Falling on Deaf Ears

 Now Playing: “Daytime” by The Stereo System

There’s this video on YouTube. It’s about a 29 year old woman who had been born deaf and was able to hear for the first time with the help of cochlear implants. There are other similar videos, some with the subjects being as young as toddlers. And watching them be able to hear for the first time feels so surreal, their conflicting emotions so apparent on their facial features, that you just can’t help but feel happy for their excitement.hearnoevilfinal

Music has an overwhelming influence on me. The right notes, arranged in just the right way, can wake up in me something spiritual that otherwise remains mostly dormant. Some older notes have the ability to wrap me in a blanket of nostalgia, allowing me to travel back to a time of teenage angst and innocent optimism and remind me of how grand youth was. And other notes have been able to seduce my senses, much like a lover’s touch. I couldn’t imagine never being able to experience any of those emotions if I couldn’t hear.

I used to imagine them missing out on all the wonderful sounds of nature, like the crash of ocean waves, or even hearing their child’s first word. I would sympathize with not being able to hear beautiful music. And that was before realizing how ignorant I was. After all, Beethoven was deaf for most of his life, but that never stopped him from creating beautiful symphonies.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who believe that their deafness is a gift. And while I can never fully empathize, having never had a hearing disability myself, I do sometimes wonder about how nice it would be to just block away all the excessive noise of the world. And I’ve always found sign language to be a beautiful form of communication. The graceful flow of movements of the hands somehow bring more meaning and depth to the words being “spoken”.

My random Saturday morning thoughts.

 

Take My Hand

Getty Images. Selina Joiner.

I have this problem.

Last semester I finished my pediatric rotation in nursing school. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in the pediatric ICU. The first week I cared for an eleven year old boy. From his chart I found out that before being admitted, he was suffering from dizziness and headaches. One day, he collapsed onto the ground during soccer practice. He was rushed to the ER. There was a tumor in his brain and so the doctors operated to remove it. Big success. The kid was on his way to recovery.

About a day after the surgery, he suddenly went into respiratory arrest. He had to be intubated. He became unresponsive to any stimuli. Unable to move. Unable to speak. Unable to breathe on his own. Unable to blink at will. As it turned out, he had cerebral edema so they inserted a shunt in his head to remove the excess fluid. And this was all done two weeks before I saw him. There had been no change in that entire time.

I half listened to the nurse as she talked about CPAPs and flow rates, the intravenous meds infusing through his veins, the shunt in his brain, the wound vacs… and all I could see was a broken child with so many tubes snaking in and out of his body at multiple points. I helped the nurse as she gently repositioned him to avoid pressure ulcers. As she continued talking and fiddling with the machines, I stood silently to his other side. His head was repositioned so that he was looking at me. And it almost looked like he was staring at my face, but there was no way to know if he was able to process what he was seeing. A lump formed in my throat. I did the only thing I could think of… I reached over and held his hand.

In that moment, all I wanted him to know was that he wasn’t alone. That he could feel my touch and know that someone was there. That there were people who still cared. Hell, if he was still in the “I-hate-girls” stage, I wanted him to feel that embarrassment of holding a girl’s hand, too. I wanted him to feel like a normal eleven year old boy, if only for just a few minutes. The nurse finished talking, turned around to see me holding his hand and smiled softly. She told me to find her outside when I was ready and left the room. I stayed a little while longer and told him my name, that I liked the stuffed teddy bear the nurse had placed under his arm, my favorite Spongebob episode from ten years ago, since that’s what was on TV at the moment.

As I said, I kind of have a problem. I get too emotionally involved. No matter who it is, a stranger or a friend, someone who ignores me or has hurt me… if they are suffering in any way, the neurons in my brain that control empathy go into overdrive, short-circuit, and stay stuck on ‘Max’. I suffer from a case of the feels, big time. I asked my nurse how I could provide compassionate care while still remaining somewhat emotionally detached. She smiled and said I was asking the wrong person. She had worked in both adult ICU and PICU for a total of 6 years and still couldn’t fully compartmentalize her feelings and emotions.

A week later, I was on the same PICU floor but was assigned to a different patient. As I passed his room, I couldn’t keep myself from peeking into the glass door. A doctor was with him and his family. Later, I looked up his chart. He could now blink on command… but also had an endotracheal intubation. One step forward but two steps back.

This was almost three months ago. I still think about him every now and then.