By: Jenny Wenke
My life changed when I was almost five years old. I had meningitis that at first was not recognized. As the doctor finally realized what it was, I was sent to the hospital immediately.It took several weeks for the antibiotics to kick in and I have very few memories of this time because I was so young. All I can remember is lying in the hospital bed and sleeping a lot.After my recovery, I was left with a completely deaf left ear and a hearing loss on the right one. Due to how meningitis affected my inner ear, I experienced a loss of balance and equilibrium, which meant that I had to learn how to walk again. I felt damaged and I was really angry. I remember thinking: Oh my god, now I've got a deaf left ear and I can't even walk anymore?! But in the hospital we trained daily and it didn't take long before I could walk again.
When I came back to normal life, I noticed some people got different in their behavior. I often felt an inner distance from some people, as if there would be a wall between them and me. I still had a handful of good friends and my family, and nothing had changed with them. We still had a lot of fun playing together or just doing something nice. Other people did not talk much to me or just did when they absolutely needed to, including some of my relatives. I was still there, I was still the same person, but they treated me differently. For example, during family celebrations or birthday parties I often felt ignored. When they laughed about something, I asked “what are you laughing about?” And sometimes they answered "it's not important" or "you wouldn't understand it" or something like that. After a while I learned not to ask too much. I can read lips, but I'm not perfect. So after a while, I began to check people’s body language, face expressions, etc. I still do this now.
I went to a normal elementary school for a few years. But things started to get difficult for me because the hearing loss on my right ear got worse over the years. I had to use a hearing aid but it didn't help me much - it was quite tricky to understand what people, especially strangers, were saying to me. I had to change school and learn the German Sign Language. I made more and more deaf friends at the boarding school for deaf children I was sent to. It was absolutely adventurous there, I had a great time.
See I was born and raised in a small town, Büren in North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The boarding school was in a big city, in Dortmund. They had a subway there and all the other deaf children. It was really exciting for me and I didn't miss my home very much. It was like being in another culture and to be a part of it at the same time. On time, we climbed on the roof. I made it up, but wasn't able to get down. I was so afraid to go down the other students had to call the caretaker to help me. He climbed up, took me on his back and brought me down. No need to say but the adults weren't fond of the whole climbing thing. And I must have had 15 or more crushes in the 6 years I was at the boarding school. So many handsome boys, I often dreamed of them instead of doing my homework.
In 2009, as an adult, I experienced an acute hearing loss on the right ear. Now I was completely deaf. In the hospital they told me a Cochlear Implant (CI) could help me hear again. I was interested so we did all the tests necessary. The results turned out to be very positive, so I decided to go under the knife. Of course I was worried, but I told to myself I have nothing to lose and it's worth a try. And it was the right choice for me.They inserted the implant on the right side, it's embedded in my cranial bone and has an electrode array that's fixed in the inner ear. After the surgery, the hard work began. I had to learn to hear in a new way with my new bionic ear and to work on my pronunciation. But things were going very well for me, a new life began with so much less hearing barriers.
When you've got a hearing disability, you always have to deal with and to fight against communication barriers with other, normal people. This can be very exhausting. Today I'm really grateful for all these experiences as it has made me stronger inside. I see myself as normal and I don't care much about what other people might think of me. Today you can see so many people with any kind of disability out there, and that's really good. There's no need to hide.
I always had the feeling that something was wrong with me, but later I realized that other people gave me this feeling with their way of thinking about people with disabilities. You know the thought, "there's something on her that's not ok and has to be repaired". Well there is nothing to fix here.