In a world filled with sound – of the wind, the babbling brook, and rain for instance – those who suffer from severe hearing loss can sometimes feel they are living on a desert island, cut off from the sweet sounds of birdsong, or laughter.
Masterton’s Pam Rangitaawa has been a hearing loss patient for more than 50 years. “I wasn’t born with a hearing impairment. When I was eight or nine months old, I had measles and scarlet fever – I was very, very sick.” “Back then, you had to be referred to a specialist by your doctor to get your hearing checked. “At kindy, they agreed with mum that I had a hearing loss, but the doctor wouldn’t refer me because he said my speech was too good.”
She remembered in primary school “standing with my head in a corner because I hadn’t done as I was told”. Anne Greatbatch has been Rangitaawa’s hearing therapist for around 30 years. With Hearing Awareness Week here [until next Saturday], they want people newly diagnosed with hearing loss to know there is transitional support available and the old social stigma of being “deaf and dumb” is just that, a stigma. According to Greatbatch, Rangitaawa’s ability to speak fluidly is because for the first eight months of her life she could hear fine. It is arguable whether this had been a disadvantage or advantage throughout Rangitaawa’s life. “Dyslexia could be confused with a hearing loss and there’s all sorts of other types of hearing loss which I am lucky enough not to have,” Rangitaawa said.
These days, hearing loss is no longer a mysterious problem that’s ambiguous to treat, but Greatbatch fears people still took their hearing for granted and often, by the time the problem was addressed, it was too late to do anything about it. At college, Rangitaawa was in the top class, “but I knew I was at a disadvantage because for me to learn in the classroom I had to concentrate and go home and work on what I had learned every day”. “I had to prepare myself so the knowledge would sink in – and you get so tired sometimes through concentrating because you’ve also got to watch people when they’re moving”, Rangitaawa said. Constantly aware of where she must sit in order to have a successful conversation, she has picked up techniques over the years to make the comprehension process easier.
“For instance, you never sit facing a window because you can’t see the other person’s face properly.” Even the small interview room at the Wairarapa Times-Age, drapeless, and lit by fluorescent lights made her extremely uncomfortable. “Acoustics in a room for someone who’s wearing hearing aids – it closes in on you. “It’s not a comfortable feeling.”