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Mary Ann Payonk – her story on acquired deafness
As Deaf Awareness Week 2020 comes to an end and as proud sponsors of the campaign being led by United Kingdom Council on deafness UKCOD, we are delighted to have our friend and long-time BIVR advocate Mary Ann Payonk share with us her experience of acquired deafness.
Mary Ann is a realtime stenographer from the United States, and with many years’ experience under her belt, she is not only at the top of her stenography game but she consistently champions all things relating to stenography. Here at BIVR, we have had the pleasure of her presence over on this side of the pond at our last two BIVR Awareness Weeks in 2017 and 2019 where she closed the events in her inimitable style.
We thank you for sharing your experiences with acquired deafness, Mary Ann. This proves to us all that stenographers are able to continue to be guardians of the record and also captioners if they, too, experience a similar situation. And, more importantly, that we should all have regular hearing tests.
From Mary Ann:
Is there a court reporter out there who hasn’t offered their non-medical opinion gleaned from the tiny bit of knowledge we gain covering all manner of subjects in our work? I did, and thank goodness I didn’t follow my own advice!
A decade ago, I checked myself into the hospital for an Executive Health Screening, a full day of examinations from head to toe done all in one day for the busy executive who doesn’t have time to schedule many tests over several weeks.
A routine hearing test was included, and at the end of the day, everything was pretty much normal; however, one result came back that was somewhat concerning to the clinician: I’d reported a slight ringing in my ear, and the test revealed a 10% hearing loss on the left side. Because there was no apparent cause, they sent me for a brain scan.
Having done plenty of medical malpractice work in my 30-year career, I felt certain that surely it was caused by listening to music with headphones, but I reluctantly went into the tube. The results were reported immediately, and immediately I had a few new terms to add to my stenographic dictionary: vestibular schwannoma, acoustic neuroma, and CyberKnife.
A schwannoma is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves leading from the inner ear to the brain — and of all places for a court reporter to develop a problem, one that involves our hearing is most concerning!
For me, the very best thing to do at the time was simply to monitor the growth until other issues arose. As years went by, yearly MRIs revealed slow growth, but there came a point in time when treatment was indicated.
My treatment came in the form of a course of CyberKnife. I was fitted with a mask that would hold my head perfectly still for pinpoint radiation treatment that lasted two weeks. The goal was not to eradicate the tumor but simply stop the growth. The good news is that yearly tests prove I’ve met that goal. The bad news is that the side effect of CyberKnife treatment is complete loss of hearing on the treated side.
Today, I am still very happily working as a realtime court reporter. I have no problem taking the record, as I listen to the testimony through the videographer’s feed. In recent days of quarantine due to COVID-19, I’ve been working remotely and still wear headphones to ensure the best record.
My one-sided deafness, discovered almost by accident, was reluctantly acquired deafness, but I’ve adapted well. Several years ago I worked on a huge case with 30 lawyers in the room. When one mentioned his own hearing loss, I offered up a short version of my story and we discovered that three of us in the room had been treated for acoustic neuroma that caused our hearing loss!
Deaf Awareness is not limited to promoting and raising awareness of organizations that support those who are deaf. Deaf Awareness also means that everyone should have their hearing checked yearly and follow up on any unusual results. And do something that I wish I’d done through the years, even before my diagnosis, and that’s to learn sign language!