“Being deaf could make someone feel awfully alone”

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I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little vulnerable but at least my experience was temporary.

When Specsavers in Ferryquay Street contacted ‘The Derry Journal’ to enquire if a reporter would be interested in taking part in a ‘Deaf for a Day’ event I immediately put my name forward.

I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for and the only tip I was given by Specsavers was to make sure I brought a hat.

Was the heating in their shop on the blink? Was snow forecast? No. I was told to bring a hat because the way they made me deaf was by injecting a combination of bright green and yellow putty into my ears - I’d have looked utterly ridiculous without my trusty beanie hat.

I was greeted by Karen Green, Specsavers Hearing Aid Audiologist.

Karen has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the ears and no matter what question I asked she was able answer without hesitation.

“Specsavers wants to raise awareness of the importance of getting your hearing checked and we want people to know that the service is available here in Ferryquay Street.

“Looking after your hearing is extremely important and an appointment here could detect an issue with hearing early on,” she said.

Ten million people in the United Kingdom have hearing loss, according to Action Hearing Loss. Its research also reports that over 70 per cent of people over the age of 70 have hearing loss.

Action Hearing Loss also highlights the fact that 90 per cent of young people experience ringing in their ears after a night out. This is a sign of possible hearing damage.

I am embarrassed and baffled that I and others like me take their hearing for granted.

Imagine never being able to hear your favourite piece of music or enjoy a visit to the cinema. For me personally it would be something I would find extremely difficult to cope with. So, with this in mind it only makes sense that I and others would avail of every opportunity to look after our hearing and realise a visit to Specsavers does not necessarily have to be just about our sight.

Karen explained the procedure to me and talked me through some of the sensations I was likely to experience.

Less than two minutes later she had injected the putty into my ears and I could barely hear a thing.

Listening to a conversation through a wall is the best way I can describe what I could hear.

All of a sudden everything became muffled and subconsciously all of my other senses started to take control.

Each time Karen spoke I tried to concentrate as much as I could on what she was saying and after a while I was able to understand her, but just about.

I also became extremely conscious of my close surroundings and had anyone spoken to me from more than several feet away I would not have been able to hear them or make out what they were saying.

My experience was only a few minutes old and already I felt different to the people around me. I felt slightly vulnerable and isolated - it was like being in my own world.

Karen asked me to perform a simple everyday task and that was to walk with her to Java Cafe and order a cup of coffee and a scone.

Off we set.

I descended the stairs and because of my muffled hearing every step I took sounded like a bass drum at a rock concert - it was awfully strange.

I stepped out on to the street and before I started walking I made sure the path was clear and there was nothing in front of me or behind me - if you’re deaf or suffer from hearing loss a simple walk on the street becomes regimented.

Although the cafe was only a few minutes away the experience was not lost on me.

Cars went by, I couldn’t hear them. Doors closed, people walked and talked nearby, I couldn’t hear them. It was then I thought being deaf or suffering from hearing loss was not only isolating but it had the potential to make someone feel awfully alone.

There was a short queue in Java and when it was my turn to order I struggled to hear what the waitress was saying.

The cafe was loud and another waitress was busy with the coffee machine which hissed away in the background.

It was obvious to me what the waitress was saying - I’d ordered coffee more times than I cared to remember but if the experience was to be authentic I had to react the way I thought a deaf person or someone suffering from hearing loss would.

Realising I couldn’t communicate what it was I wanted I signalled, using only my hands, that I needed a pen and a piece of paper to write on.

The waitress slid the pen and notepad across the counter and I wrote ‘one espresso and one cherry scone please’.

The waitress smiled to let me know she understood and a few minutes later handed me my espresso and scone.

I didn’t have to work at all to find out how much it cost. I just read the digital display on the cash register.

The next task was to try and hold a conversation with Karen in the cafe.

We took our seats and I proceeded to ask her questions about her job and about the importance of regular hearing checks - all of the time I was utterly self-conscious and worried if I was talking loudly.

I’ll admit, because Karen, was sitting across the table from me, I was able to make out most of what she was saying but I couldn’t make out any of the other sounds around me - they were all dull thuds, it was impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Karen is passionate about her job and told me that she feels like a million dollars when a client tells her just how much the treatment they received at Specsavers has changed their life.

“There was an older gentleman who attended the store one day and his hearing had deteriorated very badly. We assessed him and got him the help and support he needed - he returned to the store a few weeks later to tell me that because of the work we had done with him he was able to hear his little grand-daughter sing for the first time - that kind of thing is just priceless,” smiled Karen.

As soon as I’d finished my espresso it was time to return to the Specsavers store to remove the putty from my ears. My trusty beanie hat was pulled on once more and I stepped out on to Ferryquay Street.

The return journey was not as daunting as I had a bit of an idea of what to expect.

I was back in the store in no time and within ten seconds my bright green putty earplugs had been removed. Karen even let me keep them as a memento. As souvenirs go they are perhaps the most bizarre I have ever taken home with me but interesting nonetheless.

As the earplugs came out, my hearing was back and all of the sounds around me were a little overwhelming but within minutes I was back to normal again.

It was an interesting experience and I tried my hardest to make it as genuine as possible. Be that as it may, one aspect that did not require any effort at all was to realise how potentially lonely and isolating being deaf or suffering from hearing loss can be. It’s vitally important that those who are deaf or suffer from hearing loss receive the help and support they need. It’s equally important that those experiencing symptoms of hearing loss get checked out immediately.

My deaf for a day experience was over and I thank Karen for her help and assistance. I descended the stairs, stepped out onto the street, could hear everything and my trusty beanie had been relegated to my jacket pocket.

For more information on Specsavers hearing aid services contact the store on 02871 371 851 or visit www,specsavers.co.uk