The retired teacher is learning daily to cope with her hearing loss and says contact with pupils is what she misses most.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
SALEM -- "Hi Zoe!" The postman greets the black Labrador retriever bounding across the yard toward him.
"She loves the mailman," Carol Baille said, watching the dog from the screened sun porch. "She also loves the neighbors, and they love her. They give her treats."
Baille, a wife, mother and retired Salem Schools physical education teacher, suffered a sudden, severe hearing loss in August 1998.
She said the 18-month-old Lab is very helpful in letting her know when someone is at the door or walking by the house. She said Zoe is a good companion, especially when Baille is home alone.
Baille lives on Homewood Avenue with her husband, Tim, who is self-employed. They have been married 25 years and have a son and daughter, both in college.
On Aug. 6, 1998, Baille, then 44, did some yard work, one of her favorite pastimes. After taking a shower, she noticed her right ear was bothering her. Sound was distorted.
"It was like static, or like I had water in my ear, but it wouldn't go away," she recalled.
Problem persisted: Two days later, the tinnitis was still present. She woke that morning, a Sunday, to find sounds even more severely distorted.
"When people talked I couldn't understand them," she said. "It reminded me of that muted 'wah, wah, wah' sound they used when adults talked on the Snoopy cartoons."
She quickly saw a specialist in Warren, and was in the hospital the same day. Baille knew she had a hearing loss in her left ear 18 years before, but did not realize how severe it was until her right ear was affected.
Doctors determined Baille's hearing loss was likely caused by autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED). The disease is caused by antibodies or immune cells attacking the inner ear, they said, and probably accounts for less than 1 percent of all cases of hearing impairment.
"It's very rare," Baille said. "They don't know what causes it. There's no cure."
Continued to teach: Baille continued to teach junior high health during the 1998-99 school year, and began the 1999-2000 school year.
Co-workers and pupils were understanding and the state department of rehabilitation provided funding for carpeting and acoustic tiles in her classroom. Continuing to teach, however, became increasingly difficult.
"Even after the improvements, I still could not understand the students," she said. "I began to be afraid to ask questions. You can't do that and be a teacher."
Baille took retirement in the fall. Her last day of teaching was Sept. 30.
Except for a maternity leave in 1980, Baille taught in the Salem schools for 22 years. She holds a master's degree in physical education from Kent State University.
"I was teaching junior high health, and loved it," she said of her last years of teaching. "The kids were very enthusiastic, and it was fun. That's what I miss most now -- the contact with the kids. I don't know them anymore."
Baille said she can hear some sounds, such as thunder, Zoe barking, or the phone ringing. After experimenting with several hearing aids and telephones, she has only recently found a combination that works.
"I can hear on the telephone, but I often have to ask people to repeat things," she said.
Friends and family are understanding, but Baille, a self-taught lip-reader, said her biggest frustration comes in having to ask others about parts of conversations she's missing.
What she misses doing: "There are just things I don't do that I used to enjoy," she said. "It's difficult to watch television, even if programs are closed captioned. You concentrate on the words, and you miss things that are happening. I don't go to movies or plays. I do well one-on-one, but in a crowd, forget it."
Baille enjoys spending time with her family, and keeps active at the Salem YWCA. She's also an instructor for Forum Health's CHAMPS program in Liberty, leading participants through the Ropes confidence course.
The past three years have been a struggle, but Baille does not paint a picture of doom and gloom.
"I'm fortunate," she said. "Other than my hearing, I have my health. I have a good retirement. I never imagined I'd be retired from teaching now. When you're 20, you're not thinking about retirement."
Baille's said her prognosis is as uncertain as the cause of her hearing loss.
"They don't know if AIED caused the hearing loss in my other ear," she said. "They don't know if my hearing will get worse. It might. I'm just lucky, I guess."