Friday, May 05, 2006

The case of the defective brain.

All my life I've had problems with my hearing. It began with a series of neverending ear infections and colds that swelled my tonsils and adenoids to amazingly large proportions when I was a baby and toddler. I started going deaf from the pressure of my adenoids on my eustachian tubes, and I couldn't breathe through my nose starting at about age 3. My mom told me that she came into the room one time when I was watching Mister Rogers with the volume at maximum level and I was sitting 2 feet away from the TV so I could read Mister Rogers' lips. My parents didn't have any health insurance when I was a kid and certainly couldn't afford to pay for a major surgery, so they saved money for a while until they realized I just couldn't wait any longer, and borrowed money from my grandparents so I could have my tonsils and adenoids removed and tubes put in to drain all the fluid that had built up. I had all that done when I was five, recovered just fine, and the tubes fell out within a year.

I had another series of ear infections when I was about 12 and swimming all day long in the summer, and again in high school. At one point I had an inner ear and a middle ear infection in the same ear! During one summer fluid built up behind one of my eardrums until it burst. Let me tell you, that was about the most painful thing I've ever experienced in my life, worse than any of the migraines or throwing-up menstrual crampsI've had. It drained for days and my eardrums to this day are pretty scarred up.

Because of all the ear issues I've spent most of my life reading lips to help me understand what people are saying - particularly men who are softspoken (I have a harder time with lower, quieter tones). I was teased mercilessly in elementary school by kids because I'd say "What?" all the time when I couldn't understand what they were saying in the crowded lunchroom. "Are you deaf?" they'd ask, and I'd say "No!" but I thought I probably kind of was. I learned to kind of put together the words I *did* hear with the sounds I *thought* I heard and figure out what people were saying from context and lip movements and stopped asking people to repeat themselves, because it was just soooo embarassing.

I had a teacher in 6th grade who had a beard and spoke in a quiet monotone in a tone I just couldn't hear very well so I missed out on a lot of what he said (from what I understand, I didn't miss much. He was a bore.). In lecture halls in college I'd always sit near the front so I could hear the professor without the distractions of the other students crumpling chip wrappers and shuffling their feet.

My college boyfriend had braces (and before that, really crooked teeth that he was embarassed by and so would cover his mouth when he spoke out of habit), and a really low-toned, quiet voice. I had to train him to face me when he was speaking and spent a good six months pulling his hand away from his mouth when he was talking so I could understand him in restaurants and on buses. One of the things I like so much about Hulk is that he has a distinctive, enunciated, loud-ish voice that I can always hear or understand. In our early long-distance relationship I kind of fell for his voice before any other part of him - because I could hear it!

For the last two years I tried to get my work to have my cube furniture (built-in, or I would have done it myself) rearranged so my back doesn't face the door. I've always startled easily, because people can sneak up on me (If I'm concentrating on something, or if the copier or fax machine or printer are making noise, footsteps get masked). It took nearly 2 years but they finally did it a couple of months ago, and I love it. Part of that process was having my hearing tested to PROVE that I needed it done. I had the hearing test a year and a half ago only to find out that my hearing is normal.

NORMAL? What? How the hell is that possible? It didn't make any sense, so I approached the audiology consultant here at work (how fortunate that I work with an audiologist, huh?) She listened to my story and gave me some information about auditory processing disorders, and I read up on them on the internets. She tested me a couple of weeks later and wrote an "official" report I could use as part of my case to get the cube rearranged. And lo and behold, in reading about it online and comparing it to my experiences growing up, and in the results of the testing, I DO have an auditory processing disorder.

What does this mean? It means that probably back when I was all going deaf from my Incredible Growing Lymph System, I missed out on a key window in brain development, and so I never made some of the pathways that should have been there. My brain is defective! It's incapable of picking out what sounds are important (attending to sounds, I think is the formal terminology) when there are a lot of sounds. So when I'm on a bus or train, in a restaurant or crowded room, where there are a lot of background noises, I have a really hard time differentiating those sounds from the important sounds (person talking, for instance). Many people consider me a good listener, and I think it's because I have to really make an effort to understand what people are saying, so I pay a lot of attention to people's faces when they talk. In reading the literature, I found that all the suggestions for accomodating kids with auditory processing disorders in classrooms I've just been doing on my own since I was 5 years old.

To sum up? I have a defective brain. And if I can I'll always watch your face when you talk because otherwise I'll never understand you. Unless you're the Hulk, because I can hear your voice better than anyone else's.

1 comment:

Yank In Texas said...

That is way interesting, though I knew that already. It makes sense though. Even I find myself not being able to hear things when there's lots of other noise around. My parents used to call it selective hearing but now I don't know. I didn't have all the issues you had but I still don't always hear things correctly.
Hearing is such a funky thing.
I'm so glad you got everything figured out though and go figure that your hearing is NORMAL. your brain just isn't, but then again we all knew that anyway. ;p