Today my husband and I sit with the audiologist and otologist at the Shands Speech and Hearing Clinic in Gainesville. Our 1 ½ year old baby boy, Scooter is on my lap, happy to be out of the sound and stimulation proof cell; happy to have the headset off. The doctor tries to exchange pleasantries but we’re not concentrating, sad little smiles plastered on our faces. He clears his throat and tells us, “ your son is profoundly deaf.” The nagging suspicion we’ve had is confirmed. The shock of the present blocks the past and the future. First there’s a feeling of relief – of knowing something definite. Next we get commiserations – “I’m so sorry. With Rubella it could have been much worse; blindness, brain damage.” We try to listen to results – “90dB loss, both ears, a little residual hearing that can be amplified.” Advice – “Get a hearing aid on him right away. Learn all you can about deafness. There are many options. I’ll give you the address and phone number of the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind.” Oh my God, not an institution! “And last but not least think about having another baby. Another child in the house will probably be the best teacher your son could have.”
Any questions? “Yes. No. Lots. None.” We can’t assess any of this yet. We ride home in outward stillness, our minds running crazy inside, with our bouncing beautiful, unbothered baby boy. He hasn’t changed. Only we have. We bring him home to our new house in Ormond Beach. I feed him, play with him, tuck him into bed and burst into tears.
I go through all the emotions of the stages of grief:
- Denial. He’s fine.
- Pity. It’s not fair. Why me? It’s too hard. Where do I start? This creeping dreadful possibility of the last two years has finally manifested itself upon us, no matter how intensely I denied it and shoved it away.
- Guilt. I needed to wallow. If I hadn’t been teaching with a bunch of sick kids.
- Anger. The kid I got rubella from – why did his incompetent doctor-grandfather allow him to go to school during a rubella epidemic?
- Bargaining. Please God I’ll do anything. Don’t let this be true.
- Depression. Why me? nothing’s going to be okay. What have I done to my child?
- Acceptance, “I can’t fight it, I’d better prepare.”
Then comes a raging drive to fix him, to help him make it in a world he can’t hear. How can he learn to talk if he can’t hear? Infants learn by imitation. A picture forms in my mind – a little boy holding a tin cup with a sign around his neck “deaf and dumb”. A horrible stereotype. Never! Not my son!
Now I have a mission. First the audiologist fits him for a single hearing aid in the ear with a little residual hearing. He’s a baby. He’s irritated with all the fussing and poking. When the aid, about the size of a playing card only thicker and heavier, is finally “attached” with a harness that looks like a bra except there’s only one “cup” for the aid, all he wants to do is rip the whole contraption off. He’s young enough not to be embarrassed, but too young to understand the importance of this uncomfortable gadget. While he’s getting used to the aid and the new sounds he’s hearing I start researching and studying.
Next time: Choices.