Victor Wambua, 24, had no funds to correct his hearing and has had to adjust to a world of silence. By AGNES AINEAH
One morning in July 2017, I woke up in my room at Daystar University hostels, tuned the radio to my favourite station but no sound came on. It was eerily silent. Then I realised that it was me. I couldn’t hear a thing.
I had battled hearing problems before and I had a hearing aid and could hear very well but on this day, it didn’t seem to be helping. And I panicked. It was so upsetting not being able to hear anything and I remember sending a text to my family members telling them I couldn’t hear anymore and that they should respond via text. They came to pick me up and took me to Kenyatta National Hospital where medical tests revealed that the internal function of both ears was destroyed and medics prescribed a surgery to correct the situation.
When I was two, I am told, I developed problems with my left ear. It was oozing pus before it began losing hearing. I was put on some sort of medication at a hospital in Kitui and given a hearing aid.With the aid, I led a very fulfilling childhood. I was even able to attend school with normal children. Save for the fact that I always sought to occupy front seat in class, learning was perfect and I qualified for direct entry to university.
Surgery, the surgeons admitted, was risky. It was going to be a very delicate operation since the damaged inner ear is near the brain. The damaged parts, they said, were those responsible for converting sound into electrical impulses which are then sent to the brain for interpretation. The doctors explained that the surgery, for its complicated nature, would be very expensive too. They said it would cost Sh3 million, a sum which was way out of reach for my family then and now.
Living with it
With no medication to help, I have resorted to adapting to my condition and using the best techniques I can to communicate with people around me. Before I left school in December last year, I belonged to many WhatsApp groups where I got as much information as possible concerning the happenings around school. I also took the contacts of all my lecturers and consulted with them after classes since I couldn’t hear anything they said. It was tough for me since I had not learnt any sign language. I was therefore always running up and down to catch up with the rest.
I am always on my phone, because chats have replaced the talking I used to do. Whenever I wish to say anything, I send a text and I have to wait for a reply. Some of my close friends and family members sometimes have to carry a pen and paper to write me messages. I have also learnt to lip-read people to get what they say. It is a skill I am learning very fast.
I try as much as possible to avoid group discussions. A while ago, I used to feel bad not being able to understand what my friends were saying in group conversations. I felt left out. Then I realised it wasn’t anyone’s fault that I couldn’t catch up and started avoiding them. I can only talk to one person at a time at the moment and that person must must also give undivided attention to our conversation.
I no longer go to crowded places and church gatherings because there is nothing I can hear that makes sense to me. I take a lot of caution going to new places that require being shown around. I therefore have to be in constant communication with whoever I am visiting. I also don’t watch movies unless they have sub-titles.
An ignored computer whizz
The toughest challenge for me has been getting a job after I graduated. Not many people believe that I can beat my hearing challenge and deliver at my job. It is hard convincing them that I am good in many things including photography, handling social media, managing websites, data entry and communicating with clients via mail. When I lost hearing in campus, I was withdrawn and led a very silent life where computers were my best friends. I taught myself so many things.
My greatest hope at the moment is that I will get the funds to pay for my treatment and get a job to support myself and my family. I am glad that I have a supportive family and a girlfriend who accepted me the way I was. It is sometimes challenging for us to argue like other couples do because of the communication barrier.
I would like to encourage people going through a tough time to embrace positivity in life. There is a time I almost quit school because I did not see the need of studying communication yet I couldn’t hear but I was talked out of my negativity. I then realised that there was a lot I could do even with my condition. I have learnt to appreciate the fact that our God can’t put you a situation He knows you can’t handle but gives us the grace to wade through all difficulties that come our way.