The other day I was deep in thought – a tricky and sometimes disturbing place to be – when I noticed that there was, what sounded to me like, some static in my cochlear implant sound processor. Something similar had happened before and I had to have the device exchanged. It was distressing to think that was happening again. I have two processors so I exchanged them but the noise continued.

I was in the midst of writing an email to my audiologist to see if she had any suggestions when I decided to go to the kitchen for a refill of darkroast. I was pouring a cup when I noticed that the static was gone. Ah ha! I said. A clue! I walked back to the chair where I was sitting with my laptop when the static started up again.

Thinking this was some kind of electrical interference I unplugged everything within reach to no avail. The noise continued. The box in which I keep the hearing aid that the cochlear implant replaced was on the side table as well. I picked it up and the sound that I was hearing increased. Ah ha, again! I opened the box and the little device was singing like a chickadee. It was turned on. When I turned it off the noise I was hearing stopped.

I had to admit that No. 1 – I am deaf. No. 2 – the sound I do hear is either “processed” by the sound processor of the cochlear implant or it’s the amplified frequencies I can hear, which, of course, leaves out the frequencies I can’t hear that are in the complete sound profile that surrounds me all the time. So, what I hear is incomplete at best.

A person with normal hearing would have zeroed in on the source of that spurious noise in an instant. I’ve walked away from running faucets, failed to respond to my name being called and simply missed aural information everyone else was taking for granted. Which is to say, I have a physical disability that is mostly invisible to others but which compels me to be constantly on the alert to clues other than aural clues so I can proceed safely throughout my day. I feel no pain. I appear normal enough that no one ever gives me a second look. But I work hard to be aware of my environment when out and about. It’s tiring.

I am very thankful for what ability I do have to hear. But I also understand that I can not trust my hearing to be true. If I can have a successful conversation with a friend it’s a good day. If I can understand a friendly voice on my phone, it’s an excellent day. I ask for assistance and clarification when out alone and specially traveling by bus or train to Boston to have my hearing hardware adjusted.

There was a time when I was a boy when someone with my degree of hearing loss would have been sidelined, much the way my grandfather was – who was deaf so that we had to shout “Supper is ready, Grandad!”, and we smiled when he said something not knowing there was an on-going conversation at the time.