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This post has nothing to do with drugs or anything you’d expect from Camden, so sorry to burst your bubble if that’s what you were looking for.
This post does still have a very special story about Camden though. I present to you, the newly revised (and most difficult chapter to write) of my novel, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.
Chapter 1: Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Loss. It’s one word with a multitude of feelings attached to it including despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. For some people, loss means nothing. You can’t lose something if you’ve never had it to begin with, right?
That’s how hearing loss worked for me. My mother, on the other hand, can remember the exact moment when she discovered my hearing loss.
I was two years old and my mother would call out my name, but I never responded. The doctors thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.
“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.
When my mom banged a handful of pots and pans together behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Defying the doctors, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.
After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had profound hearing loss.
The best way to treat it — or at the time, the only way to treat it — was with hearing aids. I needed them in both ears.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. My mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.
“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.
“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe.,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.
Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”
Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.
Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.
“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.
I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.
Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.
“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.
“Hot dog,” I answered.
“Say the word baseball.”
“Say the word airplane.”
“Say the word ice cream.”
“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” my mom interrupted.
Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?
“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” my mom said.
“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.
“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.
“Say the word kite.’
“Say the word chair.”
“Say the word sub.”
“Say the word third.”
“Say the word ran.”
I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong. Thanks a lot, Mom. I thought.
When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels.
“Ready to use the magic mirror?” Miss Vicki asked.
“Yes!” I would exclaim.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” they’d say. “We’ll start with ‘sh’ first.”
“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.
“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.
“Tooze,” I said.
“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”
“Choose?” I said.
“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.
I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.
When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.
“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated being called “Kimmy”.
“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.
“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.
“suit case,” I whispered as I threw the ball.
Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said.“Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”
I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.
“Very nice! You got it!” she said.
Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. As far as I could see, I was one in the same with the rest of the hearing world. Unfortunately, as I’d learn in my grade school years, not everyone saw things that way.