This morning I almost killed a saucepan. It’s the sort of thing that happens sometimes in a deaf person’s life.
While I waited for my breakfast egg to boil, I ate some blueberries and yoghurt, sipped a cup of tea and browsed through a new book about women’s sheds, a gift from a friend. Engrossed in this marvellous book, I suddenly smelled something burning. And I remembered my egg.
Fortunately it hadn’t quite boiled dry, the egg was still delicious and the saucepan survived.
Lots of things like this have happened in my life, some with a worse outcome.
As uni student in the 1970s, my soft contact lenses had to be sterilised daily by boiling within a special container in a pot of water. One morning I put them on to boil and sat down to study. The lenses and their container had boiled dry and melted before I smelled them and remembered.
And I once flooded my sister’s kitchen. About to wash up, I was distracted by friends walking by inviting me to join them on a twilight walk and off I went, forgetting that the tap was running and the plug was in the sink. My sister, who was out at the time, returned soon afterwards, to find water pouring out her back door. She was not amused!
When you’re deaf you don’t hear things boiling on the stove, taps running and all sorts of other things. So over the years I have learned to be more mindful of what I am doing but still occasionally I slip up. Like this morning.
The fact that I don’t hear can sometimes have quite scary impacts. One morning, as a student living in a shared house in Townsville, I put my washing on in the laundry under the house and went upstairs to get ready for the day. Just as I began brushing my teeth a terrible banging began vibrating through the house. Shocked, I dropped the toothbrush into the sink and rushed downstairs.
There the washing machine gently thunk-thunked, oblivious to the drama.
Not the washing machine then.
I raced back upstairs. Frantically I went through the kitchen and living room, running my hands over every appliance, everything mechanical in the house, trying to locate where this terrible banging was coming from. Home alone, I considered running to fetch a neighbour to come and tell me what it was.
Be calm, I told myself. Think. Look. I stood in the living room where I could see into most rooms in the house and slowly looked around me, focussing. My eyes came to rest on the bathroom sink tap. It was still running. It was the only thing moving. I walked back into the bathroom and put my hand on the tap. I turned it off and the banging stopped. I turned it back on and the banging started up again.
Enlightenment arrived. The water pipes!
Nowadays I recognise vibration in the water pipes as soon as I turn on an offending tap and this is one of those stories that is funny afterwards. I dined out on it for years. But at the time, as a young and inexperienced person home alone, it was quite terrifying.
For those who believe every deaf person should have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, these are probably wonderful stories to endorse that belief.
But I don’t see it that way.
While some people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants can hear and understand a lot, for many, sounds are not easily recognisable.
I once worked with a woman whose hearing aid was annoyingly unhelpful for recognising sounds. If I coughed or dropped something on my desk her head would pop up with a ‘What? What was that?’ alarmed expression on her face. It perplexed me why she bothered with this useless hearing aid.
To me these experiences indicate that we all need to learn life skills that suit our circumstances. And we do learn them.
Sometimes if I’m feeling lazy I’ll ask a hearing family member if the washing machine has stopped spinning yet, but I get quite annoyed if I haven’t asked and someone tells me it has stopped or that the kettle has boiled. It’s as if they think I can’t cope.
As deaf people, we experience our environment differently to hearing people. It’s not always easy to articulate these differences or for hearing people to imagine them and help deaf children learn life skills that are different to their own. Often, quite simple differences.
Out in the car one day, I reminded my husband to turn off the lights as we emerged from one of Brisbane’s road tunnels. He told me something I didn’t know: when he turns the engine off the car beeps if the lights are on. So while my hearing husband relies on the car to remind him, I rely on a little routine I have established: enter tunnel, lights on; exit tunnel, lights off. It works for me. His way works for him.
Many of these life skills we develop with experience over time. Many we can learn from each other by sharing stories from our own lives. The different ways we do things and the stories we tell about them become part of our deaf culture.
Sharing these stories with each other validates and normalises our experiences. This is one of the things that is most valuable for deaf children when they grow up with other deaf people of various ages in their lives.
Some things we just learn best by being with people like us. Much of what will help us on our life’s journey is communicated just by doing things together and by sharing stories. Stories about things like almost killing saucepans.
Do you have any ‘killing saucepans’ type of stories that you would like to share here?