Deaf or Blind?

I admitted a patient to one of the residential houses today who is deaf. It was an interesting experience and sent me back a few years time to when I worked for the Mental Health Center of Denver and worked with four different deaf patients, all of which also suffered from Mild to Severe Mental Retardation.

It also set off a thought wave that I’ve caught on several different occasions. If I had to experience being blind or being deaf, which to me would be the least difficult way to navigate the world?

This was a really easy question for my husband to answer – he would rather be deaf. He could not work in his field and be blind. He also would not be able to read books, work on a computer or any number of other things that he needs his eyes to do, but does not need to be able to hear. He also made a very good argument that it is much easier to introduce medical and scientific interventions that are more capable of replacing various parts of the whole system related to hearing sounds than interventions for most any part of the system related to sight. The eye is more complicated than the ear, which is really saying something since the ear is a very delicate and fine piece of work by itself.

I have to agree with him that in the modern world being blind is probably more of a handicap than being deaf. But, as I experienced today, the one thing that gives the strongest argument for “choosing” to be blind is that being deaf means a significant loss of the ability to communicate with the world at large. This means far more to some people than to others. I could not do the vast majority of my job as it is now if I could not hear and therefore easily communicate with my co-workers or my patients. At the same time, if I were blind, I could not do most of my job either. Too much hinges upon being able to quickly and easily navigate computers as well as be able to speak. Hell, nursing in general requires all five senses to be able to do a complete assessment, even as a psych nurse I use all my senses (though I sometimes which my nose weren’t involved…) and so I would have to conclude that if I were to be either deaf or blind, I would be stuck with finding a different career.

So, I stand where I have found myself every time I have evaluated this question – I have no idea. Do I give up easy communication, music, and the easy ability to have a general idea of what is going on around me, even behind me? Or do I give up colors, the ability to easily manipulate the technology of today, fewer bruises from bumping into things, and being able to see everything that is around me?

Today, I lean toward choosing to be deaf, but tomorrow I will likely say I would rather be blind. Honestly, it makes me appreciate more and more just how lucky I am to be able to correct my vision with glasses or contacts so that I can see the beauty in the world around me. I am blessed to be able to hear everything around me from the annoying hum of the TV to the gorgeous music in the background to the sound of my husband’s voice. I am blessed to have two legs of even length with feet with five toes each and two arms of even length with hands with five fingers. I have a heart and lungs and liver and kidneys and stomach and all my other organs that function normally and my brain is at least of average intelligence and capable of abstract and forward processing and thinking.

I am blessed in so many ways and I often don’t even think about it. Today though, I am aware of just how lucky I am and today I give my thanks to the universe for giving me this gift.

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