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Smith Says

SMITH: Pandemic masks make lip reading difficult

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This may come as a shock, but columns aren’t cranked out like Crackerjacks. Sometimes I knock one out in 30 minutes, other times I ride the struggle bus.

Julie Smith

Julie R. Smith

Columns also don’t occur in a vacuum: They require ideas, stimulation, a-ha moments. Example: Today’s column sprang from my friend Perrin’s hilarious Facebook post. I’d experienced what she described, and voila, a column was born.

Perrin’s not deaf, but I am. I’ve worn hearing aids since age 38. BTW, nobody—ENTs, specialists, audiologists—can explain why a young, healthy woman suddenly stopped hearing.

Deafness doesn’t run in my family: My maternal grandfather could, from his first-floor bedroom, hear someone whisper “whiskey” in a locked closet on the second floor.

I’ve been to my share of loud concerts, but that’s not why, either. It wasn’t caused by genes, trauma, illness or medical treatment. One day my right ear just quit. As a specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina told me cheerfully, “You’d be surprised how often people go deaf and we never know why!”

My come-to-Jesus moment was in the middle of a death penalty trial, with the defendant on the stand. I was taking notes with a deadline 30 minutes away, so stress was high. Suddenly I realized his lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear him. He could have blurted, “I did it!” for all I knew. I scheduled a hearing test the next day.

For a few years I just needed a hearing aid in my right ear. Then, of course, I woke up deaf on the left. Cause: unknown.

Being deaf isn’t as difficult as, say, being stupid, but few things test your self-confidence like being 42 and single with two hearing aids. A loudly beeping “low battery” signal does not scream, “cute and youthful.”

Then I met the wonderful Widdle, who didn’t care if I used an ear trumpet or took out my teeth along with my hearing aids at night. (Just to be clear, my teeth are my own. Extremely expensive, but all mine.)

It’s surprising how quickly you adapt to hearing loss. I ask people to speak louder and make sure we’re facing each other. By tapping a phone app, I turn the aids up and down—it’s magic! My other super-power is lip reading. I didn’t realize how much I relied on it until we all started wearing masks.

Here’s a typical exchange in the grocery store:

Cashier: “Dingasmmfg?”

Me: “Mmmfhrhy?” (“Repeat that, please?” and points to ear.)


Me: “Yep.” (Taps phone to turn down hearing aids.)

Cashier: “Fffentypas?”

Me: “Pardon?” (Taps phone to turn hearing aids up.)


Me: “Pfmpl.”

Cashier: “WHAT?!?”


Then we’re clicking along at a good pace until I spot an item in the cart that I meant to put back but didn’t. (I do this all the time—buyer’s remorse, but forget to return it to the shelf.)

Me: (Gestures to olive ice cream) “Fllmp! Rrrmf! Girffff!”

Cashier: “Memifrool ossa.”

Me: “Huh?” (Helplessly points to ear again.)


And so it goes, until the groceries are bagged and I insert my credit card. (Oh, who are we kidding, it’s Widdle’s credit card, and I swipe it ‘til it smokes.)

Cashier: “Habba dabba dap!”

Me: (Exhausted) “I don’t know what you said, but no.”

Cashier: “I said, HAVE A NICE DAY!”

So there you go. Communication is the key to understanding.

Julie R. Smith, who’s positive some store somewhere does sell olive ice cream, can be reached at