Reading the Sounds

“Can you hear me?” I have been asked this question many more times that you could ever imagine. Hey, even more countless times than a simple “where are you from?” or “what are you doing?”. And yet I still find very amusing the precise scenario when I have this question propelled at me, and my answer is always (despite an honest effort to say something else):

“Yes, and No”.

There is something purely genuine at the gesture of surprise; every one of us has an unique quirky face movement when our brain is trying to process something completely unexpected: “Yes, and No”. “What does that even mean?”, “that makes no sense”, “it can’t be both”, “ah, huh?”. These sample words are the ones that come out of puzzled brains.

But I feel that precise phrase describes the best way I can answer that question: “Can you hear me?” “Yes, and No”. I am deaf, 98% of hearing loss. The medical term is profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. I use 2 BTE hearing aids that provide everything I can describe as a sound. The funny thing is, whenever someone gets to know me enough to ask this question, they give me a second quirky face: “for real?…”

Reading lips is the way I thrived, and today is how I navigate through this hearing world. Let’s do something funny to give you an idea of how reading lips can be: go to the mirror, pay attention to your gestures and try to say this to yourself: “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” :)

Yes, I can ‘hear’ what you say.

But the sound I perceive from what you are expressing would be the equivalent to the high and low frequencies of the distorted sound in a radio, without the right station tuned in. To further explain myself, it’s just like sound-waves going up and down as you elaborate your words with the “aaaahh” and “oooohh” they have (try to repeat this really loudly).

No, I can’t ‘hear’ what you say if I am not looking at you.

I always need to look at you. In fact, every time there’s a new person in my office, I always introduce myself (trying to make it fun) explaining to them that if they talk to me and I am looking elsewhere, I won’t notice they were saying something. They have to poke me, or the sound will drift into the air as if they didn’t exist. Simply put, it just becomes that thing in the background fading quietly. “But can you hear me?” they insist. This is when I finally say:

“Yes, and no, but I do understand what you say”.

I read your lips to engage in communication with you. The sounds I can pick up helps me to better craft the words that my eyes are trying to listen to, shaping them in my brain and connecting them with that virtual dictionary we all have inside us. And voilá, something clicks. I understand you.

That is the moment when I find myself captivating with my eyes what is supposed to be for my ears. Truly, there is some sort of miracle snapping in the brain to make one sense understand what is destined to another one.

I find myself reading your expressions, your mumbling, and your gaze. I’m threading, deconstructing, puzzling back and forth every vocal from your lips, while filling in the blanks, and making sense of each cadence in your tone and your unique way of enunciating any given word.

That is, reading the sounds.