The Big Local Music Festival was last weekend. I was there the whole time, of course, taking pictures for the website. As a result, I have perpetual and nearly-irrevocable backstage access. This is not as thrilling as you might hope, since it mainly means that I get to stand right in front of the speakers while trying to take usable pictures of bands whose music I'm usually only vaguely acquainted with... for three days straight.
I wear earplugs when I do this. This is not so much a thoughtful precaution designed to mitigate long-term damage to my hearing. It's more because if I don't, I'll end the night with a ferocious headache and a complete inability to speak at normal volume. ("WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?")
So I wear earplugs while I'm at the stages, and frequently I don't bother to take them out when I leave the stage. Or, you know, I just forget. Then I find myself walking through the festival (still taking pictures) or inside the command center (downloading pictures and recharging camera batteries) with -- at a guess -- about 80% hearing loss. I should note that the music festival is over 30 hours of overtime, sandwiched between two very full work weeks; so on top of everything else, I'm usually exhausted. Being that tired makes it easy to forget that I can fix the problem by removing the earplugs; it makes it easy not to realize that that might be a good idea when someone is trying to talk to me.
Because, of course, if they're speaking in anything resembling a normal volume and tone, I can pick out maybe one word in five. One in three, if I'm standing really close.
It's an interesting experience, and I wish I'd had the time and energy to write something about it during the festival, when it was still fresh on my mind. It changes the way I interact with people; not being able to hear or understand what people are saying is surprisingly isolating. I find myself smiling a lot and trying to look friendly; I do a lot of nodding vaguely. If someone seems to be saying something important, my first reaction is to lean in and cup my ear towards them... and I don't know why I fall back on non-verbal responses, instead of simply saying, "I can't hear you." After all, it's my hearing that isn't working, not my voice. Is that just me, or do a lot of people react that way? I don't know.
Maybe it's because I don't want to end up shouting at them by accident, and I can't tell how loud my own voice is.
And then, of course, I remember that I have earplugs in, and pull them out. Suddenly, I can hear again -- suddenly I can speak again. That usually forces the other person to recap whatever they were trying to say, or ask, or gripe about. At that moment, life returns to normal -- though I have to catch up a bit.
I'm not sure that this is what being deaf (or nearly deaf) is like, precisely because I can restore my hearing at any time. But it gives me some idea of that it might be like.