In this space, I recently shared about the impact that the radiation treatments to the thyroid had on my voice. In addition to the swelling and sore throat (which are both gone, thank you very much!) and the external radiation burns (which I am still dealing with), the voice issues were the other, more obvious, side effect. A week ago, I spent Wednesday through Saturday morning of that week doing a lot of nodding, pointing and pantomiming! That Friday was maybe the worst of it- I literally couldn’t talk. And as I also shared, that Saturday, a bit more than a week ago, my voice went from almost mom-existent when I got out of bed to adequate enough for me to video my sermon after lunch that day- in case I couldn’t “answer the bell” that Sunday!
What I really didn’t dig deeper into in that previous post was the larger issue. I DID mention that I began to worry that my voice simply wouldn’t come back. And for someone who has spent their entire life communicating- being “in front of people”- that was a bit…daunting…to consider. But there was another layer to that story.
If you have been reading this space for a while, or if you know very well at all, you know that the Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma (i.e. “tumor”) that I had sitting on top of my right ear canal, among other things, destroyed the hearing in the ear. Not damaged- destroyed. There are no “guts” to my ear. It’s simply cosmetic at this point. (And it IS a handsome-looking ear, if I do say so myself!)
What a lot of people don’t really realize is just how deaf I am. Between being 100% deaf on the right side and having ALREADY existing hearing loss on the left side (years of playing the drums), my “baseline hearing” is probably 35-40% of what it should be. Add to that two other factors: 1. rather severe tinnitus (I have 4 or 5 separate yet distinguishable LOUD sounds that are in my ears/head 24/7/365) and 2. the fact that, with one ear worthless, my ability to distinguish where sound comes from (apparently that comes from your right ear) is gone. Factor all of that together and I am functionally working with MAYBE 20% of what should be “normal” hearing. (And while I appreciate suggestions, let me be proactive- I have tried hearing aids and other “assist” potentials to no avail. The only thing the experts think MIGHT work requires MORE surgery and a LOT of money that insurance won’t cover!)
So, I live with 20% of my hearing. I have gotten WAY better than most people realize at lip reading, as well as reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, context and how other people are reacting. “Hearing”. For me, has become a multi-sensory, focused exercise. And even with that, there are LOTS of settings that cause me to feel pretty isolated. (Imagine larger gatherings in larger spaces with a decent amount of ambient noise. Imagine sound that is being amplified through a sound system.)
And then- this “loss of voice” came up. And I had a few days of pretty harsh reality that I didn’t see coming. For those few days, I was, in many measurable ways, deaf and mute. And I had NO idea how isolating that would be. For example, I was sitting at dinner during our Vacation Bible School. (And I LOVE a good church dinner!) Because of the sound bouncing around in that fairly good-sized room, I could “hear” everything but sort out and comprehend…nothing. Add to that the fact that I also couldn’t talk. So, there I was, sitting in a room full of people that I know and love, breaking bread together…and I could hear them or talk to them. You quickly find yourself pulling in and ignoring everybody. It is shockingly isolating.
I share this NOT for sympathy- not my style. Instead. I share it because it made me SO much more aware of what some folks deal with every day. When you have no overt, obvious “disability”, it’s pretty easy to take everything for granted. Hearing. Speaking. Walking. Whatever it is. But those few days really gave me a taste- and I fully acknowledge that it was JUST a taste- of what some deal with EVERY day.
Here’s my “take-away” for today- don’t assume you know what someone else goes through or how they feel simply based on what you see. As a minister, I think one of the worst things we can say to someone is “I know how you feel”. Why? Because the truth is that…no we don’t know how they feel. We can’t. We know how WE felt when we went through something that may have been…or may not have been…similar. We THINK we know how we WOULD feel in their circumstance…which we really don’t. But we simply can’t know how someone else feels.
Appreciate what you have instead of dwelling on what you don’t have. Learn to make the most of the “tools” that are actually IN your “toolbelt” instead of simply worrying so much about the tools you WISH you had. Make the most of every moment. Appreciate another day to be upright, breathing and about God’s business. Life is short. Don’t waste it. We continue to walk by faith and not by sight. We continue to claim, openly and unabashedly, that God is good, all the time! #TeamHarris #WarriorOn!
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