Deafness*

Roger was born in Todmorden, West Yorkshire in 1950. He trained to be a Vet at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh. Roger set up his own single-handed practice in Dalbeattie forty years ago. He then formed The Bard Veterinary Group in Dumfries with two colleagues nine years later.

He lives with his wife Judy (all four children having flown the nest), two rescue dogs from Crete and an African Grey parrot called George who was also rescued thirty-five years ago. 

Now that Roger is fully retired, he can spend more time pursuing his passion for photography. This includes wildlife, landscape and portraiture all in still and video formats.

He has visited Peru, Alaska and Africa to raise funds for various charities such as Action Aid, Vet Aid and Sense

In 2014 he conceived an ambitious project called 1000 Faces of Scotland, which is still ongoing. 

Back problems significantly limit most of Roger’s much-loved sporting activities, but he has developed a love for daily yoga practice and, more recently, open water swimming.

You can find Roger here:


Deafness*

*An inability to hear properly OR unwillingness to hear or pay attention.

I would dearly love to be classed as the latter but regrettably my hearing is very limited and continues to deteriorate.

There are numerous reasons why someone has difficulty with hearing and the severity ranges from mild dysfunction to total deafness.

With regard to hearing dysfunction, it is important to understand that the person may hear the noise but in many cases the clarity of that noise is severely distorted and therefore its perception may be lost. A person with mild hearing loss does a lot of guessing: ‘did she really say that’; ‘which bird was that singing’; ‘is that a helicopter overhead or is it just a bumble bee behind me’?

Severe hearing loss such as mine can be maddingly frustrating, confusing, embarrassing, tiring and sometimes very funny. 

My hearing problem is due to a condition called otosclerosis which is hereditary. So far, only one of our four children appears to have inherited this problem.

Otosclerosis affects the little bones that conduct sound across the middle ear to the brain.

I was in my early teens just attending first year at high school when my hearing problem became apparent. My French teacher noticed that I was having difficulty with my f’s and s’s. After a series of audiology appointments, I was diagnosed with otosclerosis and fitted with an NHS hearing aid which was essentially an earpiece attached by a long wire to an amplifier that I carried in my top blazer pocket. It was difficult not to feel self-conscious with the blooming thing in my pocket sometimes buzzing indiscriminately. 

At times I have threatened to throw
them (the aids) in the nearest bin or burn.

My very ‘upmarket’ hearing aids today can still do the same. This is incredibly irritating both for me and any other person in proximity! At times I have threatened to throw them (the aids) in the nearest bin or burn.

Surgery has always been an option for this condition. It involves replacing one of these tiny bones in the middle ear. It is normally quite successful but, in my case, after 3 operations, none of them were and my hearing has continued to deteriorate ever since. The mechanical deafness caused by the otosclerosis has been exacerbated by auditory nerve damage, ironically caused by wearing high-powered hearing aids all my life and similar to the problem musicians can develop if they do not wear ear protectors. 

Now in my 70s, I am profoundly deaf. Hearing aids do help a little. I am at the stage where I need to invest in only the most powerful, most expensive aids. Unfortunately, the hearing devices prescribed by our NHS are totally inadequate for me. My latest quote for my next upgraded hearing aids is £4,000!

Hearing aids, of course, not only amplify the sound my brain is trying to listen to, but they also amplify every sound! Suppers with friends are really tricky and I now almost dread socialising of any kind because I just cannot follow the conservation. The situation gets worse if we have had a couple of glasses of wine. I might pick up a couple of words from a sentence but by the time my brain has filled in the blanks the conservation has moved on, so I am left looking a bit disinterested and possibly a bit ‘glaikit’.

Masks and moustaches . . . I can’t even go there!

As a teenager I used to think the other kids were talking about me because I couldn’t always catch what they were saying and couldn’t engage in the gossip; I missed all the punchlines in any jokes! They probably thought I was a bit of a stuffed shirt! I was fortunate, however, to have a deep love of open spaces and was a keen sportsman. Out on the hills above my hometown of Todmorden and on the cricket field and squash court, my increasing deafness did not matter. Flirting with pretty girls was basically a non-starter though!

French classes were the worst, although my teacher Mary Chatburn tried everything she could to help me. I was never going to succeed as a linguist!

All my classes were a struggle and not all my teachers were as supportive as Mary. By the end of first year, I had set my sights on training to become a veterinary surgeon, so I had no option but to get my head down and work exceedingly hard. My parents probably thought I was quite mad considering my hearing problems, but they supported me fully.

I did manage to be accepted to study veterinary medicine at the Royal Dick in Edinburgh but that was when I really understood the limitations associated with my hearing deficit. The classes were much larger, the lecture theatres vast and full of echo. The lecturers did not always speak clearly and often spoke too quickly. There was no loop system and basically no provision made for people with hearing loss. The only option I had was to record the lectures I had most difficulty following and play them back in my digs or round at my wife, Judy’s flat. Some of the recordings were almost impossible for me to follow so Judy was employed to listen and repeat them to me! She still maintains that she would have no difficulty in sitting the vet examinations herself! Somehow our relationship survived!

All the extra work paid off thank goodness and I graduated alongside my hearing colleagues.

Although I function best in a one-to-one situation, I still found every consultation a challenge, some inevitably more so than others. Being a Yorkshireman, I had to work hard at interpreting the Scottish farmers’ dialect but mostly they were very patient with me. The phone has always been and still is my nightmare. People tend to talk faster on the phone and as they cannot see my facial expression, they are unaware that I sometimes haven’t caught a single word they have said. If I tell them, they often start shouting and then repeating the same sentence at double the rate!

I now have a phone which is linked to my hearing aid and that does help immensely. 

Using a conventional stethoscope was a non-starter for me so I had to buy the best and ultimately one that amplified the sound for me.

A few years ago, I attended a clinic for a hearing assessment for a Cochlear Implant. This is a surgical procedure that profoundly deaf individuals can have which bypasses the middle ear and sends sounds direct to the inner ear and brain. It is a completely new and different way of hearing. At the time they said I was managing too well with my aids and suggested I wait longer. I have just been referred for another assessment by my audiologist. 

SENSE is a charity that helps individuals who are both deaf and blind. Several years ago, I completed a charity walking event in Machu Pichu in Peru, having raised £7000 for the charity. On training days before we went, they tried to explain to us what it was like to be deaf and blind. Even with the best explanation it is almost impossible to begin to understand what it would be like to exist with neither of these senses that we take so much for granted. My problems are nothing in comparison. Some of these unfortunate people spent most of their day hiding under tables, which is the only place that they feel safe. They are unable to communicate in any way except by touch. Sense provides specially-designed houses where deaf–blind people can live together in some sort of safety and normality.

Life with hearing difficulties is not insurmountable and amazing things are possible. In my case I have found a new career with my photography, as long as I can see, that is. Other examples include Rose Ayling-Ellis, who with dance partner Giovanni recently won the Strictly Come Dancing competition despite being unable to hear the music she was dancing to. How mad is that?  

There is also Evelyn Glenny, the world-famous percussionist who feels sound through her hands and feet. Other examples include Beethoven the composer, Goya the artist, and Thomas Edison – quite possibly the greatest inventor of all time.

So, it’s quite conceivable there are lots of very capable and potentially famous individuals out there amongst you. Deafness and hearing loss need not be a barrier to creativity and achievement. Go for it! 

Roger Lever


Roger mentions surgery for otosclerosis in his blog, and our readers might be interested to read Bella Bathurst’s memoir, Sound (Profile Books, 2018). In it, Bella talks about her progression into near-complete hearing loss, how becoming deafened affected her life, and the surgery which restored her hearing.

Our monthly flash theme for March is d/Deafness

Are you d/Deaf? Do you live with hearing loss, tinnitus or disorders of the ear? This March, we’re honouring Hearing Loss Awareness Month with content which signposts to important organisations and sources of support. Hearing conditions, d/Deafness and tinnitus have numerous causes and can happen at any stage of life. They are, however, more common in later life, and can have a significant impact on mental health and quality of life without proper support, inclusion or understanding. We’re especially aware of how creativity can enhance quality of life, so we’d love you to get in touch and tell us about how you manage tinnitus, hearing loss or d/Deafness through creativity. You can do this through a short poem, story or memoir, and we have book prizes for the best one! 


Send us your entries by midnight on March 31st, and the winning entry, chosen by Autumn Voices, will receive Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, published by Faber and Faber and Deaf Sentence by David Lodge, published by Penguin (Harvill Secker).

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