Monday, March 7, 2011

Backtrack

It’s funny that I wrote about destabilizing moments in my last post, because I had one – albeit of a very different sort – this past weekend. Like a total dunce, I forgot to recharge my ensemble of CI batteries on Friday night, and so woke up on Saturday to find that I had a quarter of the juice in each battery, but that was all. Thinking that I’d remember to swap out in the middle of the day before my BTE died completely, I set out.

Of course, lunch came and went without this resolution even crossing my mind, and in the early afternoon the thrum of noise shut off. I had just gotten on a horse five minutes earlier, and the sudden silence was startling. No more birds, no more gravel crunching underfoot, no more wind. Just a deadening hush. My first reaction, I now laugh to say, was of panic. How could I deal with this silence? For a whole ride? And then for the time period afterward until I could get back to my room to switch batteries, a good forty-five minutes in which I would have to walk around and function and – banish the thought – talk to people? I wanted my sound back!

I’ll be honest, I thought about dismounting right there and running for the woods. It was something of an irrational impulse, but then another voice spoke up in my mind. You did this for twenty years, it said. You rode for twenty years, you lived for twenty years, just like this. It was fine then, and it’ll be fine now. Oh, yeah. Who was I, of all people, to doubt my ability to function without sound? Had I changed that much?

Still, as I entered the arena and proceeded with my ride, I felt less confident than usual. I spent more time looking into the faces of the riders I passed, glancing over my shoulder to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. I worried that someone would yell after me, or that something unexpected would happen nearby, and I would not hear. I even felt disconnected from what I was doing because of how I floated along in silence, muffled noise from my hearing aid notwithstanding. In short, my sound-acclimatized brain was embracing some of the fears that lay hearing people have about deafness.

When I dismounted, I passed some people in the barn and found that I suddenly did not want to talk to them. It struck me how hard it was to understand based only on lipreading and this indistinct-hearing-aid muddle. I finished up quickly, and went to meet a friend before walking back to my room together. Talking with him, my head reeled. I had to squint my eyes and focus; no sound cues were there to help me out. When I spoke, my tongue seemed to slide around in my mouth. I suddenly did not have any auditory feedback to track how I was articulating my words, and the edges of my pronunciation seemed to soften and turn to mush. I do not know how to describe this sensation: I literally could not find my verbal footing. Without my CI, my confidence, my situational awareness, my conversational skills, even the way I talked all seemed to crumble. In my mind, I could imagine what the world ought to have sounded like, but without direct auditory stimulation those imaginings became irrelevant. During those two or so hours before I replaced the battery and everything was fine again, I felt swept out to sea.

I won’t expand on this experience any farther. It’s something I’ll have to reflect on. All I have to say is: wow. My brain certainly has rewired itself, and I am stronger for it. In ways I almost have not realized.

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