I Can’t Hear You, Mommy
April 1997

“I Can’t Hear You, Mommy,” Ensign, Apr. 1997, 53

“I Can’t Hear You, Mommy”

Four days before our son Spencer’s eagerly awaited eighth birthday he attended a playground water party. The day was hot and dry, and running water from hoses kept the children cool as they took turns sliding on a yellow plastic runner. When his turn came, Spencer ran full force to slide along the wet plastic that lay on the hard ground. His feet suddenly slipped out from under him. He soared up in the air, then plummeted to the ground, hitting the base of his skull soundly on the sunbaked earth. When he stood up, he felt dazed and unsteady, and he complained of fuzzy sounds and muffled voices.

After consulting with a doctor, we were asked to limit Spencer to quiet activity. He needed to rest until the symptoms disappeared. Days slipped into weeks. Eventually his dizziness subsided, but his hearing did not return to normal. He tested severely deaf in his right ear and totally deaf in the left ear. We realized his baptism would have to be postponed until the problem could be diagnosed.

The decision was made to do exploratory surgery on his right ear. A month after the accident, Spencer was admitted to the hospital. Before surgery, Spencer’s father and both grandfathers administered a priesthood blessing, promising that Spencer’s hearing would be restored to a level where he could at least function adequately in society.

The surgeon, Jerry Sonkens, discovered two small holes between the middle and inner ear. These holes were letting vital fluid drain out of the cochlea; this fluid was needed to bathe tiny nerve fibers to keep them alive. To cover the holes, the surgeon placed a skin graft deep in the middle ear.

Immediately following surgery, Spencer had one excellent day in which he experienced nearly a full restoration of hearing in one ear. But then he developed a sudden allergic reaction to his medication and contracted a severe case of hives. He coughed hard all day long. The next morning he woke up and complained, “Why is everything so quiet again?” It appeared the coughing had dislodged the skin graft, a diagnosis that could only be confirmed by repeat surgery.

Spencer grew thin and pale. Tears often welled in his eyes when he couldn’t hear his family talking or noise from his surroundings. We had to communicate through shouting, lipreading, and charades, but mostly by letter writing.

Spencer finally agreed to submit to surgery one more time. Before the surgery, many friends fasted for him, including the surgeon.

The ear canal was opened up again. The first graft had indeed dislodged. A second skin graft was put into place; then the outer ear was packed heavily with gauze to stabilize it. After two weeks the gauze was removed. I looked squarely into Spencer’s face and, with tear-filled eyes, praying that he would hear me, said, “Spencer, can you hear me talking to you?”

But he only smiled and replied, “I can’t hear you, Mommy.”

Day after day we waited for that moment when he might turn his head toward a familiar sound. But it never came. After his ears healed completely, we scheduled his baptism. In the months that followed, Spencer often asked, “When will I start to hear again? When can I talk on the phone to my friends again?”

One day he was rocking with me in our big family rocking chair. He said, “Mommy, I’m forgetting what people’s voices sound like. I can’t remember what it’s like to hear anymore.” He looked at me and waited for me to reply.

I gazed at him lovingly and mouthed, “Honey, you will probably never hear normally again in this life. But after you die someday and go to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus, you will hear. And one day, when your body is resurrected, your ears will be perfect.” He never again asked if his hearing would return.

As Spencer grew older, he obtained a hearing aid, learned lipreading and some American Sign Language, and adapted remarkably well to his silent world. A serious student, he also played varsity volleyball and obtained his Eagle Scout award. At age 19 he was called to serve as a sign-language missionary. He really can hear well enough to function adequately in society, just as he had been promised in his father’s priesthood blessing years before.

  • Sandra Savage Phillips, a member of the Santa Gertrudes Ward, serves as Relief Society president in the Whittier California Stake.

Illustrated by Robert Anderson McKay