Dave and I headed back to the VA hospital on Monday for his dermatology appointment. During his Hepatitis C treatment, a spot on his back started to change and the doctor wanted him to have it looked at. It was always a little gnarly-looking, but during treatment it would randomly bleed and it developed more of a cauliflower shape. (He’s had this mole-like thing for, he figures, around 20 years or more.)
I was a little worried, I admit; being the worrier that I am, I had frequently Googled ‘skin cancer’ and I was pretty sure that’s what he had. The doctor came in and we talked for a bit; our conversation was going so smoothly that neither of us bothered to fill her in on our respective hearing losses. We usually don’t mention it unless we’re having trouble hearing/understanding somebody; at the hospital, that would usually be a doctor or nurse with a heavy accent or tendency to talk to us while they’re looking away (writing or typing or whatever).
The dermatologist took a look at Dave’s back and casually said, “Oh yeah, that’s a basal cell carcinoma.” Before I could freak out, she went on to say that it’s really common, easily treated and usually isn’t the type to spread. She proceeded to look over the rest of his body and found one more spot that she said was a very early stage of basal cell carcinoma, on the top of his head.
As this was all happening, I was following what she said very easily. She didn’t have an accent and she spoke clearly. I really felt like I didn’t have a hearing loss at all; it’s very easy to get lulled into thinking you’ve reached a point where you don’t need accommodations anymore.
She explained that she was going to take a biopsy of the thing on Dave’s back, and we’d get the results in about a week; depending on how invasive it was, he’d either have it scraped off or cut out. Then she turned away and slipped a blue mask over her mouth. After that, it was like 70% of the conversation dropped away for me. I could keep up by catching a word here and there and guessing at the content of the rest of her sentence, but it was so much work.
At one point, she turned away completely and asked a question. I could tell it was a question by the inflection in her voice, but I hadn’t understood even one word of what she said. Dave gazed at me over her shoulder, raising his eyebrows in a “What do I say?!” kind of way. He hadn’t caught the question fully himself. I had to shrug and mouth, “I don’t know!” Finally he started telling her about our canning adventures; he had guessed that she’d asked what our plans were for the day and apparently he guessed correctly, because she continued the conversation with no ‘What the heck?!’ expression on her face (what we usually see when we respond inappropriately to an unheard question).
I could follow her a little better when I knew what the subject of the conversation was, but I was still having to work very hard to keep up. If she had asked me a question directly, I would have definitely told her I was deaf and hearing with cochlear implants, and needed to see her lips. But she slipped the mask off fairly quickly and, once again, our conversation became 100% clear to me. She went on to zap Dave’s head with liquid nitrogen (he was not pleased!) and gave us instructions on taking care of the area where she took the biopsy.
The whole experience really made it clear how much I still use visual clues to ‘hear.’ I can go for so long with no problems because I spend most of my time with Dave, and I can carry on a conversation with him from another room – I’m so used to his voice, I don’t need to see his face to understand. My cochlear implants work so well in most situations that I can get lulled into feeling like my hearing is 100% normal with them. Then I have a situation like the one at the dermatologist’s office, and I get served a little slice of humble pie.
It’s all good – no complaints here; believe me, I will never complain about my cochlear implants! I just need to remember that my eyes are just as important as my ears in my whole hearing experience.