study music and become a teacher. She already has young piano students.

Academic and music scholarships found her because of her hard work and God-given talent.

Choices were different for young women when I graduated. Typically, but not exclusively, if a girl went to college, she would choose nursing, teaching, social work or secretarial studies — all important professions.

Memories of my graduation day are few, but I recall feeling undeserving of the honor.

I was in a different place, by the time I was a senior, from where my granddaughter is today. My grade-point average was embarrassingly low — in part, I’m certain now, due to the hearing loss that kept me struggling to know what was going on.

Had it not been for music and drama, I likely would have failed.

The love of music was in my heart with every note I sang. Even with my hearing loss, I was active in church and school choirs and musicals. I went to the only state college that accepted me and chose music as my major — because people assumed that’s what I would study.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

My second year, I switched to special education, with music as my minor.

But I never graduated from college. Out of necessity, I worked as a secretary at many levels of responsibility until my hearing loss prevented me from fully doing the job.

I became an unwitting advocate for myself and others. Thanks to a newspaper editor who believed in me, I became a deaf reporter.

A cochlear implant in 2002 made me a hearing person again. Words are clear, though the complexities of music are lost. Along the way, I learned tenacity, sign language, a healthful stubbornness, computer and writing skills and patience — for myself and others.

At 51, the Ohio University Experiential Learning Program allowed me to equate my life experience to more than 50 college credits, making me a college senior.

My last job as a teacher’s assistant for children with disabilities was a favorite because when you teach, you learn.

I learned that children with Down syndrome love to hug, and I had to brace myself and move them off to the side to be appropriate. These children show unconditional love — something they can teach all of us.

One child couldn’t speak, so I was her sign-language teacher. We hugged more than one palm tree (we were in Arizona) using her tactile skills.

Another child had muscular dystrophy. When it came time for a fire drill, I’d say to him, “Let’s hobble out to the field together!” My multiple sclerosis was beginning to slow me down enough to appreciate his struggles.

One boy had hearing loss but wanted to ignore it, or at least not talk about it. I’ve met adults with the same attitude.

My plans to be a music teacher failed, but I will cheer my granddaughter on as she pursues the same goal with a stronger foundation and more talent than I had. My grandchildren will carry on the music that I lost.

The best-laid plans often fail. Looking back, I see unexpected twists and turns in my path through life and obstacles I’ve overcome, with God’s help.

I didn’t finish college, but I never stopped learning. I’m still at it.

Day by day, figuring out how to build a bridge over obstacles to get to our goal and greeting the changes with open arms is worth the effort.

Hugging palm trees is optional.

 

 

Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories

Day by Day

Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories

By LIZ THOMPSON

November 14, 2016
This Week News

Every day I’m reminded there are miracles.

When I put my cochlear implant voice processors on my ears, sounds of life flood my brain — voices or music on the radio, water running, the coffee pot dripping and my husband talking to me or our dog — and I smile.

All these sounds were happening, even when I couldn’t hear them. They went on much like people’s lives, even though I don’t know them.

One important fact I learned as a reporter years ago is that everyone has a story with many chapters. The stories range the full spectrum, from celebration to sorrow.

Before my first implant, in 2002, I was a deaf reporter relying on several things: one ear that had some hearing with a hearing aid, my ability to lip-read, pen and paper, computers and people’s patience.

I let people know I wanted to hear their story and they all complied, doing whatever was necessary to get the story right.

My favorite interviews were when friends and family gathered to remember a loved one. I looked at photos, old newspaper clippings, scrapbooks and more. I heard and saw laughter and tears while writing a story of a legacy worth remembering. Legacies born of hard work, loving their families and respecting life.

Once I had my first implant and the ability to understand speech made conversations possible, I treasured interviewing others even more. The strain was gone for both parties, and I developed a deeper interviewing style that was a joy for me.

The local politicians might not have liked that I could understand, but I did. News also ran the full spectrum, and 15 years ago, I reported the facts — both sides, unbiased and without commentary.

Especially since my second implant in the other ear, I love engaging in conversations with others. When I ask, “How are you?” I really want to know and wait for an answer.

Last month, we were camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. One day, we stopped at a picnic grounds by a creek for a snack. A woman was reading a book, and I asked what she was reading.

“A book by Lisa Wingate,” she said. “I love her writing!”

“I’ve read all her books and am one of her early readers,” I replied.

She saw my cane, I think, and came over to our table. We chatted for a bit and she sat down. She was Junella from Indiana, named for relatives June and Ella. I told her Ella is the name of the protagonist in my fiction book I’d recently finished, and she smiled.

I felt I’d known her for more than the moments we talked about books and life in general. All too soon, we had to be on our way. I left her my card and told her I’d love it if she emailed me.

This conversation would have been impossible prior to 2002, unless she knew sign language, and I was never proficient in that.

Throughout our camping trip, we had various conversations with people from all over the U.S. We talked weather — it was much warmer than usual and very dry — and about our dogs, campers, music, children and grandchildren, trips we’d taken and even politics, which was a hot topic this year.

It thrills me to be able to catch every nuance of the conversation and hear the different accents and still understand the words.

Most of us know the tradition of Thanksgiving began as a way to show gratitude for the harvest. In an era of at least presumed plenty, we need to think of those who don’t have enough to survive well. There are many ways to help — food pantries and missions, to name a couple.

But the need might be on your street or nearby.

The list of what I am thankful for is too long to write here, but hearing and understanding again tops the rest. Each new day, I’m reminded of this blessing. I don’t take it lightly.

If you tell me your story, I will listen. Count on it.

When I start asking people questions, my husband teases me that I’m in my reporter mode. But the truth is, I’m interested and intrigued by other people’s experiences. I may not write one of your stories, but I’ll count it a blessing that I understand your words.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by day column for ThisWeek News. Reach her at lizt911@gmail.com.

 

Sounds of spring often go unheard

Day by day

Sounds of spring often go unheard

LIZ THOMPSON
May 3, 2016

This Week Newspapers

Spring is in full swing and along with it comes birdsong, children’s laughter, wind chimes gently clanging in the breeze, rain splattering on the roof and windows, thunderstorms and — on the warm days — quiet conversations on decks, porches, patios and in campgrounds and parks.

All this delicious activity we wait for all winter long. But for about 20 percent of Americans — 48 million people — with some degree of hearing loss, these springtime gifts are diminished.

These millions can see the birds, but can’t hear the songs.

They see the children laughing.

These millions can see the wind chimes moving in the wind, but the melodious sounds elude them.

The lightning of a storm is present for these many, but the thunder might only be felt, not heard.

They see the rain hitting the windowpanes, but no pitter-patter sound meets their ears.

But most disheartening of all is the inability to carry on a conversation. Words are muddled or lost, and the meaning of a conversation is beyond their comprehension.

They sit feeling the warmth of the sun and watch the words being spoken; the jokes they won’t get or be able to repeat.

These same people use what they can to make sense of the noisy world we live in through touch, vision, taste and smell.

Many simply withdraw. It’s tiring trying to understand.

Even the best lip reader will grasp only a small percentage of a conversation.

I’m one of the millions with hearing loss.

At 39, I got my long-overdue first hearing aid and heard bacon sizzling for the first time in years. I was terrified during a spring storm. But my loving husband took me outside and explained the noises that had been lost for so many years, and my fear subsided.

The world of sound was partially back, but not for long. By 50, I was deaf, but with the miracle of a cochlear implant, hearing was restored with a clarity I might never have had in my entire life with hearing loss.

I had said, “Huh?” so often in my life that I had to unlearn using it.

But I’m still deaf when the batteries die.

For those who understood words prior to hearing loss and can no longer understand the world around them, it’s lonely. The noise of this world is creating more people who have hearing loss every day.

Causes include excessive noise, medications, heredity, viruses, disease, ear malformations, tumors, head trauma and aging.

Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented. The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels.

Some common sounds and their noise levels are: 20 dB, rustling leaves; 60 dB, normal conversations or dishwashers; 60-70 dB, normal piano practice; 80 dB, alarm clocks; 90 dB, hair dryers, blenders and lawnmowers; 100 dB, MP3 players at full volume; 110 dB, concerts (any music genre), car racing and sporting events; 130 dB, ambulances and fire-engine sirens; 140 dB, gunshots, fireworks and custom car stereos at full volume.

It is worth the time to find ear protection. Even musicians who mostly make beautiful sounds can use special ear protection to keep performing and enjoying music for years to come.

The noise is too loud when: you have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby; the noise hurts your ears; you develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears; or you don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.

Excessive exposure to loud noise also can cause stress, illness, sleep disruption and high blood pressure.

At age 65, one in three people has some hearing loss.

About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf. It is estimated that 30 schoolchildren per 1,000 have hearing loss.

Childhood noise risks include noisy toys, sporting events, band class, motorbikes, farm equipment, movie theaters, shop class, arcades, concerts, firearms, fireworks, power tools and MP3 players.

If you suspect you or your child has hearing loss, see an ear, nose and throat doctor or your primary-care physician to rule out any medical condition.

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. It’s a good time to remember the value of our hearing and ability to communicate.

Life’s too short to miss the music of laughter. It’s nice to understand why others are laughing, too.

For more information, visit hearingloss.org.

At age 65, one in three people has some hearing loss. About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf.

 

I am only one…

“I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” Edward Everett Hale, American Clergyman and writer 1822-1909

This quote was in a memorial service program of a woman I grew up around the corner from in Westerville in the 50s and 60s.

I read about a woman who was employed in her adult life as a housekeeper in the White House. Each day she cleaned the Oval Office, she knelt and prayed for the president.

A small thing? Time wise, yes, but powerful .

One person, one prayer, something each of us can do. Maybe not in school any longer, but silent prayers are heard as well.

We all need kindness. Often the simplest act can make our day and these are typically done by one person. Someone opens the door for us, and smiles. A neighbor leans over the fence with a bag of red tomatoes (and probably zucchini!) from their garden. Somebody walking down the street replaces windblown garbage can lids. A friend calls to say hello. We receive a letter from our grandchild.

It doesn’t take much to make a person’s day a little brighter.

I always believed God let me become deaf for a reason. He allowed my two cochlear implants to restore my ability to hear clearly for that same reason: To enable me to listen and show His love one person at a time.

Reading the quote above, I know I can’t do everything – and don’t really want to – but it’s not all about me. No matter how small, or seemingly insignificant, I believe God is the orchestrator and someday it will all make sense.

Meanwhile, during these turbulent times in our country, each of us can do something. One day we will learn how the dots are connected and see the whole picture.

Hearing loss symptoms should prompt call to doctor

Day by day
Hearing loss symptoms should prompt call to doctor
By Liz Thompson
April 29, 2015
This Week News

As a youth, I loved swimming underwater. Watching the air bubbles rise to the surface caused my head to lift and see blue sky. Underwater I didn’t worry about hearing and I felt normal. Underwater everyone heard like I did.

Needing air, soon I’d burst through the water’s rim gasping. Then I’d hear it: noise. Laughing, slapping of water, yelling and the lifeguard’s whistle. I’d dive back under for peace.

By 50, I was almost deaf, wearing hearing aids, reading lips and body language. The miracle of a cochlear implant restored more than 90 percent of my hearing with clarity I’d never experienced. A few years later, a second implant gave me “surround sound.” I am permanently above water, living in a world of clear sounds, not mere noise.

Hearing loss is invisible. No tests existed in 1951, my birth year, to check babies’ hearing. Today a problem can be found within days of a child’s birth, giving way to treatment or therapy.

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association teaches that signs of hearing loss in a child include: lack of attention to sounds (birth to 1 year); not responding when calling his/her name (7 months to 1 year); not following simple directions (1-2 years); delays in speech and language development (birth to 3 years); pulls or scratches at his/her ears; once in school, has difficulty achieving academically; socially isolated and unhappy in school; and persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise.

I encourage those who suspect hearing loss in their children to seek an accredited audiologist and ear, nose and throat physician to have your child examined.

Likewise, I urge adults who suspect hearing loss to be tested. It’s easy to ignore signs stating hearing aids are expensive — and they are — or they won’t work for them. I lived with both thoughts until I finally got a hearing aid at age 39, knowing since 29 I needed one.

I have learned the average person waits seven years to get a hearing aid after being told it would help. Do the math: I waited 10 years. Stubborn.

Signs of hearing loss in adults include: inattentiveness; buzzing or ringing in their ears; failure to respond to spoken words; persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise; muffled hearing; constant frustration understanding speech and other sounds; avoiding conversation; social isolation; accusing everyone of mumbling; and depression.

Heather Pliskin, director of speech services at the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center, said that communication skills are directly related to academic success.

“Speaking, listening, reading and writing are the foundational skills for school and for life. Early intervention is the key. The earlier a child receives speech-language therapy, the faster the progress can be made,” Pliskin said.

Red flags for possible communication delays include: age 1, not saying a few words or pointing to pictures and objects; and age 2, not using simple two-word combinations and not being understood 70 percent of the time.

Preschool/early elementary school: age 2-3, not following one- to two-step directions; age 3, not using correct common pronouns and not being understood 80 percent of the time, 90 percent by age 5.
“When a child is young — especially before age 3 — it is especially important to involve the parents and/or caregivers in the process,” Pliskin said.

Audrey Tobias agreed.

“Speech therapy has improved the lives of every member of our family. When our son started receiving therapy at 2.5 years old, he had a vocabulary of zero spoken words. He couldn’t even say ‘no.’ We were scared to leave him in the care of anyone else because there was no way for him to tell us if anything went wrong.

“Now, two years later, he is a funny chatterbox! He cracks jokes all the time and loves to make complicated, exciting plans. We know what is going on in his life and what he’s thinking. For the first time, we feel like we really know who our son is as a person. It’s been an amazing transformation. We are extremely grateful for the skilled help he continues to receive.”

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. Columbus Speech and Hearing Center is giving away two hearing aids to the essay winner who is most in need to understand the world around them. Go to columbusspeech.org and click the Hearing What Matters link before May 11 to learn how to enter.

The music of this world is up for grabs.

Come out from under the water and listen, and tell me all about it.

For more information, go to asha.org, dangerousdecibels.org, apraxia-kids.org or playingwithwords365.com.

Music unlocks many emotions

Day by day
Music unlocks many emotions
By LIZ THOMPSON
ThisWeekNews.com
Tuesday October 7, 2014

When I was invited to a hymn sing at an assisted living home, I asked, “What hymns are you singing?” and was thrilled with the answer.

The list included what I call old, familiar songs such as Amazing Grace, When We All Get to Heaven, Love Lifted Me and a childhood favorite, This Little Light of Mine.

I was also glad I would be sitting with the residents and not leading the singing. My singing voice went south in my mid-40s when I was almost deaf, a condition that happened gradually since childhood.

Music and singing was my fervent hobby, and I often led singing at such places while playing my guitar. I had missed it and realized this particular day that, in part, I had been missing the contact with people who love visitors and music.

After two successful cochlear implants, I had hoped for restoration of my ability to grasp music, but it didn’t quite happen as I hoped.

I can understand most vocalists’ words — if they actually enunciate and sing, not what appears to be screaming into a microphone — but new music melodies are like a foreign language and quite flat.

Am I sad about that? At first I was, but my restored ability to understand speech and sounds with clarity superseded any sadness. Going from deaf to understanding about 95 percent is nothing to sniff at and I’m thankful beyond measure.

Back to music.

To my joy, 40-plus years of music are stored in my brain, and heart I believe, as music memory. If I see the words and get the first note of a song, or have the music to read, I get it and can sing.

My voice is no longer one for performing but I don’t mind singing at home or in groups. When my grandchildren were small, nothing stopped me from singing to them as I know I was sung to by my mother and grandmothers.

I can still hear the beat so my foot taps, hands clap and my soul is soothed.

Remember the show Name That Tune? Often I knew the tunes in two to five notes. So you can understand my music memory is full of good songs such as hymns, music from the 1930s (thanks to my parents) through the early 1990s that includes folk songs, show tunes, camp songs, pop, big band, songs I composed and more.
It’s a true blessing and I’m glad my brain has a lot of good information stored for easy access when needed. I don’t even need to select an app to get at it. I only need to think of a song or hear a familiar tune.

After my recent column on memory, a reader, Dana, told me about a movie that was, at the time, showing at the Drexel Theatre called, Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory .

To my chagrin, I didn’t move fast enough to attend and it has moved on to another city. Looking on the website, musicandmemory.org, I learned that music has proven to reach people with Alzheimer’s.

Not a surprise. Many memories are locked inside all of us and we need something to turn the key. In the case of music, it often unlocks memories and emotions for me.

When at the hymn sing, a woman in her 90s held up her forefinger and waved it back and forth when we sang This Little Light of Mine. I joined her in the motion and smiled remembering doing that as a child and when I taught my children the song.

Music can bring tears to my eyes from the message or a melancholy memory often marking the passing of time in my life.

After my first implant, my audiologist told me about HOPE Notes. According to the program’s website, http://hope.cochlearamericas.com/listening-tools, it is a “program uniquely developed for cochlear implant and hearing aid users designed to help improve music perception and appreciation using original songs, traditional folk, blues and country styles and some familiar tunes played in unexpected ways.”

Using both visual and auditory cues, it reminded me of how I heard music, and it improved my ability to enjoy it more.

The man who developed the program is a musician with cochlear implants. So often, adversity brings a gift and he shared his gift with others in a similar situation.

Next time you sway to a familiar tune, “count your blessings, name them one by one …”

Seek treatment if you suspect hearing loss

Day by day

Seek treatment if you suspect hearing loss

By LIZ THOMPSON
Wednesday May 14, 2014
ThisWeeksNews

“The incessant bird chirping became bothersome.”

Actually, bird songs make me smile. So why would I write they are bothersome?

That first sentence was part of an Arizona State University research study of new sentences for the Standardized Hearing Test. I was a test subject and got 100 percent because I have two successful cochlear implants that allow me to perceive sounds. My favorite sentence was: “Her smile was as smooth as creamed corn.”

I implore you to read these two sentences to someone you suspect has hearing loss. If they don’t understand, their hearing may need help. Hearing loss isn’t only about not hearing sounds, it’s more about misunderstanding words. Communication becomes stilted, often causing people to withdraw.

The 48 million people who report some degree of hearing loss likely agree.
When visiting 98-year-old Ruth Sawyer Jividen, I was writing everything on a pad of paper because she could not hear well. She tried to get her hearing aid out of her ear canal and, finally, it released. I saw a tiny hearing aid that would be difficult for anyone to remove.

We laughed when we realized there was no battery in the aid. I told her I would have to write about this in May, during Better Speech and Hearing Month.

Sadly, Ruth won’t read this because she died in April. Even though her hearing aids were a nuisance for her at times, she wanted to communicate in any way possible.

I have always been an advocate for effective communication. Over the years, I have incorporated the use of speech, speech reading (or lip reading), sign language and writing. No matter the age or amount of hearing loss, I believe in having choices and using whatever works.

Years before I was totally deaf, sign language became my second language. Writing and reading lips and body language were all ways I connected with others.

Sometimes the best tool was letting others know what I needed. Often it was as simple as moving to a quieter spot. It was important to me to let others know I really wanted to know what they were telling me.
Reena Kothari of Hilliard is a doctor of audiology (Au.D.) who has experience in early hearing screening for newborns and infants. She agrees that using whatever you need to communicate is important.

“Hearing loss affects the life cycle/span and is so vital for communication,” Kothari said. “Humans are pre-wired to communicate.”

She added that one in three babies is born with permanent congenital hearing loss, making it the most common condition existing at birth. She said it is the most common condition in adults after heart disease and arthritis.

Kothari said Ohio has a law that babies must be screened before leaving the hospital. The screening identifies babies at risk for hearing loss. They refer those parents to an audiologist, who can do further testing, diagnose hearing loss and suggest available communication options for the child and family.

Hearing loss can occur at any time in a person’s life. It can be genetic or induced by noise, medication, disease (such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure), side effects, illness or allergies. It can be permanent, fluctuating or progressive, Reena said.

If you suspect hearing loss, it’s important to see a licensed audiologist for diagnostic testing; that person can provide options along with counseling and support and refer you to a physician, if needed.

Hearing aids are improving continually, as is cochlear implant technology. I encourage people to seek hearing aids that are easy to handle. If people see them, they will grasp your needs better.

Hearing loss is invisible, which adds to the dilemma. When I wore hearing aids, often people couldn’t understand my lack of comprehension. Understanding is a two-way street. For a person with hearing loss, word discrimination is difficult. The icing on the cake is when the other (hearing) person displays patience and understanding.

The sign for communicate is forming a letter C with both hands and moving them back and forth at chest level. Two-way street.
Whether you have a newborn, are 98 years old or fall somewhere in between, recognizing hearing loss is the first step to improved communication and staying involved with the world around you.

The spring 2014 edition of Hearing Health Magazine, at hearinghealthmag.com, talks about how to buy, choose and use hearing aids and get the most out of them. This publication is free and full of good information.

Check it out, as well as your hearing. Speak up for your needs and listen to the birds sing.