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Turning a deaf ear

PUBLISHED: 13:47 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 11:57 28 February 2013

Turning a deaf ear

Turning a deaf ear

A day in the world of the hard of hearing leaves Patrick Lowman feeling isolated, vulnerable and very frustrated

A day in the world of the hard of hearing leaves Patrick Lowman feeling isolated, vulnerable and very frustrated

I have often been asked which one of my senses I fear losing the most. My reply has always been instant, my sight. For me, up until now, the question has been a simple one to answer as my worst fear is being left blind or partially sighted. However, from now on my reply to the question will be considerably more measured.
Why the change of heart you may ask. Well, it is all down to a recent, almost life changing, experience. I agreed to take part in an experiment which involved me becoming deaf for the day - well for a couple of hours at least - to experience what life is like for the hard of hearing.
No problem, being deaf for a couple hours; nothing to it. How wrong I was. The profound effects of losing my hearing even for such a short period of time was bewildering, devastating even.
I found that without hearing, the simplest of tasks such as crossing the road, asking directions and even keeping my balance suddenly become extremely difficult. And a visit to a busy Post Office almost sent me into a blind panic, no pun intended. My short life in the world of the deaf turned out to be one of utter isolation, anxiety and frustration, and not an experience I am keen to repeat anytime soon.
It all started at the The Hearing Company centre at Scrivens Opticians, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds, where I met hearing aid dispenser, and my soon to be guide for the day, Scott Jupp.
As I sat in the consulting room, Scott explained he was about to inject silicone wax into my ears, which would take my hearing to the level of someone with mild hearing loss. Scott explained that high frequency sounds, such as consonants are the first to be missed for someone with moderate hearing difficulties.
The consonants are the first to go meaning clarity will be lost, people will not hear the beginning and the ends of words as they become muffled. Obviously, this leads to misunderstanding, frustration and isolation, said Scott.
I am starting to feel surprisingly anxious as Scott injects the silicone into my ears, and almost immediately I feel shut off from the world. I cant hear a sound and I don't like it. After a five minute settling period some distant sound returns, but the words are muffled and I found myself physically straining to hear what Scott is saying to me.
I am led out on to Abbeygate Street on a busy Thursday afternoon and the first thing I notice is everything around me seems so fast, I can hear little, but every movement around me feels exaggerated. I feel like I am the lead role in a silent movie. As I start to walk towards Angel Hill, I feel disorientated, so much so Scott has to gently steady me on a few occasions whilst I adjust to life without hearing. The vibrations of every footstep pound through my body like a bass drum.
As we face Abbey Gardens, Scott kindly sets my first challenge and announces he would like me to attempt to cross the road. I edge cautiously to the kerbside of the relatively busy, but narrow road. I can clearly see the cars coming, but without sound I find it impossible to judge their speed, and I am unwilling to chance crossing. I take to watching others around me and hesitantly follow them when they start to cross. Eventually, I get across and back in one piece, but I am now completely drained of confidence.

As I start to walk towards Angel Hill, I feel disorientated, so much so Scott has to gently steady me on a few occasions whilst I adjust to life without hearing.

I return to Scott expecting some sympathy, however there is none, and he simply sets task two, asking someone for directions. I approach a kindly looking gentleman on Angel Hill and ask him the way to the market place. He responds, but I cant understand his muffled reply, so I repeat the question. This time I find myself staring intently at the mans lips as he speaks and I can just about make out that he is a stranger to Bury and has no idea, he looks relieved when I thank him and leave.
Scott hands me two pound coins as we return back up Abbeygate Street and tells me to go into Caf Nero and order a coffee. I quickly come to the front of the small queue and ask for a small caf latte, which I obviously do quite loudly as I notice several heads turn and stare at me and I suddenly feel quite exposed.
The girl behind the counter turns slightly away as she asks me for the money, so I have no idea how much I owe. So I ask her again, and while clearly trying to stay polite there is a slight look on her face which says are you stupid, which of course I am not, I am deaf.
Back with Scott I am guessing my ordeal is done, but no, he wants me to walk through the busy town centre and into the busy Post Office and ask for a passport form, which at first I mistook for parcel form, its those pesky consonants again.
In the Post Office I join a busy queue, I can hear the muffled chatter of people all around me, but I can not make out a word they are saying. I feel isolated and anxious and notice I have gripped the hand rail tightly, my visual sense seems to have gone into overdrive and I am agitated by even the smallest movement. At the counter I ask for the passport form and the desk clerk hands its over to me pointing at the document and trying to give me some instructions, which of course I do not understand. By now I feel both physically v v and mentally drained, so I simply smile politely and leave.
At last Scott removes the silicone implants from my ears as we return to the office and I hear a crescendo of noise, I dont remember my hearing ever being so sharp, so much so I almost flinch as the wheels of pushchairs come hurtling towards me at 100mph, at least thats how it seemed at the time.
With my hearing back to normal I begin to reflect on the experience I have just endured. What must life be like for those hard of hearing, how do they cope? I am not sure I could, even the simple things are so difficult. I think of how deafness would affect my own life. How would I cope not being able to hear my four-year-old daughter as her speech and vocabulary continue to develop, and not being able to talk to her teenage sibling.
As a PR consultant my occupation would become all but impossible as I wouldnt be able to communicate efficiently with clients, suppliers and members of the media. Frankly, life would be unbearable.
Scott explains that in the UK, while nine million people suffer with hearing loss, only two million of them seek help. This means there are seven million people in the UK who are probably suffering unnecessarily.
Thanks to advances in modern technology, hearing aids are more effective than ever before. With the help of the correct hearing aid almost anyone can regain good hearing levels, said Scott.
People who live with hearing problems often feel vulnerable and cut off, and their quality of life suffers. If they would just go for a hearing test they could receive the correct treatment, making their lives so much better.
Long gone are the days when a hearing aid was a vaguely flesh coloured, conspicuous-looking device sitting uncomfortably on the top of your ear. Todays aids come in all shapes and sizes, including those with changeable colours to match your clothes or skin colour, those that are waterproof and some that are so small they sit unseen inside your ear. Improved technology has made hearing aids smaller, more powerful and adaptable to suit peoples individual lifestyles. The upshot is hearing aids are no longer a cause for embarrassment and do not hinder life.
Thankfully, after undergoing a full hearing test it is established I have no need for a hearing aid; however my hearing is showing early signs of deterioration and will need regular monitoring from now on. Scott tells me it is likely I no longer hear certain bird song or the very high pitch melodies in music. This news has left me a little concerned. I have been deaf, but I am certainly not going to be dumb, and from now on I will have my ears checked every two years.

The Hearing Company offers hearing examinations, which should be taken every two years, and lifelong after care completely free of charge.
The Hearing Company has centres in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Long Melford and Newmarket. Visit


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