Here is one of my last two contributions to ANAwareness week.
I wrote about laughter. . . how I choose to laugh instead of cry. . . (admittedly not ALL the time)
For quite some time following surgery, I took everything seriously. I still had a sense of humor, but was overwhelmed by the new me and deeply encased by a cocoon of self-pity. However, over time, my embarrassment with facial paralysis and awkwardness of single sided deafness gave way to acceptance. I saw, through my friends’ eyes, that I had a choice to laugh instead of cry.
I learned to walk carefully as I recalibrated my confused vestibular system. Despite my caution, sometimes I randomly veered to the left. One day at the grocery store, Kayla and I had two bags and a jug of milk. So when we headed out to the car, Kayla grabbed the bags and made a suggestion. If I carried the milk jug with my right hand, it might balance me and I wouldn’t veer left randomly as much. Well, it worked. We laughed at the uniqueness of the “balance tool.” We agreed the lesson for the day was “Sometimes you need to get a new tool or find a new use for an old one.”
Four months following surgery, I visited a friend for a few days. Nancy met me at the airport and took me home to a well-equipped guest room, complete with a heating pad for my head and face. Ever the observant friend, she quickly learned my new pain patterns and triggers. Whenever I got up, I would take one or two steps and have to stop for an overwhelming brain freeze to subside. She and her husband learned to stop and wait for me, continuing our conversation without a break.
Once, I bent down to plug in my ever-present heating pad and fell over, my balance still very compromised. Her husband simply stood up, walked over, offered me a hand, and after seeing me vertical again, returned to his chair and television program as if nothing of dramatic importance had occurred. They learned to walk between me and the street in case I veered left unexpectedly, and they didn’t want me to get run over. We learned to laugh about it and they just knew what would happen and anticipated it – always with a smile or a chuckle.
At about six months after the surgery, I went on vacation with another Nancy friend and her family. They had an extra seat and bed for spring break and I had nothing better to do. My days were filled with getting up, being in pain, and going to bed. I decided that it couldn’t be much worse while sitting by the ocean. We walked on the beach, and with limited stamina I would have to turn back much sooner than they typically would. I offered to head back alone so they could continue their walk.
Nancy said firmly, “No. We are going back with you. I am not going to be the one to call your family and tell them that you veered into the ocean on my watch!” And we would turn around and head back – with someone between me and the ocean.
Of course, cameras are a big part of vacations and we wanted pictures. I really didn’t want my dour looking face to be captured though. So Nancy suggested that if we BOTH held the corners of our mouths in a smiling pose that nobody would be able to tell what was paralyzed. I still smile when I see the picture of the two of us holding smiles in place. We laughed so hard we had trouble holding our faces.
The favorite story that she loves to retell from that trip is the French fry story. For some reason, I don’t like asking people to repeat themselves when I don’t hear what they say. So I make an assumption about what I think they said and answer that question. It has caused some puzzled looks, apologies, and chuckles. On this particular adventure, we approached the pool bar with loud music blasting. I ordered a cheeseburger for lunch. The waitress was entering it on the computer and asked me a question that I heard none of. Making an assumption, I said, “I’ll put it on my charge card.”
Nancy started to laugh. I mean really laugh, “She asked you if you wanted fries with that!”
“Oh, oops.” I started to feel embarrassed, but with her laughter, I couldn’t help but see the humor. The feeling that I had inside transformed from embarrassment to acceptance and humor. That was the instant that my attitude began to change.
Going out to lunch or dinner with friends can be challenging. I always position myself in the chair that allows me to best hear the conversation. My friends joke about how they can tell who I’m most interested in listening to by where I sit at the table and who is on my right side.
We tend to lean to the left when we greet or part with a hug. My friends will often give me a hug and whisper something like “good to see you”, or “keep in touch.” This is frustrating to me, because being deaf in the right ear means I always miss those endearing little comments. I’ve learned to let them know that they are definitely the more “challenged” ones by hugging back and whispering into their ear, “If you want me to know what you are saying to me, that’s the wrong ear to whisper in.” We then laugh and they correct themselves.
When together, my daughters have learned to walk on my left side. They frequently tell me after spending time with me, they’ll unconsciously do the same with their friends who aren’t deaf in one ear. “Oh yea,” they’ll realize, “I don’t have to walk your left side!” Which always brings puzzled looks from their friends.
I was in a hotel one day and called the front desk but the line was dead. I hung up twice before I realized I was holding the phone to my right ear. I called again and apologized for hanging up on the poor lady twice. I laughed, and said, “Did I just hang up on you twice?”
“Yes,” she answered tentatively.
“Sorry, I am still getting used to being deaf in one ear. I wondered why the line was dead.” I laughed, and she did too.
We have a choice many times to laugh or cry. While I do both, when I have a moment to choose, I choose laughter.