Monday, August 1, 2011

Catching up. And deaf culture.

I know.

Long time, no see.

I was just going through a hide - underground phase. Didn't feel like writing much. Now I'm back. And I'm rusty.

Anywho. Internship's been going on pretty much as usual and as expected. But most times I really enjoy the contact with various kinds of people it brings for me.

Now just during my last 15 day Ophthalmology posting, all I did was check the visual acuity of the patients in the OPDs. Very boring, you might think? Yeah. I guess. But you know, not really.

It's just fun coming across so many people and all their idiosyncrasies and wondering about their back stories.

And I just love it when a patient comes and wishes me "Good morning Doctor" with a really excited smile. It makes my day.

So, ophthal brought me tons of kids who thought reading out the visual acuity chart correctly was like passing in a school test, old ladies who forced their life stories upon me instead of getting tested, the relatives who tried to prompt to the patients whenever they wouldn't read correctly, the little kid who tried to cheat by peeking through her good eye every single time I asked her to read anything, the proud uncles who were too embarrassed to admit they couldn't see, and the pros who were so used to the testing they just told me up to which line they could read. And of course, the occasional lecherous old men. But yeah.

I pretty much enjoyed the experience. 

But there's one story I'm unlikely to forget. A 17 year old kid came in one day along with his father. He was thin, lanky, and otherwise looked non-descript. Once he took his seat his father informed me that he was deaf. I was mildly surprised, but didn't react. Instead I was pretty much in awe.

*More info required here* So, of late, I have taken to watching a new series called 'Switched at birth'. One of the two protagonists on the show is deaf, and the show also has a lot of other hearing-impaired characters. The show has vastly improved my knowledge and education regarding the community of deaf/hearing-impaired people, acquainted me with the kind of lives they live, and helped me develop an immense respect and greater awareness about them. It also introduced me to what is known as deaf culture, as well as to the ongoing debate in the community regarding cochlear implants.

I have never ever met a deaf /hearing-impaired person earlier in my life. So when I came across this kid, I looked at him in wonder. I know that some deaf people talk aloud, and some don't. He was one who didn't talk aloud. His dad pretty much talked for him. I also noticed that neither of them used sign language, quite unlike what I saw on the show. Neither did the kid seem to know lip-reading. But then again, this was India. So then their problems and the way they live over here and how they deal with it would be totally different. I probably still need a lot more education in this area.

Anyhow, so, back to the story. The kid sat there, a bit confused about how to proceed. I immediately got up, and started pointing out to the boxes I wanted him to read, and he immediately responded by gesturing the answers with his fingers. He looked sad when he couldn't read beyond two lines with one eye, and nothing with the other. That meant even his vision was poor.

When I glanced at his papers, his history said that he had been diagnosed with a cancer in his lymph nodes a couple of years back and was still undergoing treatment for the same. And now, from the looks of it, even his vision was receding. he didn't wear spectacles, so it had to be a recent development.

After knowing all this, I couldn't  bear to ask his father anything else. About whether he was hearing impaired since birth, since when and why was his vision receding, and how was he dealing with the cancer. How can one person have to deal with so many problems and that too so early on in their lives?

It scared the shit out of me. So I acted like a coward. I was too scared to find out what his life was like. I didn't want to know. I wouldn't have been able to bear it. So I didn't ask. I just politely sent him his way.

Hopefully I will learn better. But I have thought about him often after that.Which has obviously led to this post.

Then just a few days after that incident, I came across this quote put up in a frame inside my ENT department:

"I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus-- the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.

Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people."

- Hellen Keller.

While I had heard of Hellen Keller before this, I didn't really know her story very well. Researching that thought-provoking quote led me to read more about her. I am so glad that happened. Her story was one of the few truly inspiring ones I have read.

It also made me realize that the Hindi movie 'Black' must be inspired by her story. I just wish it hadn't starred Amitabh Bachchan (Yeah, I don't like him too much). Just watch this trailer and you'll see how similar the two movies must be if you've seen Black. Now I am going to watch the original movie.

Anyhow, so I am going to correct my lack of knowledge about hearing disabled people. Hopefully my post will make you want to do the same.

I guess I'll leave you now with all this food for thought. End of post.

Good night and good bye.


  1. ... aaand it's posts like these which make me so glad I'm a nosy blog-hopper who blog-hopped her way to your blog! This really touched me Aayushi, both in terms of the honesty with which you approached this and in terms of the content. Was this kid before or after you saw me? Wait, (see what a short term memory I have!) I'm not even sure if you know that I'm deaf? Or hearing impaired or whatever you want to say for it, as I guess being deaf means being fully deaf (which I practically am without the hearing aid..).. anyway, I have no clue if you knew this or not so I am just curious as to whether this boy was the first actual deaf person you met. I can't even recall us discussing the topic of my deafness at all, though you must have surely seen my hearing aid? Hmmm..

    That Hellen Keller quote is beautiful, but I am not sure I really agree with it (and not just cos of my personal bias of being deaf either! :p). Except maybe in terms of missing out on music which I think is the single most beautiful thing on the planet. But hmm anyway, I need to formulate my thoughts still on that one :p But YES Black is beautiful! I can relate a fair deal to the little girl in Black (have you seen the movie?), her upbringing was in many senses similar to mine, although I did not have blindness to deal with as well and I wasn't born deaf like her. In fact, I remember telling people how Black touched me for its portrayal of a deaf (and blind) child's struggles. I must write a blog post about that soon. I want to watch the Miracle Worker too, didn't know it was based on a Hollywood. Although I should have guessed! :p

    At the end of the day - deaf, blind, autistic, limb-less, psychosis, whatever - we are all human and each has his or her own battles and demons to fight in this world. I guess it's easy for me to say this as a 'disabled person' but everyone just wants to be treated normally, I guess. I remember initially being so nervous of looking at kids with cerebral palsy or adults with neurological diseases or learning disabilities or whatever in wheelchairs and feeling really nervous and not really knowing where to look or how to behave with them, in case they felt offended that I was 'staring' at them or, if I spoke to them in a simple language in a loud, clear voice, whether they would feel as though I was thinking they were 'mentally retarded' or something. So much lies in perceptions, if we think about it.. but anyway, then I remember giving myself a mental kick and reminding myself, 'Sunrise, just behave with them as you would want others to behave with you if you didn't have your hearing aid in' and it made it all the easier. :)

  2. If you want me to help you in furthering your knowledge on deaf people - though I am not the best resource, I am *a* resource - let me know :)

    PS: The most wonderful thing happened at Churchgate station whilst I was in Mumbai. My friend and I were looking a bit lost and needing directions as to how to get to Victoria Terminus (little did we know most people knew it was CST so no wonder so many people shrugged their shoulders! FML!), and this boy and girl, must've been age range 17 - 24 or something?, kept staring at us. I got a bit freaked out as they started advancing us... then realised they were pointing and signalling at my hearing aid! Turns out they were both brother and sister and they noticed my hearing aid and wanted to let me know they were deaf too! They had difficulties with speech a little bit and used their mobile phones to text words - this was in my initial Mumbai days where my Hindi was terrible too mind you! (Actually, it still is...) :p It was just a nice moment. They tried to help me find 'VT' but in the end gave up as they had no clue what I was on about... and I don't think deafness had anything to do with it hahaha!! :-)

    PPS: Sorry for rambling so much, I really REALLY cannot wait for end of exams to ramble on my OWN page to my heart's content now... your post has inspired me for a blog post of my own on this topic now. :-)

  3. Yes Sunrise, you now officially go down as the first deaf person I ever met. And I didn't even realize it. I feel horrible now. But I guess it really says something about how well adjusted you are to doing everything just like the rest of us. I am so proud I know you!

    I did see your hearing aid, but like the idiot that I am, I just assumed you have some minor impairment. Never having been exposed to a deaf person earlier, I guess I never expected that someone who was deaf could carry out their daily activities so easily. Once again that says so much about what you have achieved, and so much about what I need to learn!

    I can't believe I discussed music with you, I feel like kicking myself right now :(

    I already have tons of questions for you :) I ll be bugging you soon.

    Please do write a blog post about this. I am more than eager to read more of your story.

    I am so glad I got to meet you :) And I am so proud of you!

  4. Great Posting Aayushi,,, Nice Story :)

  5. Just read your post and Sunrise's comments. Am just speechless.

    P.S : Aayushi, I really love the way you write. It seems effortless, but going by your schedule, I know it isn't :-)

  6. very moving..and loved the summary of the pple u come across in ophthal..hilarious and bang on! lol

  7. Your write-ups are beautiful,inspiring pieces of work!!who new that the apparently dull and mundane life of an intern could spin such wonderful stories! :D..keep it up ayushi! will eagerly look forward to more of these..

  8. @sunrise its been really nice reading ur anecdotes..kudos to u!just 4 bein d person u sure we'd all love to read ur start soon!