Shaking the Sugar Tree

Shaking the Sugar Tree - Nick Wilgus 1974. Harold Whittles’s face when he heard the world for the first time.


This is a love story about a father and a daughter.

To my Father:

We were the best of friends. I don’t remember it, I only remember that time when I was running in the corridor; I slipped on the just swept floor and fall down the stairs and broke my left arm. The teacher at school said I was right-handed, but after a month I started drawing as a leftie again. You put a wooden fence on the stairs to avoid that from happening again to my older brother or to me. Not that I hadn’t already learnt the lesson to not to run on socks. I haven’t broken anything since, except when that damn horse decided to throw himself to the ground and roll around on my leg. I had to wear bandage on my knee for a week. I read Eragon and Eldest then because I couldn’t do anything apart from reading. Not that I would choose to do another thing voluntarily.

Anyway, we were the best of friends. But Mr. Haemophilus came and my mother was the one to take me to the hospital. I had meningitis. I was dying. The doctor said I wouldn’t survive.

But I did.

Some months later, my mother realized I didn’t answer to her calling. It was intermittent. For some time I would come, for other time I couldn’t find her voice in the house.

I was turning deaf.

I was 2 years and a half.

I lost all my learning. Sounds, words, sentences…

Oh, how I used to talk a lot and to sing very nicely! My mother sings pretty well, and she makes fun of my brothers and my father for singing awfully! I used to have good hearing.

But… Not anymore.

I stopped singing. I couldn’t even form simple phrases.

Because I forgot everything.

Back to square one again.

You were depressed. You were the strongest person in my life. But that really knocked you over. My mother has told me several times she had never seen you like that in her whole life. Only when I was completely deaf, and you thought I was doomed to live in a world of silence.

You loved me and you loved me more then.

But you didn’t resign yourself. My mother did, my whole family did, but you did not.

Before that happened, there used to be a “distribution of chores”. She took care of my older brother because he couldn’t accept her paying attention a kid that wasn’t himself (he used to turn over my baby stroller, that dick!), but I didn’t mind, because you were with me when I wanted to be with someone. As opposite as my brother, I was very independent, I played by myself most of the time. But I always welcomed you.

But things changed. I needed constant attention, so my mother spent more time with me. I came very close to her then. My brother sulking all the time. My mother tied me to the baby stroller and she would carry it everywhere she went in the house. My brother was a lousy kid.

Meanwhile, you recovered. You decided there must be something to do to me. You asked my mother’s brother, cardiologist, to find out if there was any chance to improve my situation.

He said there was no hope at all.

You decided to not to listen to him anymore in your life. And if there is something to describe you, it’s stubbornness. I inherited that from you.

You know what is ironic? The vaccine came out a year after I fell sick with the bug.

You researched and you heard about the hearing aids. Something called “audífonos”. You bought two, one for each ear.

I took them off when you were not looking.

You put them on me again.

I was angry, they hurt a lot!!!

And there was no progress in my hearing.

You never gave up, you kept looking for a solution.

You heard about cochlear implants.

You saw the light in the horizon.

There were only 3 clinics in Spain that operated on them then. You took me to one of them.

It was almost 20 years ago. There were some beliefs then. Beliefs that were demonstrated to be false afterwards. Like, the notion of a minimum of intelligence in the kid in order for him to take advantage of them. They got me tested and I passed.

I was operated just before my birthday. I was 3 years old in the clinic.

I never got rid of them.

Changes happened in quick succession.

I was very far behind from other kids my age but I got into a inclusion school and caught up in no time. I learnt sounds, words, sentences… again. But I could no longer sing as I used to.

Not that I let that stop me from chasing what I want.

As I said, I am as stubborn as you are.

There was another father in your workplace who had a deaf son. You talked to him about the success with the cochlear implant.

He got away from you. He didn’t want to listen to you. He accepted his son’s fate.

I had very hard times. I remember that teacher before I was even 10 years old, who said it was impossible to teach me English. You speak native Spanish, a very good French, and an acceptable English. You believed in languages, although in your inner self you think everyone must speak the same one. You blame the Tower of Babel, not that you are a very good Catholic. But you wanted me to have the same chances in life as a normal kid would, so I HAD TO learn English, even when I was just beginning to get the thing with the Spanish.

I am very grateful you didn’t believe that teacher, as well as you didn’t believe my uncle saying that there was nothing to be done.

I had my cup of speech therapists. Oh my, that’s a hell of a topic. They didn’t believe in cochlear implants, either. You did have to fight my battles everywhere. Now I fight them myself, but there used to be a time you believed you would have to do it for me forever. But you began to think otherwise. I was stubborn, and hard-working, and a fighter.

I inherited your spirit, too.

I was operated on the other inner ear some years later but if it had been your choice, you would had have me operated right after the first operation. But the belief then was that only one was enough, and that “exercising” one “exercises” the other one at the same time.

I respect doctors, trial-and-error approach is not easy. It’s like being blind and trying to paint a Velázquez picture.

You pushed. You pushed. You pushed.

And I began to hear from the other inner ear, too.

I remember that time. I was 10. I remember waking up from the anesthesia and ORDER, not ask, no, ORDER, a glass of water. And then I complained because I had a heavy bandage on my head. The surgeon even came into the room to pacify me. I was so MAD! I was a hell of a girl, not easy to deal with. Nobody makes fun of me, and if so, deal with the consequences. My mother tried to not to argue with me because I always won. I was so stubborn!!!

I screamed when I saw half of my skull with no hair at all and a big scar above my temporal bone.

I looked like a skinhead.

At that time I didn’t know what skinheads were, but I still have that image engraved in my mind.

Anyway, cochlear implants are not magical. Rehabilitation must be done, it’s like using a muscle you didn’t know you had, and you have to discover how it works. I confused the “a” with the “o” and the “e” with the “i”. In Spanish there are only 5 vowels, thank God! But consonants were even trickier.

I never learnt the sign language. I learnt to read lips when I didn’t have my “machines” on. I liked and still like being in my silence world. It’s quiet and calm and there are no expectations. I am most of the time like this: while sleeping, while reading, while using the computer, while studying… But then I come back to the real world whenever I choose to.

I finished school with high marks. I even got distinction in some subjects. I got into the university. I am studying Medicine. I pass all the subjects every year (touch wood).

I have my own adapted phonendoscope. I use a FM for my classes (a kind of radio to listen to the teacher directly). I hear nothing in the swimming pool. I watch movies (with subtitles). I listen to music (with heatsets or even with my FM). I go every year to said clinic to have my annual programming (an “adjustement” of my hearing to get closer to the “real” thing). But apart from that, my life is normal.

Nobody notices I am deaf. Every time I meet a new person, I announce it. It’s very tiresome, as I guess getting out of the closet every time is. But it’s necessary. I have difficulties while socializing, and the person should know to speak clearly and to not to frown at me if I ask more than once a repetition of some sentence or word I don’t catch.

Everybody is shocked when I tell them I am 100% deaf. I don’t speak like one. I don’t listen like one. I take that as a compliment.

Not because I am ashamed of being deaf, but because I am proud of how far I’ve gotten with my handicap.

My father’s colleague’s son has not even finished school.

I know a lot of deaf people who didn’t finish school either. It’s not the rule, but it’s not rare. Lots of them had to repeat a year or two. More needed curricular adaptation. No one of them had cochlear implants. Every kid who was operated on had a better future, and the earlier, the better. And I talk from my very own experience.

Objectively speaking, I am on the top of my kind.

Thank you, Daddy, for not listening to anybody that there was nothing to be done.

You would hate this book with all your being.

Wiley has a deaf son, and he is great. But he is not like you. He resigned himself. He accepted his son’s fate. He even has confused notions about cochlear implants, and talks about them to other people. That information he gives makes them fearful to operate on their own kids.

You don’t believe in sign language. You didn’t want me to only speak with deaf people. You didn’t want me to live in a guetto speaking only to those who were deaf or deaf people’s family. You wanted me to have equal chances in life as every kid should have.

You always encourage people to believe in cochlear implants.

But mostly, they are scared and, if they hear a different opinion, they chicken out.

You stopped saying anything unless they specifically asked for it.

And when that happens you are like Attila, the grass doesn’t grow again. You are honest and you make people have high hopes, and with a good reason.

Because you feel we live in a fools’ world and you feel you can do little about it unless they really want to believe.

You once said there was no worse fate than having a parent who resigns himself/herself. That there was no worse thing than a stupid parent.

I love you.

And I will always love you.

Thanks for believing in me.

And for still believing in me.

And for always believing in me.


If you want to hear my real thoughts during the reading of this book, my original review and my first three comments below are enough:

Original Review
Comment #1: Reality, Social Systems and Facts
Comment #2: Summary of the Final Review
Comment #3: Big Mistakes in the Book