I’ve Got 99 Problems, but…

No, this is not a whining fest. I just know that this is something that happens to me and countless others. So grab up a cup of cranberry juice as bitter as I am, and allow me to waste a moment of your time. 

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Mark Twain

If you’ve ever met me in real life, you’ve either seen or heard about my numerous medical problems (I’m that kid). You may not notice at first, but I’m missing one ear among other things. To simplify it, I was born with Goldenhar Syndrome and tricuspid atresia. Due to this congenital disease, I possess only half of my heart, one ear, and one tonsil. Because the heart and tonsil are not physically seen so easily, most people only know about my ear. All my life I’ve lived with this, and I’m pleased to say that I live a normal life with only a few limitations. Those limitations being my daily medicine regiment, my less-than-optimal hearing, my tendency to easily tire, and I do this cool number where I pass out under too much exhaustion or stress (I’m in college lol! What is stress?). Despite all that I lack, I do have one very important thing: a sense of humor! I’m graciously teased about my drawbacks, and they have never offended me. I’ve heard every ear joke known to man, and the whole half-hearted thing is a joke in itself. I’ve used my condition to prank people, and I often get asked to show off my ear (I have a prosthetic). Suffice to say, I’m not easily offended or upset.

However, there is one thing about people’s assumptions that do bother me, and I would like to rant a bit (sorry in advance). I think people get lost in the humor of everything. Countless  heart and ear jokes have made them forget that though my limitations may be few, they are quite real and inconvenient. I tire easily. This doesn’t mean I run an hour-long jog and feel a bit wiped out. No! I don’t need to be extra active or even active at all. I have a stressful couple days at school…Abby’s out for the count. I don’t sleep well too many nights in a row…bed-ridden. I feel a cold coming on…hell no. I have an exciting day or spend too much time up and about…inactive make-up day. Many adults and even some teenagers (the hypocritical toads) call it laziness when in all actuality, it’s not something I have control over. For school and church, my excuse is always that I’ve taken a “heart day.” This often received better reception because it sounds serious. Those are the words that derive sympathy and the “bless you’s” and the “you feeling better’s?” I was once asked to explain what a “heart day” meant by a teacher of mine. I told him that I become extremely exhausted. I often compare it to the day after a fever breaks. The sweats and chills are gone, but you feel physically weak. You feel battered, and you usually spend the day bundled up in bed, riding out the weakness. After explaining this, I was told that I was just being a lazy teenager, and I needed to make it to class (If I weren’t a good student, I’d probably have let loose a few choice phrases). Apparently, I had been responding to my condition wrong my entire life. Instead of sleeping off the exhaustion, the obvious cure was to travel to school and try to stay completely absorbed in my work for the entire day. The joke is on them because if I push myself when I’m exhausted, I promptly pass out. (Despite my discomfort, I wish I had done that just once in high school just to prove all those meddlesome adults wrong. But I know that would have been a bit drastic and mean.) While this generally makes people aware that it’s time for me to rest, it can come at rather inconvenient times such as Sunday dinner with the family (almost took down a bowl of chili), wrestling with my brother, Henry (he freaked out which only added to the amusement), and the day of my mother and stepdad’s wedding (thankfully it was over). As you can see, the jokes stop when Abby hits the ground. But at least people get the point.

Also, I obviously have hearing problems. Yes, I can hear, but not that well. I work every day to understand what other people are saying. If I’m walking and talking with someone, I have the habit of taking people by the shoulders and physically moving them to my “good side” where I do have an ear. Most are taken by surprised the first time I do this (I, embarrassingly, did this to my high school principal once!), but many people have learned to automatically walk on my “good side.” Unfortunately, there are dozens of lost conversations due to the fact that they’ve been spoken on my “bad side.” I’m happy to report most are understanding about it. They give me a sympathetic smile or bust out a laugh when they realize that I haven’t heard a word of what they’ve been saying. I’m afraid that many of my friends and family have developed habits due to spending so much time with me and automatically adjusting. My sister, Kate, has the habit of telling me when to cough. Because of the tonsil thing, I have to cough frequently, and I don’t always hear when my voice starts to get raspy. If you’re ever around us, you’ll hear her say “cough” about ever 15 minutes or so. Well, she accidentally did this to one of her teachers at school one day. To make it short, she was mortified and I was dying with laughter. I hear numerous stories like this from my friends and family, and it just makes me love them more. Hell, there’s not much I can do about it! There are others that are not to pleasant about it. The ones that are easily annoyed with the fact that they have to repeat things to me. I’ve been told to “listen harder!” and the even more insulting “you can hear better than that.” (Like I asked to have one ear.) My favorite response is a confused “what did you say?” I can also perfectly execute the method of selective hearing when I think someone is getting too salty or even downright mean. You guys have no idea how good I am at selective hearing. I’m the queen.

I’m not trying to gain anyone’s pity. That is NOT the goal here. I’ve done well for myself thus far in my life, and I plan to keep doing just that. My condition is my own, and I am willing to be the target of people’s jokes; I find them amusing as heck .It’s more than just a joke in 2nd period though; it’s something that I have to watch carefully every day. I only ask that people remember that with every serious medical condition carries its weight of problems. I know that my limitations are few and others suffer far more than I, but that is not an excuse for people to harsh or rude about things I cannot control.  I’m asking for people not to judge me or anyone with health problems based on what they don’t see. Don’t assume anything about me or anyone else. Just be nice; it’s not that hard.

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.”




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