Made a Spectacle of Herself

This morning I went to the grocery store.  I hate to go on Fridays, but we were out of a few things that I couldn’t wait for at a later date.  I went first thing in the morning, anxious to avoid the crowds that hit the grocery store on Friday afternoon.

Chloe was in rare form and a bit too playful.  The autumn weather was gorgeous, so I chalked her good mood up to that, and decided this trip would be productive as she was also anxious to work.

Once we entered the store, Chloe decided I needed everything she came across on the floor.  As this is a new skill for her (point and say “fetch object” to different items), I gave her some leeway.  I hope to eventually have her cued to specifics like “fetch water bottle”.  She already recognizes the specifics “fetch keys” and “fetch phone”.  A recent skill she learned was picking up a piece of paper.  This can be tricky, as paper tears easily.  She needs to make sure she doesn’t put a foot on it during the process of lifting it off the floor with her teeth.

The picture above is her fetching my shopping list.  To Chloe, this is a very grand game; she doesn’t realize that on days my balance is bad that the last thing I want to do is to reach clear to the floor for something flat.  So if it is a game to her and HELP to me, we are both happy.

At the check out, I walked into one of the “self-check” out lines.  These things use to scare me to death, and I actually blogged about a particularly funny “first encounter” here.  Now that I have a cochlear implant, I actually like these lines as I can hear the computer very well, and it also chirps and dings.  The conveyor belt even “whirs”!  All of these “noises” are wonderful little reminders of the blessing of “hearing again”, so I probably take more time than I should.

After completing the scan of all of my items, I pressed “finish and pay” just like the “self check-out” veteran I am.  Unfortunately, my Amex card wouldn’t scan.  I caught the eye of a nearby front-line manager, and she came over to see what the problem was.  Evidently it wouldn’t take credit cards “today”, so she printed out a receipt and asked me to follow her to HER cash register where I could scan my card.

I quickly zipped my Amex card through, and promptly dropped it on the floor.  Chloe, still in a great “I’m fetching everything today” mood, did exactly what a hearing assistance dog is suppose to do.  They are trained to do automatic retrieves, as HoH and deaf people often do not HEAR what they’ve dropped.  So before I could interfere, she was in a “bow” trying to pick up my credit card.

Dropped credit cards are “ornery little pieces of plastic” when laying on a hard surface.  She tried for about 20 seconds and then kind of smacked at it and “woofed” softly.  I heard laughter from several different locations, and so lifted my head to see who was watching.  I became aware of 4 or 5 employees standing there watching.  Chloe, a trifle exasperated, started lifting my shoe by the shoe strings in order to retrieve SOMETHING.  I whispered WRONG, as this can set me on my behind fairly quickly! She spied a dropped receipt and quickly retrieved THAT and laid it in my hand.  I pointed once more to the card, and she finally was able to flip it enough with a toenail that she could pick it up.

Applause and cheers erupted around us, and I bemusedly grinned at my working dog. She sat there sweetly with tail flopping 90 mph, very VERY proud of herself.  Several standing around asked her name, and I told them.  In hindsight, that actually wasn’t very smart.  When they see her now and call her name, she’ll want to see who knows her.  Sigh.  I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  It’s there on my horizon most certainly, as I never go to any grocery store but this one!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

A Night in the Life of Our Family

Kyersten is a guest writer on Hearing Elmo and does a fantastic job (in THIS mom’s opinion) of relating what it is like being a CODA (child of deaf adult) or as she prefers it: KODA (Kid of deaf adult).  I think it’s important that readers “hear” the OTHER opinions and thoughts about how deafness affects a family.  Sometimes those thoughts are sad.  Sometimes those thoughts are angry.  And sometimes?  Sometimes it’s just really funny…

It was very impressive.

We watched as mom sailed over the gate. She flew gracefully in the air and landed rather ungracefully on the ground.

It’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the landing.

There was silence.

This is what she looked like:

Chloe, half asleep, sat up on the couch and peered down at Mom. This is what Chloe looked like:

(… well what she’d look like if she were a cat)

Mom said “ow”.

Chris stifled a laugh, quickly changing his face to the look of a concerned son.

I expressed casual worry, “You okay, Mom?”

Dad asked what happened, unfortunately having missed the dramatic gliding over the gate.

While worried about her, we were starting to get used to her lying on the floor, embarrassed and dazed.

Dad went to help her up. They looked for serious injuries. He helped her back to the couch.

And so we resumed our evening.

Kyersten is eighteen years old and lives with her dad, late-deafened mom, and 6’3″ “baby” brother in Maryland.  To leave out mention of the menagerie of animals living there as well would be… wise – as she wanted this short.

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

“Cane” Shopping

I’ve been a little depressed the past week or so.  I took a pretty bad fall a “rainy weekend” ago, and had to follow-up with my doctor to make sure I hadn’t broken a leg, arm or rib.  I was covered in bruises for a couple of weeks.  I mentioned to my husband, that I noticed that if I use my umbrella on the right side (with Chloe in heel on the left), then I do much better on rainy days.

Falling doesn’t make me depressed.  Bruises don’t make me depressed.  Mentioning “it may be time for me to get a cane for rainy days”, and darling hubby jumping all over it?  That made me depressed.  I said it half in jest, but he was completely serious.

I’ve been falling all my life.  I was one of those “accident prone” kids. I even remember one time in college, my RA told me, “Denise, you fall and run into stuff more than anyone I know!”  What is interesting to note, is that I didn’t have a significant hearing loss in college.  I only had a moderate unilateral loss due to a pedestrian vs. vehicle accident at the age of six.  (The car won)

I didn’t begin losing my hearing (sensorineural hearing loss) until I had a couple of babies at the age of twenty-five.  The hearing loss continued in both my ears for over a decade before I did anything about it.  All the while, I continued to “fall and run into stuff” a great deal.  It’s never been strange for me to be sporting bruises.  (The “ATTIC STORY” has become rather infamous!)

Somewhere along the way I developed a mild form of Meniere’s disease.  Without my cochlear implant and/or hearing aid, I have constant tinnitus.  But it is “manageable”, and I’m quite accustomed to the constant ringing when I’m not utilizing technology and bionics to hear.  I sleep very soundly “in spite of”.  Along with the tinnitus, however, I began to have vertigo and other balance problems.  It is worse when it’s a rainy day, so I know the weather affects it.  There is very little one can do for Meniere’s.  I cut down on salt, take Manganese tablets, and try to get a lot of rest.

Regardless, on rainy days I have to move carefully and methodically.  Chloe acts as a great counter-balance on stairs, ramps, inclines, slopes, etc.  However ceiling fans, fast moving bodies (like students running), or loud noises make the dizziness worse.  I face a flight of stairs “round trip, each school day.  I would think the stairwell is about 8 feet wide, but it is DEEP and STEEP.  Just standing at the top of the stairs and preparing to descend, the whole stairwell starts to spin, and I lose a great deal of my peripheral vision due to the vertigo.  It can be terrifying, but I’m confident for the most part and Chloe certainly adds stability.  On rainy days, however, you can multiply that terror times TEN.

If I happened to fall down THOSE stairs, there is no doubt I would break something.  It’s not that I’ve never broken a bone before!  My word, I’ve broken a femur, toes, fingers, my sternum, and cracked multiple bones as well.  But I’m rather terrified of that stairwell.  Perhaps it’s because I’m afraid I’ll hurt Chloe.  Perhaps it’s because I know how it would completely freak out the director of my school!  (grin)

To humor hubby, I’ve done a little “cane shopping” online.  At least some of them are pretty.

But darn… I’m depressed!  I find myself asking, “Has it come to this?”

But you know what? I can’t sit around feeling sorry for myself very long. I was taught to “belly-ache if you must”, but then recall how blessed you are!  And truly… I am very blessed.  With my cochlear implant I hear better than I had ever hoped to “this side of Heaven”.  I have a wonderful and supportive family, and a super assistance dog who loves to work.  The blessings FAR outweigh my little problems with balance.

I have learned to poke fun at myself when needed, and it has certainly made others more comfortable around my implant, assistance dog, and even dizziness.  But I really hate falling…

For now I’m “in shopping mode”.  At least they aren’t very expensive!  At least I’d only need one when the weather is bad.  At least some are pretty!  I could add a whole list of “at leasts”! I suppose that’s a form of counting your blessings.

For now, I’ll just “window/monitor” shop. At least… until hubby brings it up again.

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Does Hearing Loss Change or Affect Your Personality?

Dr. Terry Portis a counseling psychologist with 20 years of experience as an educator, education and non-profit executive, speaker and writer. His interests include history, leadership, technology, disabilities, family and faith. His wife Denise has a profound hearing loss and has a cochlear implant. They have two teenage children and have lived in Maryland for six years. They moved to Maryland from North Carolina, and Terry is still a huge UNC basketball fan, even when they are having a bad year (which almost never happens). He is a co-writes for Hearing Elmo, but has his own blog as well.

Terry with our ancient Pom, Ebony at Harpers Ferry 10/19/08

Does Hearing Loss Affect or Change Your Personality?

There are many ways to describe personality and to use the study of personality to help us understand people’s tendencies when faced with opportunities and challenges. Each person is a unique individual, and we must be cautious not to put people into neat little boxes. However, understanding how people tend to operate in comfort zones will help us understand ourselves and the people around us. In fact, personality assessment and skills assessment are the two primary ways businesses and organizations are organizing work teams and project leaders. So, personality theory is again on the cutting edge of management and human resources.

One of the most basic and easy to understand models of personality identifies 4 major personality types. Almost everyone has a “primary” personality type, but most people are a “blend.” If a person has questions about their own personality type, a short survey of family and friends usually provides the needed information.

The Choleric personality is an extrovert, “the doer”, and optimistic. They feel like they must correct wrongs and injustices, and also have a compulsive need for change. Their strengths include: goal oriented, sees the whole picture, organizes well (in a big picture sense, not details), thrives on opposition, excels in emergencies, and focuses on productivity. Their potential problem areas: can be compulsive workers who can’t relax, has an inner need to be in control, may run over people to get the job done, frequently pressures other people who are not moving at a “full-steam ahead” pace, and sometimes look down on others who are not choleric or who have different leadership styles.

When hearing loss occurs, the Choleric will “attack” the problem and will go to get help right away. However, once fitted with a hearing aid or cochlear implant, they may never interact with other hard of hearing people again. To them, the challenge has been addressed, and the various tasks of this “project” have been completed. Those who DO get involved with hearing loss issues, usually become major advocates and leaders. Hearing loss does not usually affect the choleric unless it negatively affects their job. This will damage their ego and self-esteem, and they may retreat and give up. For most Cholerics, their “job” and vocation is WHO they are. If hearing loss affects their ability to do their job, they can be extremely traumatized.

The Phlegmatic personality is an introvert, “the watcher”, and pessimistic. They want peace at any price. They love stability, and people have trouble finding something bad to say about them. Why? They hate conflict and rarely “cross swords” with anyone else! Their strengths are: competent and steady, peaceable and agreeable, mediates problems, avoids conflicts, good under pressure, and finds the easy way. Their potential problem areas: can be resistant to change, may have a problem with procrastination, do not like to communicate their feelings, often have difficulty making decisions, and may appear lazy or unmotivated.

When a Phlegmatic has a hearing loss, they may “bluff” for some time. “I don’t have a hearing loss”, they may say. When the hearing loss gets to where they cannot “bluff” any longer, then well-meaning family members or friends can finally talk them into going to get help. They may attend meetings and advocacy groups, but usually because family members with a different personality type want them too! To avoid conflict, they get involved in these groups to keep the peace. They will eventually be involved in many “behind the scenes” activities. They will more quickly recognize another phlegmatic with hearing difficulties. A phlegmatic without support during their hearing loss crisis, may be the most prone to isolate themselves. They may quit their jobs, church, social groups and LIFE.

The Sanguine personality is an extrovert, “the talker”, and optimistic. Their relationships are more important than any of the other personalities. Even at work, their co-workers are more important than the work itself. They are usually curious and expressive. Their strengths include: ready to volunteer, love to think up new activities, look great on the surface, creative and colorful, energetic and enthusiastic, can inspire others to join in, and they can be very charming. The potential problem areas: can talk too much, are sometimes good at starting things, but weak in finishing them, avoid negative situations even if they should work through it, can barge ahead without counting the costs, and are quick to give simplistic answers to every question.

When hearing loss occurs in a Sanguine personality, they will usually get help right away because they cannot communicate well with people. Communication and relationship are everything to them! They many times will be involved with hearing loss issues and groups because they love to interact. They can be negatively affected by hearing loss if it seems to hurt their relationships… divorce or loss of a partner who cannot accept the hearing loss, or children and/or parents who give negative feedback about their new communication “issues”. This can devastate a Sanguine and send them into depression, which rarely happens to this personality type.

The Melancholic personality is an introvert, “the thinker”, and pessimistic. They are content to stay in the background, love orderliness and organization, and are analytical. Their strengths are: detail conscious, schedule oriented, persistent and thorough, economical, likes charts, graphs and lists. Their potential problem areas are: can spend too much time planning, expect perfection from themselves and others, often have low self-esteem, can be gloomy, and may be prone to look for trouble.

When a Melancholic experiences hearing loss they are the most likely to be depressed and extremely emotional about it. If friends and family members can “rally” them out of their “blues”, they will usually seek help and then become very compassionate advocates for hearing loss issues. They also enjoy behind the scenes work and are great “listeners” to someone new to hearing loss.

Hearing loss does affect all personalities differently. Although equally traumatic, different personalities may adjust more quickly and readily to coping mechanisms and technology. Personalities do not change, but strengths that may not have been utilized before hearing loss may manifest themselves. Also, weaknesses that may not have been as apparent and more in control before hearing loss, may become real problem areas for the person after hearing loss. It was also noted that adjustments can be made, but then additional hearing loss might occur. Some personality types might simply adjust AGAIN, while others may have a much tougher time “rallying”.

Dr. Terry D. Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Learning the HARD Way

Don’t you hate “lessons learned the hard way”?  I must be one of those stubborn “souls” that must learn things by bearing the consequences of unheeded warnings.  As a child, I’m sure my mother probably warned, “Clean your room or no watching Sesame Street and ELMO”.  Knowing ME, I likely closed that door on the messy room in hopes “out of sight, out of mind” worked with my Mom.  (Does that EVER… work with MOM?)

Even as an adult, I can still be stubborn.  I have a hearing loss, but “hear again” (in ideal situations) through the miracle of a cochlear implant.  I have balance problems due to a mild form of Meniere’s disease.  But every “lesson” I’ve learned, I’ve learned the hard way.  Anticipating possible consequences was never something I sat around contemplating.  For me… it had to “happen” before I learned to make necessary changes.

These lessons include:

My Hearing and Hearing Assistance Dog

1.  Have Size 675 batteries EVERYWHERE.  In the car and van, in Chloe’s vest, in my purse, in my training bag, in my Bible, in my jewelry box, on my dresser, and in Chloe’s treat bag.  Failure to not have them EVERYWHERE, results in my being caught “deaf” when my cochlear implant dies.

2.  When I get my “20 minute Beep” from my CI, start digging for batteries right away.  Otherwise, when those 20 minutes are up, I’m left having a conversation with someone with my mouth dropped open in surprise at the sudden silence.

3.  Have “clean up” bags everywhere for Chloe.  I even carry them in her vest pocket, that way they are always handy.  Just because she goes “potty” like clockwork at the SAME time, every day, does NOT mean that she will never “up and decide” she needs to go at some random location!  Failure to carry them with me all the time, means that I have to come back to that place to “pick up” after running home for the bags!

4.  Tell Chloe a basic obedience command once.  If I say it four or five times, she will learn to ignore me. Or worse yet, she “counts” and waits until I’ve said “Chloe sit” 5 times before doing it! Give the command after her name ONE TIME, and then correct with an immediate correction should she fail to follow through.

5.  If I don’t hear what someone says… even simply PART of what someone says… do not pretend I completely understand. Failure to clarify means I will likely say “that’s nice” when someone tells me their aunt passed away, when I thought they said “My aunt’s pants are gray”.

6.  Follow up important meetings with an email.  This insures I have received all the information correctly, and will even remind the other person about deadlines and issues we discussed.  Failure to follow-up will likely result in my forgetting something important as I did not hear clearly.

My Balance and Assistance Dog

1.  I wear bangs so that I don’t have to deal with the peripheral of ceiling fans.  Those suckers are EVERYWHERE!  My bangs keep me from easily seeing the rotation, resulting in fewer “tumbles”.  If I wear my hair without bangs because of fashion, I’m usually “in style” but looking up at the concerned faces of people standing over my prone body.

2.  Stay away from caffeine during the day.  Morning coffee is fine.  Soft drinks all day only insure that I am banging into everything by bedtime.

3.  If asking Chloe to brace, check our immediate surroundings first.  If she sees a family member nearby, she may “wiggle” in a brace causing me to fall.

4.  Do not allow anyone to pet Chloe in vest EVER.  If I break my own rule, Chloe will never understand not to “visit” when in vest.  Her moving suddenly or reaching for an outstretched hand means that I will fall. I will fuss at friends and family members should they think “Do not Pet” does not mean them.

5.  If Manganese is suppose to help the tinnitus and balance problems, then for Heaven’s sake TAKE THE MANGANESE.  It takes a good 3 weeks for enough to be built up in my system to work.  Pretend the Manganese is something important… like birth control or something!  If I don’t take it regularly, then I continue to have frequent symptoms.

6.  If someone close to me (KYERSTEN) begs me to ride a roller coaster, or other amusement park ride that actually MOVES in more than one direction, insist on watching from the sidelines.  It’s not like Chloe would enjoy it either!  Caving in to begging daredevils (KYERSTEN), simply means I’ll be sniffing smelling salts later.

7.  When taking a bath, do not lock the door.  Chloe can do a lot of things, but she can’t unlock a door should I fall.  (Like last night… behind a locked door… with a concerned assistance dog looking at all the bubbles thrown everywhere and unable to go get help!) Leave the door unlocked.  You can always throw a bar of soap should someone come in without permission.  (Not that the AIM of someone with balance problems is that great… but I can SCREAM).

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

4 Years Ago

Since Chloe turned 4 a week ago today, I’ve been looking at her “puppy” pictures.  These are two that really made me smile.  The first is when she entered the training program, and honestly!  She was hardly big enough for her vest!  In training, the dogs wear “therapy dog” vests for the first part of their training.  As a teenager, she still didn’t look like “my Chloe” yet.  At some point the trainers evaluate whether or not the dogs will “wash” from the program.  I have been told that Chloe was an incorrigible puppy.

At some point, the trainers decided that they were seeing an occasional “spark”.  Something that they look for, something that they know tells them this dog loves to work.  I’m glad they never gave up on Chloe.  She’s so dedicated to her job now, and to me!  Her pictures in her red “working dog” vest look more like the dog I know!

I wonder if the dogs ever really realize they are being trained to help change someone’s life?  I think they get such a kick out of being loved and trained, that they don’t ever realize how important they’ll become to an individual.  Each day probably seemed the same as the one before… honing skills and occasionally learning something new.

It made me remember that we as people forget what kind of difference we are making. Some of us have monotonous jobs perhaps.  Maybe you work a job that you do not feel makes a big difference because you don’t get paid a lot, or get a lot of recognition.  Maybe you are a volunteer for something or serve in some way that gives you great joy, but is rarely acknowleged by anyone else.

I don’t have a job that makes a huge difference in the lives of a great number of people.  I work part-time, and am a full-time wife/mother. I remind myself, however, that I only need to do my best to make a difference in the those who ARE in my life.  It may be a year or two, maybe even four… where hopefully someone will remember “something” that I was able to teach them that will make a difference.

I suppose that is why we must be so careful of each and every day.  We do not know how many days God will grant us.  If we waste one day of living to be a BLESSING, it may have been our last opportunity to do so.  No excuses.  People with disabilities, hardship, sickness and problems can still CHOOSE to be a blessing.

Maybe you feel like you are only going through the motions.  Maybe for now you are in “training”.  It may a year or two before you see what God can do with a trained “you”.  But don’t ever look to far ahead… He uses those puppies in the green vests too.  He can use you even when you are still training.  Besides… I know very few “dogs” who are no longer training for something!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

I May be NAKED, but I HEAR Well!

Gingery’s Baby Pegasus (Owner:  Kyersten Portis, one of the writers of Hearing Elmo)

Pegasus may be naked as a jay-bird, but he has excellent ears.  (Side note:  Exactly HOW naked is a “Jay Bird”?  Has anyone ever really looked that up?  Food for thought… )

As a matter of fact, Fidos For Freedom, Inc., the organization from which my hearing assistance/balance dog Chloe comes, also trains Chinese Crested as hearing dogs.  It doesn’t matter if you have very little hair.  You can not only be a great pet or show dog, but you can actually be trained to assist someone with a disability.  (What a PLUS to be hypo-allergenic as well!  Chinese Crested have HAIR, not FUR).

Working dogs come in all shapes and sizes.  It reminded me of what “hearing loss” looks like as well.  “Hearing loss” doesn’t “look like” any one thing.  Its causes are as varied as a dog’s “looks” or “degree of hair”.  Fever, ototoxic drugs, accidents, genetics and “cause unknown” are all reasons a person may have a hearing loss.

Different ages of people can develop hearing loss.  Some children are born with hearing loss, and thanks to infant hearing screening, many are discovered at a very early age.  This helps in the long-run with speech development and language skills.

Some women develop hearing loss after having children.  The link has yet to be clearly defined by doctors.  (My own progressive hearing loss began after having children).

Some people do not develop hearing loss until they have worked a long period of time at a particular “noisy” job.  (My father-in-law worked as a printer for decades.  All that time around noisy machinery has taken it’s toll).

Some people have SHL, or “sudden” sensorineural hearing loss.  Many of our soldiers are coming home with significant hearing loss due to road-side bombs and other “war noises” they are exposed to each day.

Some people have “age-related” hearing loss.  How many of you have grandparents who now wear hearing aids? (or should – grin)

Hearing loss is not a “respecter of persons”.  It can affect every age, gender, race, or religion.  Economics, education, nor “looks” prevent someone from having a hearing loss.  Hearing loss is wide-spread.  (In the U.S., alone there are over 36 million people with hearing loss!)

Particular personality types are not exempt from hearing loss.  If you are sanguine and outgoing, hearing loss is just as devastating to you as it is to a quiet melancholy.

Hearing loss and personality types?  Sounds like the title of a blog post. (I’ll get started on that and ask my psychologist hubby to write!)

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal