The results of Katerina’s hearing tests always ended with a question mark her first three years of life. She was a squirrely toddler, and the nurses waved the test results off, said she was fine. Katerina was indeed fine, her heart patched up and healthy, she was simply happy and filled with sunshine.
Katerina’s speech development was severely delayed. I knew it before her first birthday, but again, my concerns of a delay were dismissed, all chalked up to Katerina’s rough beginning.
Upon moving to Minnesota, Katerina had begun nursery school. Her teachers recognized a delay within the first week and requested that she be evaluated. The speech pathologist explained that Katerina had the most significant delay of any child he’d witnessed in his long career, who hadn’t any cognitive disabilities or other issues.
I always accompanied Katerina to her speech therapy sessions so that I could help her at home, and felt it was a team effort. Additionally, I could understand Katerina better than anyone.
It was a blue-skied crisp October afternoon, as Katerina and I walked to her speech lesson, enjoying the sunshine. Katerina was wearing a pink hat that her Yaya in Greece had lovingly knitted for her. We were chattering amidst the birds who must have been preparing for their autumn journey to warmer places.
Holding my daughter’s hand, I mentioned something about Dolly, our grumpy cat, always a subject that ignited giggles. Katerina didn’t respond, just continued walking. I repeated my words-nothing. I let go of Katerina’s hand and casually walked to the other side of her. Again, I repeated what I’d said, and she laughed and added more to the story. The rest of the half-mile walk, I switched from side to side, my suspicion growing with each step.
When we arrived for Katerina’s lesson, I mentioned to her speech pathologist what I’d observed, suspecting that she was hearing-impaired. John said that it made sense considering her speech delay, and would request a hearing test for Katerina’s next session.
The following week, Katerina was given a full hearing examination. The most memorable was when Katerina wore headphones, and each time she heard a beeping sound, she was instructed to drop a colored chip in the container. I stood on the far corner of the room and watched her tiny fingers drop each chip diligently-such a good little student!
The ears were then isolated, and my warm grin swiftly fell. The beeps traveled to where I stood, yet Katerina held the chip waiting to hear the sound. With each beep, my heart thudded almost as loudly. I silently and emphatically willed Katerina, Drop the chip, honey! Drop that chip! She didn’t drop another chip until the beeping sound was very loud. By that time she was a blurry figure as I tried to hide any evidence of tears.
Katerina went to a pediatric audiologist soon after, and it was confirmed that she was hearing-impaired in her right ear. I asked the audiologist at what point would Katerina need a hearing aid, and the doctor replied, “Oh, she would have needed one years ago with this hearing loss.” The doctor explained that Katerina had a rare ability to produce sounds she was unable to hear, and thus, far more advantageous, cognitively speaking, than an aid would be.
It wasn’t until this year, now in second grade, that Katerina expressed that she couldn’t hear, and how she wished she could sit with her friends in the back during carpet time. Katerina was exhausted, trying her best to follow instruction and second-grade chatter of friends, but she simply could not hear. Additionally, Katerina’s stuttering had grown incessant, as she struggled to get through even short sentences.
Katerina’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher called and explained the dire need of a hearing aid for Katerina, listed the negative ramifications if she continued without.
The following week we sat in the “tree house”, Katerina’s reference to the small brown room of the audiologist. It was determined that Katerina was now hearing-impaired in both ears. I don’t know why I was so affected by this unexpected news. I just felt defeated. No one is exempt from struggles in life, tough hurdles to jump. I just wish I could jump some of those hurdles for my little girl. I fixed a smile on my face and voice, until I could finally cry after Katerina had gone to bed that evening.
The cause of the left ear’s impairment was entirely unrelated to the the right, and therefore, only the right ear would receive an aid at present.
Katerina and I went to Children’s Hospital in St.Paul, to meet with her new audiologist, a wonderful and patient doctor who looked as young as my niece, Julia. Katerina was fitted for and custom-designed her hearing aid, metallic aqua blue and a swirled blue for the inner piece. When the doctor asked Katerina if she’d like to add glitter, Katerina declined, said she wasn’t much of a girly girl, as she sat with her legs crossed and a hair bow bobbing on top of her head!
Katerina was very excited for her aid, even shared with her class at school all about it. She told me she was most excited to hear a watch tick, said her whole life she’d always wanted to hear that sound.
The big day arrived! Nikos, Katerina and I listened closely to the doctor’s instruction and care of Katerina’s aid. It was beautiful, perfect for our honey! It was also quite emotional after the doctor turned the aid on, as Katerina’s eyes widened and announced that she heard footsteps outside! A shiny new door of life just opened for our young Katerina!
Katerina named her hearing aid Thank You. When we returned to the house, we gave Katerina a few gifts, one of them being a vintage pocket watch. She heard the ticking clearly. I also baked a pan brownies.
It was like a holiday, so exciting and fun! Katerina now had super hearing, secret agent-style. She made us all go and whisper various phrases in the next room and she’d try to hear what was said. Nikolas and Elizabeth were very supportive and encouraging as they have always been of their little sister.
On the other end, I worried how Katerina would deal with potentially thoughtless comments and questions regarding her hearing aid, so I tried to prepare her. Katerina is well accustomed to providing explanation already with her shoe lift, and she expressed that she would rather someone ask than silently stare.
Katerina goes to a very special elementary school, filled with nurture and care. Her class was beautifully accepting and kind. In fact, the entire school seemed to play a positive role. Somehow, the children of Katerina’s school have learned a most profound, intuitive element-empathy. I will forever appreciate the response and warmth that Katerina’s school has shown her. Incredible!
Katerina became more exhausted, crying more often, sleeping before her eight o’clock bedtime. The honeymoon had grounded and Katerina expressed that the sounds were too strong and loud. Her DHH teacher explained that a new hearing aid is very intense for a few weeks, as Katerina’s brain adjusted to sounds she’d never heard before.
One day Katerina said that she didn’t like Thank You any longer, said it looked babyish. Carefully, I explained that I wore my reading classes so I could read, that I drank coffee so I could speak in the morning, that she wore a hearing aid to hear. All of these needs were related. Katerina’s sudden distaste for her aid receded as she grew more accustomed to it.
Katerina’s stuttering issue had nearly disappeared. She has grown far more reliant on Thank You, and enjoys cleaning it on her own, and adds tiny stickers to it, based on her activities of the day. Katerina mentioned some of her favorite sounds were leaves rusting in the wind, and the swish of tires in the rain.
One lazy Sunday morning before church, Nikos and I were lounging on the couch, sipping coffee. Katerina was gazing out the window with her lips puckered and making a wacky sound, trying to whistle I guess. Katerina turned with her lovely smile and announced breathlessly, “Mama, I can hear a bird sing! It’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard!”