Saturday, August 18, 2012
No Sight, But Sound
Right on the heels of my last post, I had a real-world experience in which, yes, I did listen and, yes, it did make a difference. I went to my optometrist two days ago for a routine appointment to get new contact lenses. While sitting with the nurse/technician, giving information about my current medical status, I noticed that my deafness must have somehow become apparent: she suddenly became cautious about communication, started gesticulating to accompany everything she said. At this point in my life, I usually don't care too much when hearing people are painstakingly trying to make themselves understood, but it still can be amusing to watch the signs they invent for things. Some surprisingly accurate and intuitive, and others… Then I took my contacts out, and listening became more essential. I had forgotten to bring my glasses, so I was feeling rather more aware than usual of the information coming in from my ears, as well as hoping that everyone would keep within a certain distance so their faces (and gestures) wouldn't appear too blurry.
After a few elaborate machines testing different dimensions of my eyes and vision, which inevitably made me think of listening booths and how much better I am at these, I returned to my initial room to wait for the optometrist. He arrived, we talked, and then the phoropter (yes, I had to look that word up) descended on my vision. I couldn't look anywhere but straight ahead at the letter chart, the As and Qs (that sometimes looked like Os) and Ts, and I couldn't see his face as he spoke to me, so I prepared to proceed by habit and by what I knew would happen. Read what he showed me, and so on. And, while little other knowledge than that is necessary for an eye exam, I found that this time the communication was different. Before the CI, and even in my early CI days, when I couldn't see someone's face, I'd talk blindly at them, sending out my words to, well, wherever they went. The person would say something back; I'd hear an indistinct muttering from somewhere in space, but no matter; I'd guess what they might have said and carry on. This time, though, looking through the tunnel-vision lens wasn't such a bluntly isolating experience.
"Read this line for me. Okay. What about this one? Is that blurry? Tell me which one is clearer. Do you want to see them again? Now look at this for me." I caught almost every word the optometrist said during that part of the exam. His disembodied voice penetrated my consciousness with startling clarity; instead of bulling my way through the exam – R, S, T, L, N, E, yes, that looks fine, answering nonexistent questions along the way – the interaction took on the feeling of a conversation. I was taking in information through my eyes, but I was also accessing information separately through my ears. Multitasking! We were working through this together. My communication access hadn't cut off with loss of sight.
The exam ended, I regained my full range of vision, I put my contacts back in, said goodbye to the quasi-signing technician, and walked out to the car – just another day at the doctor's office. But even now, thinking of that voice reaching me like a guiding hand extended through empty space: however simple the scenario was, it makes my mind implode with a sort of wonder.