I was visiting Edinburgh in 2013 with my family, staying at an apartment that was just a stone-throw’s away from the infamous Royal Mile. We were a few floors up and I was taking in the sights from the apartment window. I had a clear view of the walk bridge and stairways that linked our building to the main street.
Suddenly I spotted a woman that I seen earlier at convenience store. She’d caught my attention as she was dishevelled and unsteady on her feet. I’d watched her purchase a bottle of vodka and as she’d staggered past me in the queue, I saw how vulnerable she was, that she perhaps had an underlying mental health issue. Now I was watching her weave her away across the walk bridge. She was alone. She had a handbag in one hand and in the other she clutched a brown paper bag with the bottle of booze. Swaying, she took a huge swig of neat vodka, then she bent over and rested her head on the walk bridge railing. Just then, a young couple appeared on the walk bridge. From my vantage point, I watched as they slowed down, clocked the woman’s condition, walked a few paces and then stopped. The guy pulled up the hood of his jacket, about‑faced, walked back to the woman and began talking to her while his girlfriend stood by as lookout. The guy grabbed hold of the woman’s handbag, the bottle fell and smashed, the woman momentarily jostled with the guy but, of course, she didn’t stand a chance. He yanked the bag from her and she fell hard onto the ground.
As the woman lay motionless, clearly in need of medical assistance, I watched her attackers run off. I was angry and outraged and frustrated. I snatched up the apartment telephone but, in my panic, didn’t know how to get an outside line, and even if I had, my mind had blanked. I didn’t know what the emergency services number was in Scotland. I rode the lift down to reception. All I could think about was this poor woman. Apart from me and her attackers, no one knew she was lying alone and injured. So I rushed up to the apartment receptionist, gushing about what I’d witnessed and how we needed to call for an ambulance and police. But English wasn’t the receptionist’s first language. I think she was French. So communication between us was difficult. But she got the gist. She dialled Emergency Services and promptly handed the phone to me.
Now, for years I had worn analogue in the ear hearing aids. I coped quite well using landlines. However, once mobile phones saturated the market, my analogue hearing aids were not compatible with digital cell phones. I only realised this after my boss at the time was on a landline call and asked me to answer his mobile phone for him and take a message. I couldn’t hear anything other than crackling static. Back then, I was still masking my deafness, embarrassed and ashamed of it, so I made up some fib about it being a bad line. But I knew if I was going to keep my job, I needed to upgrade to digital aids. Cue another bank loan when I’d scarcely finished off paying the last. And I was OK for a while. I continued to get by. In the intervening years before our trip to the UK, my hearing had deteriorated and my aids were no longer cutting it. I upgraded to behind the ear digital hearing aids, and while they were mostly better suited to my needs, the downside is that I just could not get on with using landlines. There’s a sweet spot where you position the phone without causing feedback but I never quite mastered it.
So there I was, desperately trying to find that bloody sweet spot, to get help for the mugging victim, but I couldn’t. Not being able to hear the emergency operator was one of the most frustrating moments of my life, and believe me, as a deaf person, there have been many.
I handed the phone back, trying to explain why I could hear her but not the operator, and all the while the clock was ticking. I knew the woman was alone and needed help.
Eventually we managed to alert the relevant authorities. And, in another stroke of luck, later that day I chanced upon the woman’s discarded handbag in an alleyway between our apartment and the Royal Mile and was able to ensure it ended up in the hands of the police. The police informed me that the victim was already known to them; she’d been released from a mental health facility just that morning and had clearly fallen hard off the wagon. I took solace in the knowledge that not only did she receive the medical care she needed after she was attacked but that she at least got her handbag and house keys back.
For me, this story is more than just a Yarn about a series of coincidences. It’s also a fitting analogy of the way the Deaf and Hard of Hearing navigate a hearing-normative world with determination and innovation; whether it be something as minor as a miscommunication with a loved one, to something as major as the welfare of a stranger in need.