When Deaf and hearing worlds collide.

For the first 38 years of my life, I had perfect hearing.  After being in a domestic violence relationship for six years (many years earlier) and having police tell me time and time again that there was nothing I could do against my former spouse, I ended up doing the one thing that a detective of the Criminal Investigations Branch told me to do after my former spouse told police out loud (at the time of his eventual arrest) that he was going to kill me if he ever saw me again.  I changed my name and I vanished.  It was 1998 when I fled the state and literally had to start my life from scratch, with no friends, no family… and no more trust for anybody in this world.

After a number of years passed, my parents came to visit me at my new location, as did my best friend from back in the day.  It was so great to see them again after so very long.

In 2007, my former spouse also found me.  To this very day, I don’t know how he did it, but he found me.  His insane family also made their way into my new home town.  The day that my former spouse got his revenge for my calling in the police was a day I wish I could say that I will never forget.  The last thing I remember that year was him knocking me down onto a concrete ramp at the back of my house, pinning me down and slamming my head over and over into the concrete.  The next eight months are gone – possibly forever.

My earliest memory after that day is around June or July of 2008.  I had ringing in both of my ears.  My right ear was completely devoid of any sound.  It was 100% Deaf.  My left ear had about 10% of hearing.  My eyesight started to diminish bit by bit as well, but I had to adjust to being a domestic violence survivor who was now Hard of Hearing.

Before the attack, I could easily hear things around me, talk on a telephone, speak to many people at once without any problems.  That was no longer the case.

Being Hard of Hearing, I could no longer follow a conversation if more than one person was speaking.  The speaker had to be standing directly on my left side when talking, and if there was any background noise (radio, traffic going past), I would miss what they said.  It was a big adjustment, but at least people were understanding of the fact that my right ear did not work any more.

After being told by my doctor in Australia that any further head injury would leave me either in a vegetative state or dead, I was careful.

I moved to Finland in 2010 and I changed my name permanently.  Now living with my new husband, I attended school full time, studying the Finnish language for five years in total so that I could fit in to a country that had stolen my heart.

One morning in winter of 2011, while on my way to school, snow and ice slipped from the rooftop of an apartment building that I passed by on my regular morning walk.  It landed directly on top of me, leaving me with a concussion.  My eyes were much worse, but I could still hear (barely) from my left ear.

In late 2014, I became profoundly Deaf.  I have not heard my husband’s voice for too long, but thanks to Dr Bill Vicars of Sacramento State University in USA – a Deaf Professor who teaches American Sign Language (ASL) for free online at http://www.Lifeprint.com, my husband and I could quickly communicate with each other again.

Now that I am Deaf, almost everything has changed.  The biggest one to hit me was the phone.  I am no longer able to use a telephone, regardless of how loud, and am unable to talk to my family in Australia again.  People get frustrated – sometimes quite angry, even – that I cannot understand them when they are up in my face and screaming at me.  They are willing to scream and attract attention, yet they are unwilling to use pen and paper to communicate with me.  Former friends in Finland no longer visit me like they used to.  It is almost as if being friends with a Deaf person is just too hard for them.  It hurts.

Then we have an Audiologist at TAYS Hospital in Tampere who ran several tests, diagnosing me as profoundly Deaf, before attaching electrodes to my head, shutting me in a tiny room of blackness, sending me into panic attacks and a world of claustrophobia.  I did not do small spaces or darkness well at all after being in an elevator in 2006 which had fallen 10 floors with me inside it.  While trying to quell the fear, I found myself practicing my sign language constantly in order to keep my brain occupied.  I was chastised twice by the nurse in attendance for doing so, but I continued to do the signs in my head.  They would not humiliate me – not today.

After the test, the Audiologist called my husband and I into her office and typed into my communication device “You can hear.  There is nothing wrong with your ears.  Goodbye.”  I was absolutely floored with her words, her callousness, her coldness.  The Audiologist then fabricated a report that I had perfect hearing, that I could hear at my other appointments, regardless that I heard nothing and still, to this day, hear nothing.  I lodged a complaint.

After a meeting at Social Office of Finland, the representative of TAYS Hospital finally admitted the errors and fabrications and asked us to send to the hospital all of the corrections that need to be made to that final report.  We did this (my husband and I), both electronically and via post.  The same day that I sent the forms electronically, the representative of TAYS Hospital acknowledged receipt and thanked me for sending the forms to her.

Two months later, we were still awaiting the updated report.  My husband contacted the big boss at the hospital.  The representative told to her boss that we had never sent them.  I was stunned.  Could this type of corruption and collaboration really be happening in a place with such a high reputation?  I was then asked to do as they originally asked and submit any changes that were needed to the report, but was told it may be too late to do it since I “waited so long.”

Luckily for me, I do not throw things away.  I keep copies of all documents, I scan documents which need to be sent.  I do not delete emails.  So I went through the emails and found the one with the document which had been sent two months earlier, as well as the email from them acknowledging receipt.  I forwarded the emails to TAYS, and sent an open CC copy to a third party as witness.  I asked:

You have stated to my husband and to your boss that you never received these three documents, regardless that you sent me a letter to acknowledge that you did receive them.  Please can you explain to me how they vanished?  They were not only sent electronically via email, but they were also sent via post.

I am interested to know how a hospital can lose such important papers….. twice.

t: Rosie Margaret

The very next morning, we received a panicked reply saying that they had, by a miracle, found the documents and were working on having the report amended.  Yes, we are still waiting.

The hardest thing about being Deaf is communication.  Having things written on paper at appointments, especially if the appointment is long, is very time consuming.  Many doctors refuse to do so and require my husband to come with us so he can translate.  He is not given any reimbursement to be my translator.  I have asked KELA (Finland’s disability people who provide interpreters) to please provide one to me for official appointments – a request which has been denied over and over.

A couple of days ago, both my husband and my mother-in-law accompanied me to KELA.  I wanted to sit in front of them and let them see how hard it really is.  They tried to do all of their talking to my hearing family, but I refused to let that happen.  I was the customer and I am Deaf.  I asked them to write it on paper so I understand what they say.  They wrote three lines and went back to talking to my family.  I started to talk again and they continued to talk over the top of me, like I was not there.  I tapped on the desk twice to get their attention – something Deaf people do if there are no lights to flick on and off.  One staff member stormed out because I talked too loud.  The other demanded that we leave before they call the police.

My mother-in-law and husband immediately left the office but I would not move.  I was looking forward to the escalation, just so they could not continue to bury under a rug how shockingly they treat Deaf people in Finland.  I sat and I stayed.  My husband came back and begged me to leave.  I talked to him (I am told I am quite loud now that I am Deaf) and said I am not leaving until police come, and told him to make sure media is available so they can see the Deaf woman being taken away in handcuffs for asking for an interpreter.  I continued to stay and I continued to wait for police.

After about ten minutes, one of the staff members returned.  She did not want to involve the police, and I was sure she knew why I was willing to be arrested.  The Deaf people in Finland have no voice and no rights.

It is quite ironic, considering the World Federation of the Deaf is based right here in Finland.  While Finland are leaders of “curing” deafness – Cochlear Implants – they are at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to Deaf rights.  In any other country, if you are able bodied and able to communicate, you are able to work.  In Finland, if you are Deaf you are immediately written off as being unemployable and are considered incapable of making decisions.  Not many people know that until around 30 years ago, Deaf Finns were forcibly sterilised so that they could not reproduce. I am still horrified at this fact.

I am now a citizen of Finland.  People who are born Deaf do not know the difference between how hearing and Deaf people are treated.  I do.  I am a qualified Paralegal and Veterinary Nurse.  I am no longer permitted to practice either vocation as I am now Deaf.  I am now an Author.  I am no martyr.  But I have a voice and I will shout from the rooftops until Finland (and the rest of the world) wake up to themselves and realise that Deaf people ARE able bodied and we DO have a language. Hearing people just have to stop being so afraid of it.

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