What I Did During my Covid Isolation

Does anyone remember going back to school in September and writing the first essay, “What I did during my summer Vacation”? I can’t consider Covid lockdown or self isolating a vacation, but I did keep busy. Unfortunately, not by writing my blog! As always when I’m absent for awhile, I’m sorry.

Like many people, DHH worked from home, which he had been doing most of the time before Covid anyway. But with everyone else also working at home. he had many online business meetings, mostly through Zoom. It’s funny how that can change the tone and atmosphere of a meeting. Sometimes someone’s dog or child would come into camera range, someone would open the door not realizing their family member was in a meeting and be seen in the background, and occasionally you could see the person wasn’t wearing the full suit because he or she didn’t think anyone could see below upper body. The peek at sweatpants, jeans, shorts, or even in a few cases, lack of pants added a certain levity to the meetings in spite of the reason everyone met that way.

Like many people, I found myself wanting to enjoy my home since it was my whole world most of the time. We rarely used our living room before – that was for company – so sometimes I’d go sit in there for a change of scenery. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s no longer ‘for company’. It’s a living room. We’re going to live in it! I spent most of the warm weather outside either gardening in my front yard or just enjoying the good weather days in the back.

I still can’t say I cooked much – I’m afraid no matter how I try I’m just not going to like doing it for very long – but I kept very busy doing many things. I wrote a 10 minute play, I wrote a long short story, I did a lot of drawing, painting, and epoxy resin art work, and even some work with clay. I knitted several items, I reorganized rooms, I got things put away, I’ve been ruthlessly de-cluttering, and was able to drop off some substantial donations to places supporting the Kidney Foundation and Diabetes Research.

One of the really fun and exciting things (to us) DHH and I started doing about a month ago, is re-taking an American Sign Language course put out by the Bob Rumball Canadian Center of Excellence for the Deaf. We took ASL there many, many years ago (in person) but as time went by, we forgot a lot of it. With masks still being a problem for me, we decided to study it again so DHH can sign to me and help me understand what’s being said. The only difference now is that we’re taking it online through Zoom, which is quite interesting compared to the previous actual classroom experience we had.

Another thing I did, though this was not by choice, was have major emergency surgery, which is another reason I haven’t written in so long. I had been having back and leg pain for quite some time before Covid. I even had some physical therapy for it, which didn’t help at all. Shortly after I wrote my last blog, the pain intensified drastically. In January, I actually collapsed and couldn’t walk. It got worse and worse until the end of January, when I needed to be in a wheelchair and an MRI showed that my disks were pressing on my spinal cord so badly, it was literally being crushed. I needed surgery ASAP or my spinal cord could be severed.

The doctors did everything they could to help me while trying to find a surgeon for me. There aren’t many in Toronto who can do this and they’re really busy with very long waits. Thank heavens one of my doctors had a friend who’s one of the top surgeons in this field and he talked to him. I was so lucky to get an appointment to meet him the very next day. He said I was so bad he was clearing his schedule for the following Tuesday, and he operated less than a week later. I was in the hospital almost a week with no visitors (due to Covid), not even DHH. The first few days, I could barely text him, but by the end of my stay we were able to FaceTime a little. But I was still there alone, deaf, and heavily medicated, struggling to manage while everyone was in masks. I’m not ashamed to say it was one of the scariest times of my life.

The nurses, bless them, mostly wrote everything down for me. (I couldn’t handle my phone yet for the most part.). I brought a couple of pads and pens with me and they were so kind and patient with me. At least writing things down let me know what was happening. It was a new level of being deaf for me because it was the first time I wasn’t able to read lips at all. But I did it! I got through it and I managed. And I’m happy to say that with a lot of physical therapy and hard work, I am able to walk. Not like before, but I can walk. I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful to everyone, everywhere, who is patient with me knowing I can’t hear and the masks we need so much actually impair me in my ability to communicate. The kindness and patience most people have and still show me, have helped me get through the hardest times, and now, if I can inspire or help even one person, I’ll be even more blessed.

Until next time, stay safe, stay well, and be kind. So many people need and appreciate the smallest acts of kindness now. I’m definitely one of them.

Masks, Lips, Deaf, Oh My!

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I’ve posted. At first, it was just general busy things, some health issues, the holidays, catching up on things – the usual. But then in early February, we started hearing about a virus that was scaring people. In the early days, like most people, we didn’t think it would affect us, so we went about our business – until mid February. Not a long time to process everything, but we went into protective mode pretty quickly.

I don’t have to tell you the story of Covid, I’m sure, and I don’t really want to write about it – enough people are doing that. We all know how bad things are and I always try to be uplifting and optimistic. But I would like to share my experience as a deaf person in a pandemic, because Covid has done what all these years of having no hearing has not been able to do to me. Covid has made me feel deaf and often helpless.

I used to be able to cope quite well by reading lips, sometimes with a little help, but I functioned well. Many people were surprised to hear I’m deaf. But now that my only way to know what people are saying has been taken away, it’s become a challenge when I do have to go out, though I rarely go anywhere. February was the last time we were out with friends, in a restaurant, at the theater, had my hair done, all the usual things people take for granted.

For the last nine or so months, we’ve stayed home (except for a few medical emergencies), we follow all the rules, we’re as careful as can be, and we take this very seriously. We’re high risk, not just from being seniors, but from having pre-existing conditions, and living in hot spots. The border has been closed for months and Toronto numbers are going up, not down, so we’re not going anywhere we absolutely don’t have to.

We’re actually ok with it, but like many things, we miss the freedom of choice. Through no fault of our own, we’re in a position where ‘out there’ is dangerous to us and we feel like we’re living in a disaster movie. During the summer, we started taking our dogs out for walks very late at night so there was less chance of running across people. (Turns out masks are very good for keeping bugs from flying into one’s nose or mouth – an unexpected benefit for me.) We took every safety precaution and walked over a mile every night the weather allowed. But where in the old days, if we’d seen a neighbor, we’d stop and chat, smile, be welcoming, now we’d (or they, or both) would cross the street, keep as much distance as possible, and if there were any smiles, no one could see them under the masks.

Let me stop a second to make this clear – I am not in any way suggesting not wearing a mask. In fact, I beg everyone to please wear a mask. Masks are the only thing that stops Covid from spreading. I’m sure you know the rules and the drill. Please, please, do the right thing.

But those wonderful, tiny little weapons against the virus have stopped me from being able to read lips. I’m now often struggling in this new world where mouths must be covered. And with DHH (Dear/Darling Handsome Hubby) wearing a mask too, he can’t help me the way he used to. He needs to keep the mask on around other people too. So without his help, I have to find a way to communicate on my own. And it’s hard to be the one to need people to be patient – we’re all tense and frazzled when we have to be in contact with other people.

So how do I manage? For an appointment in the hospital, one nurse wrote everything down. For some other appointments, the doctors and nurses lowered the masks and just used face shields, but kept a distance. There’s been a lot of pointing to papers and gestures. And sometimes no matter how hard we tried, I just didn’t get it. And then I realized, I have just the thing to make it easier for everyone. My phone! And once again, my love of technology comes to my rescue.

I can open ‘notes’ (for example) in my iPhone and they can speak at my phone and it will type everything they say for me. I can do it with some other apps too. Anything you can use for dictation will hear them through the mask and type their words. It’s not perfect, but it helps so very much. And these days, we need all the help we can get.

Stay well and safe, everyone. I’ll be back to write more when I can.

And special note to the spammers. Your comments need approval and I never let them through. I just report them. So please don’t bother. You can’t spread that stuff here – I’m wearing a mask. 🙂

Gimme a Sign

Hi Everyone! First, let me wish you all the best for the holiday season. Whatever holidays you celebrate, I wish you much happiness, good health, laughter, meaningful time with loved ones, and of course, a wonderful New Year!

I really appreciate when people try to find ways to communicate with me when I tell them I’m deaf. Many people think they’re helping me by talking louder, so I explain that louder overwhelms me and doesn’t help me understand – that I need them to speak a little slower to help me read their lips. I don’t think some people realize when they talk fast all the words seem to blend together and are impossible for me to read.

Conversely, some people slow down too much and exaggerate their mouth movements, which makes it harder to read, so I always ask people to speak normally, just a little bit slower.

Some people try to talk to me with gestures, pointing, hand signals, and without realizing it, some of them come very close to actually signing. Signing is a great way to communicate.

DHH and I studied American Sign Language for two years several years ago. We did pretty well and found we love the language. It’s so beautiful and when people are truly fluent, the flow is poetic. We were fortunate enough to have some visitors to our class who “sang” for us in ASL, and we were mesmerized. We were nowhere near fluent and can only imagine the wincing our instructors tried to hide when we signed, but we could communicate.

Not only did we learn basic conversation, we learned about the Deaf culture, the syntax of ASL, and of course, what’s polite and what’s considered bad manners. For example, when two people are having a conversation in ASL, walking. between them is very rude. If one must pass through, bending down and signing “Excuse me” is an absolute must.

When DHH and I started studying ASL, we started noticing when people signed around us. One night we were waiting for a table in a restaurant and we saw a group of people signing fluently and quickly, and we were amazed. Without meaning to be rude, we found ourselves watching, hoping we might recognize a word. We suddenly realized what we were doing was the equivalent of eavesdropping, we signed a very big “Sorry”, and felt very contrite.

We used to practice a lot. We’d declare a no voice time and communicate only in ASL, using fingerspelling and even actions when we didn’t know a word. That was especially useful when we were on a beach or by a pool and I had to take my hearing aids out. But somehow, gradually, we slacked off and stopped practicing. And then we realized we were forgetting much of what we learned. And then we realized we were sometimes using wrong signs, but somehow we understood what we were trying to say to each other. I attribute that to many years together – the point where a couple knows what the other is thinking in any language.

We decided that we really miss signing and even though we can only sign to each other (no one else in our immediate circle knows ASL), we want to practice again. We want to regain our skills, we want to communicate in ASL – it can make so many situtations easier. For instance, at an airport once, DHH was at the ticket counter and I was waiting across the floor with the luggage, and we communicated silently across the room. Handy indeed. (And if you’re so inclined, you can sign things to each other discreetly that others won’t “hear.”)

We’re thinking we might even enrol in a refresher class to help us get back in the groove. The funny thing is, in our last round of ASL classes, I was the only one who couldn’t hear. It’s a popular language and many people want to learn it for many reasons, some to better communicate with students, colleagues, or customers. In this day of smart phones and texting and dictating text, it might not be necessary, but it’s so enriching and fun. So now I tell DHH, “don’t write it down for me – gimme a sign!” Maybe after we practice more, it’ll even be the right one!

Again, wishing you all very Happy Holidays – and here’s how you do it in ASL: