Hearing Loss and Highway To Hell

We are sitting outside enjoying a late dinner, far removed from the central square in Bruges, Belgium, where the town’s Independence Day celebration has already begun. The setting is beautiful and timeless, but the band at the party is belting out music at an alarming decibel level. We can hear the noise, but can’t tell what song it is, until something clicks in my brain. It is Highway to Hell by AC/DC. As soon as I mentioned this to my husband, he could hear it too. His brain began filling in the blanks that his ears alone could not process.

We found it funny that I (the one with the hearing loss) would be the one to figure out the song, but then we thought about it. I am used to finding patterns in sounds and making sense out of noise. That is what I do everyday as I work to hear.

Why this particular song was played at an Independence Day celebration in Belgium remains a mystery.

This experience reminded me of something that happened a number of years ago with the child of a family friend. She had lost her two front baby teeth prematurely, and the new ones had not grown in yet, so her speech was garbled and difficult to understand, even by her parents. But I didn’t really have an issue. I am used to things sounding patchy, so it was all the same to me. I could often translate what she was saying for the others in the room. She loved that I could understand her.

Her parents asked me how I was able to understand her so well and I was not sure. Was it the vibration pattern than I recognized? The cadence of the speech? Was I reading her body language or maybe her lips? Likely, it was a little bit of all of the above. These are the skills that those of us with hearing loss use everyday to decode the sounds around us. It can certainly come in handy when one of my children is “secretly” mouthing something to the other so I cannot hear. Sorry kids, I lipread!

One place this doesn’t work for me is with accented speech, which I find very hard to understand. It must be the difference in the facial and lip movements.

So much communication information resides outside the actual spoken words. Thank goodness for that or I would never hear a thing!

Readers, do you have a knack for identifying sound patterns in noise?

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12 thoughts on “Hearing Loss and Highway To Hell

  1. Ah Shari – you did it again! Yes! And if you didn’t hear that – I said YES! All day every day I am looking for clues and nuance of speech. But even more profound for me, at least, is the focus of the process. I have, since the beginning of my hearing loss, blamed the speaker for most of my problem. My favorite judgement has always been, “If everyone spoke like Walter Cronkite there wouldn’t be a problem.”

    Well, they don’t and the problem remains. It is profoundly true that children are not taught elocution anymore. I, along with all children in my generation (perhaps the last one) were taught that there was a way to say a word or phrase your thoughts and all other options were wrong and unintelligible. Mumbling was anathema.

    For better or worse, the problem belongs mostly to us who are impaired. Walter Cronkite is history. We must train ourselves to listen for every aural, physical and contextual clue as to what the speaker is saying. And it wears me out!

    The exercises I do to enhance my CI experience bring this home every day. I thought these exercises would be like a computer game – fun. It is not. It’s work. Conversation is work. TV is work. Walking into a store is work. The telephone is practically impossible. Being around people in any situation is hard work. My hope is that all this work will make me a better listener. It’s just that sometimes I feel like I’ve woken up to a stormy morning in a foreign land and going back to bed is not an option! Here we go….!

  2. With music I have found it remarkable how “remembered hearing” is. I don’t often put the radio on in the car anymore as it is too frustrating, but if I am in someone else’s car and a song comes on from my past, after about thirty seconds I can often pick out a familiar beat or riff from back when I could still hear pretty well, and then the rest will fall into place – my brain remembers and fills in the blanks.
    Whether I am still able to sing along in tune with it is of course another issue….

    However, it is pretty much impossible to understand what is going on with newer, unfamiliar music that has come out since my hearing loss hit a particular threshold.

    As an aside, I have found NPR (National Public Radio) to be a lot easier to understand what people are saying vs. other stations. I don’t know if it is the quality of the FM transmission or what, but the sound is a lot richer and clearer, much easier to piece together what is going on.

  3. This is very recognisable! Once I was in a pub with my good hearing husband and the music was so loud I put off my hearing aids. Yet I was able to maintain a conversation with an accompanying friend of ours through lipreading, whereas my husband wasn’t able to join because he couldn’t hear a thing of what we said.

  4. I am not the one who has hearing impaired. I just want to share something about my Uncle who has a hearing loss. He is the elder brother of my father. according to my father, it’started when my uncle was 41 years old. He is always admire music by that time before. Every time that he played music, it’s always very loud volume using earphone. . He did not listen all advise that he haired about what he his doing. Until one day, he realize that there is something that is not normal about his ears. He cannot understand immediately what he haired.
    He go to the doctor and he did not follow all the instructions that the doctor’s said to prevent of his hearing problem. According to him, there is no treatment of his hearing loss. He will accept it because it is the caused of what he did before. Until now, he’s still suffering of it. He is already 67 years old now. There are times when we’re together, I could hardly communicate with him and sometimes I should repeat my words 2 to 3 times before he can hear it. We as his family already understand his situation. We all know that there’s no treatment for hearing loss, that’s why we want him to used a hearing aid.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It would be great if your uncle could see a doctor or audiologist to get his hearing checked. They could also show him hearing aids and other technologies that might help him hear better.

  5. LOL I’ve noticed this happen too! I’ll be in someone’s car and the radio will be on, but it will be set at a quiet-ish volume where I can’t make sense of it. Then I’ll recognize one single thing in the song and suddenly it’s like magic *poof* the rest of the song appears! I do remember when I was younger and didn’t know about my hearing loss, I used to wonder why everyone (except my family; they generally had it loud enough) listened to everything so quietly… 😛

  6. I too lip read but I can’t pick. up when someone has an accent.
    I can hear music generally if volume is adequate but I can’t pick up lyrics at all

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