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The question

My son may or may not have what could be a serious medical condition. After a number of tests – over a period of years – the results have been inconclusive. So we were sent to one of the top experts in this area. The problem: When we went to see him, he mumbled, and sometimes even covered his hand with his mouth when he talked. After asking numerous times for him to clarify what he was saying, me saying things like “sorry?” “beg your pardon?” “sorry, what did you just say?” – sometimes all relating to one statement he’d just made – I found myself giving up, with the result being that I wasn’t sure when we left his office what his diagnosis was, exactly. There was another person in the room, running tests on my son, and I wondered if she had the same problem, working with him. What can I do? I don’t want to be rude, but at the same time, my son’s health is at stake.

The answer

It’s funny, it feels like there have been quite a few (murmur, mutter) – sorry, what’s that, Dave? – mumblers in my world, lately.

Many of them teenagers:

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Me: “Hey, how was school today, Trevor?”

Him: “Mumble mutter mumble pop quiz mutter mutter mumble physics sucks mumble fail.”

Me: “Sorry, what was that, Trevor?”

Him: “Mutter mumble cabbage patch mumble space station mutter mumble orangutan?”

(Dave: gives up.)

Truth is, though I have no issues with my hearing, I’ve always had an issue with hearing people, if that makes any sense at all.

(Dave? Short answer: no. Long answer: Uh…no.)

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It’s partly because I’m tall, if it’s possible to make even less sense. I go to a venue, right? Like, say, a holiday party I went to recently. The din is deafening, music plus everyone talking at top volume (“Dave, you’re getting old” people say, but I’ve always been this way: I like quiet; I enjoy to converse).

And since I’m a full head taller than the people I’m talking to, I cannot fathom a syllable of their utterances. Maybe they are revealing long-lost truths that eluded even Einstein vis-à-vis the Unified Field Theory. Maybe they’re discussing the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

One guy: “Well, as you know, entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time, and is constant if and only if all processes are reversible and, obviously, yadda yadda yadda.”

Other guy: “Ha-ha, too true, but only in ideal cases where the system is in thermodynamic equilibrium, or is undergoing a (fictive) reversible process.”

Whatever they were discussing, I couldn’t hear a word, and finally said, “Listen, I can’t hear a word you’re saying, and I’m going to go home.”

And, perhaps, some might say, based on how I’ve presented it, phew, maybe one is better off not hearing all these conversations.

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It is an axiom of the theatre that one must speak up and belt it out to “the cheap seats,” as they say, and that may well be true. No matter how brilliant/Shakespearian the dialogue, if no one can hear it, it has no impact:

“To be or not to (mumble, mutter), whether tis nobler in the (mumble, mutter) anyway yadda yadda yadda slings and arrows and so forth…”

But when it comes to a doctor pronouncing on your child’s health, then it does matter what he/she says –i.e./e.g. “Hmm, that (mumble, mutter) is somewhat worrisome. You should (murmur, mutter) checked out.”

“I beg your pardon?” “Say what?” “Come again?”

You must be aggressive. No matter how many times you have to repeat yourself you have to do it. Your child’s health/well-being is more important than any sense of politesse you may feel vis-à-vis your doctor.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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