Sarah Wegley had a moment of clarity one day when someone accidentally opened the emergency exit door in the Illinois library where she works.
Sarah didn’t hear the alarm the person triggered. All she could hear was a distant throbbing, like construction machinery off in the distance, and it was only when someone else came running to investigate that she knew something was wrong. She only heard the alarm after she was fairly close to the door.
After that, Sarah immediately picked up the phone and scheduled an appointment with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor to have her hearing checked. She had been suffering from a cold and had chalked her hearing issues up to nothing more than a little congestion, but the event with the door alarm made her realize it was serious enough to seek out a medical opinion.
She was blindsided when the doctor told her she had permanent hearing loss. Even tougher was embracing the fact that the cause was unknown. There weren’t even any probable causes: she was 40 years old, hearing loss didn’t run in her family, she hadn’t taken any ototoxic medication and libraries aren’t usually the site of dangerous noise levels.
“I didn't want to accept that but I found out that is actually a pretty common statement for doctors to say,” Sarah said about her mystery diagnosis. “...I was completely shocked. I was unsure what my future would be, whether I would lose all my hearing.”
She ordered her hearing aids on the spot, and even though they help her immensely, she still struggles to use the phone or watch television without the captions. Sarah’s friends and family learned to turn down background noise as much as possible when having a conversation with her, and to look at her when they speak.
Her hearing had been deteriorating over time, and there were minor instances before the door alarm incident where she missed little things, like the coffee machine beeping, but Sarah doesn’t know for sure how long her hearing ability had been waning before she went to the doctor.
“That is something I have pondered a lot myself. It's so hard to know. I remember when I was in college being really tired out a lot - which might have been caused by the listening required in class. But I can't say for sure.”
Eight years later, Sarah is now back in school at Governor’s State University to earn her master’s in communications studies. Her personal experience with sudden hearing loss sparked a desire within her to help others going through the same trial.
At first, she was hesitant about being able to keep up in class, but by picking a strategic seat in the classroom and working with her professors, she has excelled. So much so, in fact, that she has earned straight As and was recently inducted into her university’s honor society.
Additionally, Sarah runs her own blog on hearing loss, "Speak Up Librarian," which focuses on her challenges as a late-deafened adult in graduate school. The blog has won her recognition within the hearing loss community, and she has made several friends through the site. Reader feedback is frequent, and Sarah said many first-time hearing aid patients will contact her for advice and encouragement.
“I remember how everything felt strange at first to me too and how I didn't know anyone to turn to with my questions,” Sarah said. “I like encouraging new hearing aid wearers to keep on and not give up if it's uncomfortable and strange at first.”
In five years, Sarah hopes to be working full-time in making the world a more accessible place for hard-of-hearing individuals. She hopes to either work in public relations for a company or nonprofit that services the hearing loss community, or to conduct workshops to help people better communicate with those with hearing loss.
To achieve your goals, you have to be proactive about finding your own solutions, Sarah said. Don’t let your disabilities scare you away from your dreams.
“I would say when the time is right you will know it. When you are passionate enough about something, you can conquer your fears.”