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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Women's Lives: Three Self-Portraits

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“Any history of genetic deafness in the family?” “No.”

“Now about your child . . . Any type of illness?” “No, just flu and colds, that’s all.”

“Has she had meningitis?” “No.” “Scarlet fever?” “No.”

“Middle ear infection?” “No.” “Any ear injury?” “No.”

“Did she develop skin rash?” “No.” “Mumps?” “No.”

“Okay . . . now about your pregnancy. Any trouble with it?” “No, it was uneventful.”

“Mrs. Bilisoly, did you develop skin rash during your pregnancy?” “No.”

“Did you have high fever during that time?” “Uh, yes. I was really ill for three or four days. The fever was very high. I remember it happened during the third month.”

There it was. The real reason for my deafness. The doctors nodded at each other, one saying, “High fever during the third month could be the result of a case of rubella.” Mom didn’t know what to feel as she sat there confused and heartbroken. Dad, as a doctor, had heard of rubella but had not seen the symptoms among his patients before. He quickly assured Mom that it wasn’t her fault, that rubella was something unavoidable like a flu bug, and that rubella was a form of viral infection known as German measles. This virus could have temporarily deprived my auditory nerves of oxygen, and the damage was done. It was the absolute cause of my hearing impairment, the doctors said. Mom knew she couldn’t have done anything about this virus. I would never want her to feel guilty anyway.

Mom said my three brothers, the last one five years older than me, reacted well to my diagnosis because they were immediately informed that deafness was manageable. Nash, Lindsay, and Harvey, all before their adolescent phases, vowed that they would protect me but still treat me the same. They sure did. They made sure that I didn’t get ridiculed or didn’t date a jerk. But they still beat me up or turned my doll inside out, trying to turn me into a whiny little sister. Actually, I liked that because they were treating me just like a normal person.

Lindsay told me that he noticed I was different before the diagnosis because I hardly ever cried. Possibly entranced by The Twilight Zone episodes, he even suspected I had supernatural powers, so he challenged his pal Hamil to hit me in the arm, bragging that I’d never cry. Hamil, though known as a prankster of the neighborhood, refused. Lindsay said to watch and socked me in the arm. He thought Uh-oh when my face slowly shriveled up, mouth arching downward, and I finally wailed WAAAAAAAAH! He felt bad enough about it that he grew up to be the most tenderhearted brother of all.

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