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What did you say?

05:03 AM January 15, 2018

Of the impairments that afflict those aged 60 and above, there’s none more annoying than loss of hearing. Your eyes are OK, your nose is OK, your throat is super-OK, but gosh, your ears! They mishear or hardly hear at all.

I am not stone-deaf—yet, but you have to up your voice’s volume and enunciate your words clearly or you lose me.

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My father must have passed on to me my hearing problem. Conversations between my parents often turned into comedy hour.

One time Mother was telling Father to change into fresh clothes: “Vale, magpalit ka ng damit.”

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“Anong gamit?” he asked.

“Hindi, damit. Magpalit ka ng damit,” she said.

“May sakit? Sino’ng may sakit?” he said.

“Ay, Diyos ko, sabi ko magpalit ka ng damit!” she cried.

“Galit? Bakit ka galit?” he asked, hotly.

Mother gave up. She told me to do the talking, or the hollering, to get through to Father.

My hearing impairment has not yet dropped to that level of hopelessness, thank you. But the embarrassment and bother it causes are no less annoying.

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The wife nudges me often during Mass for saying the wrong response to the Prayer of the Faithful. For example, one Sunday, to the lay minister’s plea, “Let’s pray to the Lord,” I intoned the response I heard the priest say earlier that we should utter: “Lord, care for prayer.” After a couple of acclamations to which I responded real loudly, the wife nudged me.

“Huh?” I said, leaning over.

“The response is ‘Lord, hear our prayer,’” she hissed. “Nakakahiya ka!”

The sad episode was the subject of a hilarious conversation at the dinner table among the wife and the rest of the household.

There’s no chore for straining to one hard of hearing than to carry a conversation with someone in a place where you cannot talk in a voice louder than normal—for example, in a hospital ICU, or in a confessional box.

Let me tell you about an embarrassing confessional experience. I have just enumerated my sins and the priest, an American Jesuit from Ateneo whose words sound like they are coming from Deep Space, is examining me about details. “Do you go … wrs … wrs … wrs … wrs?” he asks.

“Oh, yes, Father,” I say automatically without comprehending.

“How wrs … wrs … do you … wrs … wrs?”

“Father?”

“I SAID HOW OFTEN DO YOU GO?”

“Oh, every day, and sometimes twice a day, in the morning with the wife of a neighbor, who hitches a ride with me to Makati, and in the afternoon after office with my secretary.”

The priest lets out a whistle. “And … wrs … wrs … have … wrs … wrs?” he asks.

“Father?”

“I SAID YOU HAVE THE ENERGY TO DO THIS?”

“Oh. yes, Father, absolutely. For the Lord I’ll always have the energy,” I say ingratiatingly, hoping to get lighter penance.

“HOW CAN YOU SAY GOING TO MOTELS TWICE DAILY IS DOING SOMETHING FOR THE LORD?” the priest yells.

“Motels? I thought you were asking me how often I go to Mass!” I exclaim, dumbfounded.

The wife nags me all the time to see a doctor about my hearing. So one day I haul myself to the clinic of Doc Celis, who has been the family medicine man for over a quarter of a century. He is not an ENT specialist, but doctors are not very unlike barbers: You stick to one for as long as his hands and his fees remain steady.

“Nothing wrong with your ears,” Doc said. “The drums are bit filmy, malabo, but this can be fixed.” He prescribed an ear drop and told me to come back after a week.

I returned after two months. By that time Doc had sufficiently recovered from a mild stroke that he suffered only days after my first visit. The stroke had done no discernable damage to any part of his body, except his tongue which had become stone-stiff.

He looked at my ears, all the while making small talk, or trying to, about the government, my shoes, my watch. But I could only pick bits and pieces of what he was saying. “So, Doc.” I said, “how are my ears?”

“Mumble … mumble … mumble,” he said.

“Ano ’yon, Doc?” I asked.

“Mumble … mumble,” he said, gesturing.

I scratched my head. “Doc, I don’t get it.”

“Mumble … mumble … mumble,” he said.

“Doc,” I started to say, then stopped and burst out laughing. “Your tongue is curled like a twisted wire and my ears register nothing like a low-batt cell phone. Is there anything funnier?”

Doc laughed so loud and long I was afraid he’d suffer another stroke.

I’m turning 85 this month. More to lessen their stress talking to me than to bring me joy, my family members are gifting me with a hearing aid.

* * *

Mart del Rosario ([email protected]) is a retired advertising-PR consultant.

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