As well as the leg injuries I received when run over by a car, at the age of twenty, I also received serious head injury. My head and body went underneath the car and I was hit on the right side of my head, probably by the sump of the engine. This smashed my head onto the tarmac causing a fracture above my left eye and tissue damage down that side of my face. Bearing in mind that this happened on a dual carriageway and that the car did not even slow down, let alone stop, it beggars belief that I even survived.
On top of the concussion, I contracted meningitis, an infection of the fluid around the brain, and so for the following week, remembered little from one day to the next. Being in a surreal hospital environment, it was two weeks before I began to suspect that I couldn’t hear in my right ear. Subsequent tests showed that I had no hearing in it, at all, and I have never heard in it since. My head was almost certainly fractured on the right side, severing the nerve from my ear to the brain.
On leaving hospital I had to go back to live with my parents, for a while, and being largely confined to the house (my leg injuries preventing me from going far) I had no real trouble with my hearing. The only real problem I had was answering the phone. I was so used to picking it up with my right hand that I kept mistakenly putting it to my deaf ear. Once I had dispensed with the wheelchair and got onto crutches, it was time to head down to my local pub (The Queens Head in Dorking) for a Friday night out. As soon as I walked in the pub I was lost. I could hear people calling my name, but had no idea where they were coming from and I found it impossible to focus on a conversation.
In a similar way to using two eyes to judge distance, we use two ears to direct our hearing to a particular source. With only one ear to hear by, this becomes impossible and you are forced to listen to all the noise around you simultaneously. Picking out the speech of one person from the cacophony of background sounds is extremely difficult. All too often have I found myself trying to converse with someone on my deaf side when all I can hear is conversation on my good side that is nothing to do with me.
The damage to my hearing has had a profound affect upon me and in many ways has been more debilitating than the injuries to my legs were. As the years have gone by I have learned to compensate and struggle surprisingly less than I used to, but in my twenties it was a real problem. Some people thought I was a miserable or ignorant sod, but the truth was I simply hadn’t realised they were talking to me. Group conversations I found particularly difficult and I learnt to take a back seat, observing people rather than listening. This became not so much a habit as a fascination, especially when combined with my new found interest in posture and the way people use their bodies.
I spent a couple of years attending lip reading classes which I’m sure helped. We all read lips, to some extent, but do so subconsciously and it is not until you become ‘hard of hearing’ that you need to pay particular attention to this skill. You may well have noticed that someone suddenly becomes difficult to hear when they place their hand over their mouth, just as is someone with a bushy moustache obscuring their lips.
Hearing loss may be invisible, but as all disabilities do, it sets us apart from others and removes us a small step from the way of social interaction. I learnt to be happy to take a back seat in conversations at times, to be left out on the fringe reflecting on other sides to life and I believe this has helped me to develop a more philosophical approach. I am sure, also, that it prepared me well for life as a paraplegic which has further removed me from the mainstream way of society.
As we address my spinally injured body through ABR therapy we are addressing the weaknesses in my head that have come about through that spinal injury. In a bio-mechanical sense, our heads are the root of our strength and we must iron out the weaknesses there before moving on to lower regions. In this respect both of my ear cavities are weak, but the right ear has had weakness there since the previous injury which resulted in my deafness. Through ABR techniques we are strengthening the ear cavities and the hope is that as we do so the brain will once again recognize the existence of my right ear and re-establish the connection, resulting in a return of my hearing. After more than twenty years of being ‘hard of hearing’ this would be truly miraculous.