Thursday, 26 May 2016

Deaf Girly and the whistling

If there's one thing I know I deafinitely cannot hear, it's whistling. And I know this because FJM whistles a lot and to me, it looks like he's pouting. His tunefulness is wasted on me.

But last night for some bizarre, unknown reason, I decided to try whistling as we were clearing up the kitchen before going to bed. I couldn't hear myself, but what I could feel was the sound vibrating on my lips, so I was pretty sure I wasn't just blowing out air!

Then FJM stopped and stared at me. Turns out that even though I cannot hear myself whistling, I can whistle in tune. Amazing eh?

But how can I whistle in tune if I've never heard whistling and I don't know what it sounds like?

I think the answer lies in the fact that I played the flute for 15 years. I took up the flute about six months before I was told I had was deaf. I had been desperate to play the flute since I was about 8, but my amazing flute teacher said I couldn't learn until I was 10 because then I'd have the reach without constricting my breathing... and I already played the violin (badly – now we know why) so my rents were also keen to keep the costs to one instrument for few years longer.

I should point out that at the age of 10, I didn't realise that you were meant to hear every sound that came out of musical instruments. I thought that was part of the challenge. Just like I thought you had to make up your own lyrics to Kylie songs, which might explain the first I got in the poetry module of my degree 11 years later.

From the moment I took up the flute, I loved it. I thought music written for the flute was amazing. Saint-Saens, John Rutter, Reinecke... the list was endless. All pretty and lilting, or telling a story. But I also loved the Bach technical studies. Hell, I even didn't mind scales (that much).

As my hearing took a dip – in the summer after my GCSEs – I noticed that there was a large range of my flute I could no longer hear, which was challenging as I was getting good at that point and many of the pieces had technically difficult high sections, not to mention the three-octave scales required to pass Grade 8.

I did pass my Grade 8 – but it was a pass, which was gutting after the distinctions of the early years when everything was on the lower octaves – and I remember the examiner looking at me with fascination as I did the hard-of-hearing specific aural tests and then belted out a C chromatic scale for three octaves.

My flute teacher was amazing. She taught me to visualise the sound. I knew what middle C sounded like, so I should visualise C three octaves higher and adjust my diaphragm and lip shape accordingly. We played those high notes over and over and over, until my brain eventually knew – from my diaphragm, the vibration on my lips and her confirmation – that sound was coming out. Not a dodgy harmonic, but the pure sound.

Sure, when I did my recital certificate a year later, we modified some of my pieces as I was struggling to hold a high note for more than four beats – partly due to sheer insecurity that no sound was coming out and I was just blowing silently down my flute like a lemon – but for the most part, I learnt to play my flute without hearing the top one-and-a-half octaves.

When I moved to London, I found another amazing teacher and for a while, I picked up my flute again. I was deafer then. More of my flute was out of my reach. And gradually I realised that playing the notes for other people wasn't enough anymore, I missed hearing them. I missed being a flautist. I felt like a mime. And it wasn't right that I was paying £40 an hour to cry about my sadness of not hearing the flute anymore, which was what was basically happening in most of my lessons.

It's been eight years really since I last played my flute. It sits under my bed, next to the pile of treasured flute music – covered with pencil scribbles of BREATHE and pause and DIAPHRAGM. And it will probably sit there for a while longer.

But yesterday, as I whistled, in tune, I couldn't help but feel a little bit happy that deaf old me could whistle in tune, and I think I've got the flute to thank for that. The diaphragm, the imagining the sound, the lip position... it seems it's a transferable skill. Although I don't think I'll be doing my Grade 8 whistling anytime soon.

Happy Thursday peeps


PS. If I EVER get a smidgen of my hearing back, I am totally taking up the flute again. Look out world!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Deaf Girly and the doctor

One day, I am really worried that my deafness is going to kill me.

Not in the 'walking out in front of an emergency vehicle because I haven't heard the siren' kill me – although that has almost killed me on no less than four occasions – but in a 'it's so hard to access the NHS' kill me.

This morning, I went to the GP. I have been thinking about getting an appointment for the last three months, but because the only way to make one is in person – and my working hours don't allow me to do that – or over the phone, which my deafness doesn't allow me to do, I've been putting it off.

Luckily in this instance, it's nothing serious. But with a few days off work, I asked FJM to call up and make me an appointment. And today I went.

I got there and discovered that you can now register to make your appointments online. So I filled in the form and will hopefully get details on how to do this soon. I also booked another non-urgent appointment while I was there, with a nurse, which was then immediately cancelled as 'the nurse is new and not trained in that procedure yet and could I rebook in about a month' – and of course the worry is that I will put this off, too. Especially if my online booking login has not yet come through.

Before I sat down in the waiting room, I let the receptionist know I was deaf. I was very clear about it. I said 'I am deaf. I won't be able to hear my name called over the intercom so can you let the GP know this and let me know if my name is called.'

Twenty minutes later, a very harassed GP appeared and bellowed my name and said, in front of the whole waiting room, 'Why didn't you come when I called you over the intercom?'

To which I replied as loudly as she'd shouted at me, 'I am deaf. I told the receptionist.' and watched as the entire waiting room sucked air through their teeth and the GP searched for a hole in the floor to crawl into.

To her credit, she was suitably mortified and apologised straight away, and honestly, I was happy to accept her apology – I've had much worse over the years.

But it was extremely stressful – I had already spent nearly half an hour sat there worried that I'd miss my name being called anyway – to have that worry confirmed in such a publicly embarrassing way was not exactly fun.

Doctors appointments – arranging them and attending them – have an added level of stress for me. And my worry is, that I will eventually put off something that really shouldn't be put off because I don't want to get someone to call for me to make the appointment, because I'm not feeling up to sitting in the waiting room worrying that I won't hear my name being called, or because I'm not feeling strong enough to withstand the humiliation of a public dressing down for not coming when hailed through an intercom I cannot hear.

And it's not just me I'm worried about. How many other deaf people are in the same position. How many deaf people are already putting their health at risk?

Today I made myself a promise that no matter how bloody difficult sorting doctors appointments is I am never going to put it off because the embarrassment of asking someone to book your smear test for you or not hearing your name being called in a waiting room is not worth dying for.

Happy Monday peeps