It happened again this morning. I explained I was hard of hearing always and deaf at night. And the person I was talking to chirped, “oh me, too!”
What in the world was that person thinking?
It is well meant I know, so today’s health topic is about how to act around someone with a different set of capabilities. A bubbly, “Me, too!” is not one of them.
Every situation has two sides. The me-too person most likely means to be friendly and reassuring. But the hard of hearing person often comes to exchanges like this with some baggage. A few examples from my own history: A coworker said, “would you move your car?” I answered, “thanks, make mine black.” Everyone thought this was hilarious. I’ve provided the world with many such goofs, and usually I laugh too. Especially the time I seemingly told a professor in front of the whole class that I was not married on Monday and Wednesday. But on bad days, these goofs are not so funny.
Or this situation: the hard of hearing person looked forward to meeting friends for dinner, but sat through the whole outing completely clueless what anyone was saying because of the restaurant noise. Even if you know your pals all love you, I can confirm that you still feel left out and pretty lonely at the moment. Worse, the hard of hearing person does catch an interesting topic in the conversation, but he’s afraid to speak because he doesn’t know if someone else already told the same story he has in mind. If he even got that bit right in the first place.
Or, there was the time she was turned down for the job with promotion and international travel, despite being the most qualified, when her employer says, “ I can’t give it to you because of your hearing.”
Or, someone was telling you something interesting but you didn’t catch it all. When you asked them to repeat themselves, they were obviously annoyed. Maybe they even said those cruelly dismissive words, “oh never mind.”
To sum up, the person explaining deafness or being hard of hearing may be sensitive at the moment. And when that happens, this is what “me too” seems to really say:
“You’re hard of hearing, I’m hard of hearing, but I don’t have any problems, so what’s yours?”
“I can’t hear either, but you see me get along better. Aren’t I amazing?”
“I doubt it’s really the big deal you think it is.”
“I secretly think deaf people are dumb and look funny, but I don’t want to make you feel bad, because you’re not dumb. I’ll just pretend we’re exactly the same!”
No one who wears glasses tells a blind person, “me too.” No one with a limp from a recent injury tells a paraplegic in a wheel chair, “me too.”
But they say it to hard of hearing people all the time.
There are plenty of good things to say after someone explains their hearing difficulties. These will be very much appreciated:
“Thanks for telling me. Now I realize why you don’t always answer me when I speak.”
“Did this happen recently or did it start when you were young?” This is not a squeamish topic. We who don’t hear well will be glad to talk about how and when, even why.
“Is it congenital or from noise?”
“How many decibels is your loss” This is a sensible question and lets you understand what the person may or may not hear well. It also signals that you know what you are talking about because hearing losses are measured in decibels, not percents.
You could even say, “Hey, when you tell people about it, do they ever say ‘me, too’?” Brace yourself for a good long conversation.
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