I have been dealing with hearing problems for the past twenty years, perhaps even longer. Surprisingly, I have taken advantage of hearing aids only over the past three years. The problem with hearing aids is that they are EXPENSIVE! Try $2500 per hearing aid; and most people require two. Depending on what you need, the price goes up even more.
I have been living with hearing loss for so long that I forgot I even had a disability. Rather than admit I had a problem, I would pretend that I had no problem at all. A coping skill that people with hearing impairments sometimes use is Word Association. When people speak to a person with hearing loss, there is always that one word that we don’t understand. Nobody wants to keep asking people to repeat themselves, so we try to guess what is being said, usually by replacing the word in question with something that rhymes with the word. We do it unintentionally. This practice, although annoying for the person talking to us, allows us to feel as if we are taking part in the conversation; even if we might sound like morons by doing so.
On one occasion, a friend of mine, who also suffers from hearing loss, was helping me renovate my home. He asked me for a tape, to measure a piece of siding that he was installing. I returned with a puzzled look on my face….with a piece of cake. When he finished eating the cake, again he asked for the measuring tape. We both laughed, but really it wasn’t all that funny.
God knows how many people I have been introduced to in my lifetime; some of them influential people who could have helped me along the way. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t remember their names, I just never heard them when we were introduced, and again, I didn’t want to ask the person to keep repeating himself. It was embarrassing to be deaf.
And Crowds! Talk about a nightmare. If any more than one person is speaking, I could not differentiate who was saying what. Throw me into a room where there are ten or more people and I am lost. Noisy night clubs and rock concerts are also a challenge for me. I usually nod and pretend that I hear what the person is saying, just to be polite.
Trying to watch television was also torture. I used to strain to hear so hard that I ended up getting headaches. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my favorite TV shows with subtitles scrolling across the screen. I could have continued doing this, but I wanted to hear what was going on. This led to depression and confusion.
Little things that people with normal hearing take for granted are very confusing for a person with a hearing loss. Things like trying to find the cordless phone when it rings. When I was lucky enough to actually hear the phone, I could not determine where it was located. I can’t say how many calls I missed because of this. Even now with hearing aids, this remains a problem.
You remember that commercial on television for the Whisper 2000? The one where the guy sat and laughed as he overheard everyone talking? I knew a guy who actually ordered the thing. He explained how it was not near as effective as it appeared on the commercial. He said the thing hung from your neck, and when people seen it, they simply stopped talking in front of you. Not that it actually worked, but given the ad on TV, people believed he could hear their innermost secrets and desires.
I remember when I had my hearing test. I sat behind a soundproof glass and the audiologist would say various words and ask me to repeat them. I got them all right. Confused, he put a piece of paper in front of his face and did the exercise again. I got them all wrong. I was reading lips. I didn’t even know I was doing this. he said that lip reading is a coping mechanism that hearing impaired people use to function in society. He explained that often, the person doesn’t even know they are doing it.When I think about it, I do tend to stare at people’s lips when I talk to them.
The audiologist was amazed that I functioned this long without any kind of hearing aid. The test showed that my right ear 20% hearing loss, my left ear 80%. That is enough to throw anyone off balance. Maybe this explains why I am so clumsy sometimes.
When I received my hearing aids, I doubted they would be affective. I put them in and right away I was deafened by the screeching of song birds outside. This is a sound I had all but forgotten. I had to ask my son to tone his voice down, as he was deafening me as well. He was confused by this, because ever since I have known him, I have been asking him to speak up so that I could hear him. In fact, everyone I came in contact with on that day yelled at me. I felt as if I had done something wrong.
To celebrate not having to yell at me or repeat everything she was talking about, my wife (my fiancée at the time) asked if I wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate. I agreed; I should have stayed home.
When we got to the restaurant, I was in torture. Forks scraping on glass plates, glasses clinking, babies crying loudly, and gossip everywhere. Since this was my first day with hearing aids, I wasn’t able to tune out various sounds, so I heard everything, all at once! God, I don’t think that guy should be out to dinner with that young woman who obviously wasn’t his wife. And the things they spoke about made me red in the face! One would think that being able to hear things not meant for you is a laugh. I tend to disagree.
Afterwards we went for a walk along the beach. What a racket the waves made! I never heard waves crashing in so long, I forgot how intense and powerful the sound was. I forgot how many things sounded. Hearing aids allowed me to enjoy sounds that most people take for granted.
Let me tell you this. Hearing aids are not the answer for hearing loss. They are an aid, but not a cure. The sound that you ‘hear’ is not the sound you expect to hear. They certainly take some getting used to. At first, everything seemed to have a squeaky sound, like a cheap transistor radio. Eventually you do get used to this, but it took me at least a year to do so.
That being said, my hearing aids did improve my quality of life. They also improved the quality of my wife’s life. Only now did she reveal her frustrations. She said that on countless occasions, she spoke to me, only to have me stare into empty space, unaware that she said anything. God love her for her patience. Actually I have her to thank for even having hearing aids. She said that if we were to get married, I would have to do something about my hearing problem. I am glad I did!
Hearing aids have evolved since they first came on the market. My grandmother had a set over twenty years ago. Two hard plastic things that sat in her bedroom cabinet for years. “I am not wearing that!” she would argue. “They hurt my ears and everything is too loud” she would say. She kept them in the drawer next to her teeth. Go figure.
My hearing aids are very small. Most people have no idea that I am wearing them. I could have gone even smaller, a unit so small that the entire hearing aid fit into the ear canal. I chose the ones I have because I have a fear of a battery in my ear canal.
The unit I have also came with a remote control. I joke with my wife that I can now put her on ‘mute’. She says that she has been on mute since she met me. If anyone has benefited from my new hearing, she is the one. It must have been torture for her.
According to the doctor, my hearing loss could have been caused by one or more factors. Since my father also uses hearing aids, it could have been caused by genetics. I have also been subjecting my ears to loud noise all my life. From the time I was 16 until the age of 37, I worked in the logging industry, using chainsaws and being around loud machinery without the use of ear plugs or any other hearing protection. Add to that my 25 plus years as a mobile disk jockey, with anywhere between 400 and 800 watts of sound banging in my ears at any given time. When I think about it, I really abused my ears. It’s no wonder I can hear at all.
Battery life isn’t all that great with hearing aids. Even though I remove the batteries at night, I still only get about three days out of a pair. This can prove quite costly for some. Anyone without a good health insurance would pay dearly for the ability to hear, something most simply take for granted.
My newfound hearing ability has allowed me to do so much more with my life. My self-confidence has increased, I am less reserved and I can get involved in most conversations, and I can better function in society.
If you suffer from hearing loss, get yourself tested. I can’t emphasize how much my life has improved since receiving hearing aids.