Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Technologically Mediated Relationship

No, I'm not talking about sex toys! :)

A friend told me this story:

"My Mom and I have never had the best of relationships, but in the past few years, it's gotten a LOT worse. She's had a hearing problem, which she really didn't want to acknowledge.  I knew she had a problem, because when I got to her house, if she had the TV on, just walking into the house hurt my ears.

"Our interactions would go like this:

"I'd say something in my normal, conversational voice. She'd accuse me of speaking too softly, and get angry. This would be true, even if someone else, like my husband, were in the room, and could hear me clearly. I'd get angry right back, because I knew that I was speaking normally, and she 'should' be able to hear me. That is, I knew it was her problem, and I was angry that she was making it my problem, rather than owning it herself.

"It's not that I didn't try to speak more loudly. It was hard to remember to do it, and even when I did, I practically had to scream in order for her to hear me. That alone made me angry, because I normally only raise my voice when I get angry. That is, my body associates using a loud voice with being angry, and so just speaking loudly would tend to make me angry.

"Even worse, she could understand my husband better than she understood me.Yes, he'd speak a tiny bit more loudly than usual -- but he was definitely not screaming. So of course he was doing something right, and I was not speaking up just to spite her.

"I broached the subject of hearing aids, and getting her hearing tested, several times. Each time she pooh-poohed the idea for a different reason: my hearing is fine, they're too expensive, they don't really help, because you hear so much other noise that they're confusing, etc.

"One night, we all went to my cousin's house for a family dinner. There were 7 of us there, and 6 of us were having a wonderful time, chatting and laughing at the table. I sat across from my mother, and could see her bewilderment. Clearly she couldn't follow us. After dinner, I said to her, THIS is why you need hearing aids. And she actually heard me -- both literally and figuratively!

"As it happens, my cousin has some hearing loss, and recommended a good audiologist. Mom had her hearing tested, and sure enough, she had major hearing loss, from 40% in the lower registers to 90% in the higher registers. This explains why she could hear my husband's lower pitched voice than my relatively high pitched one.

"A few weeks later, she went back to get the hearing aids. The audiologist explained that she would need to wear them every day, so that her brain would become reaccustomed to hearing sound from all sources -- ones she wanted to hear and ones that seemed like just noise -- so that she'd automatically screen out the things she didn't need or want to hear. Apparently this ability attenuates with hearing loss, that is, the neurological wiring gets weaker (use it or lose it), and needs to be reestablished.

"We went out for dinner in a moderately noisy restaurant just a couple of days after she'd gotten the hearing aids. We had a lovely dinner conversation! She could hear me, and all those years of angry conversations were gone! We were speaking like friends for the first time in many years.

"This feels like a miracle to me -- and I know it's only technology."

I'm sharing my friend's story because sometimes, the fix to a relationship is really simple -- and can literally be done with technology.

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