Helen Keller believed that vision keeps us in touch with “things” and hearing keeps us in touch with “people”. She said that humans are social beings and we use the sense of hearing to communicate. If we cannot hear then we are cut off from people and isolated.
I thought that was a strange concept when I had normal hearing. I mean, how can a person stand in a room full of people who are talking and enjoying each other’s company but yet feel out of place and alone? Little did I know that years later I would experience that for myself.
I can see and I can hear but I don’t do either of those very well without help. I got my first pair of eyeglasses when I was seven years old and my first pair of hearing aids last year. Finally, I am “whole”.
My wife says that I should have had hearing aids a long time ago. Over and over she told me to get my hearing tested and get a hearing aid. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t hearing well but I didn’t think it was that bad. As much as I hate to admit it, she was right. It was bad.
I developed hearing loss from exposure to power tools without ear protection. I also damaged my ears by going to rock concerts in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Yup, I was the guy climbing the tower of speakers next to the “mosh pit.”
Then when I got my first MP3 player I further punished my ears by listening to loud music through headphones while using power tools. And of course, I did this for hours at a time on my “weekend warrior” home improvement projects.
I never really thought much about how loud my music was. It seemed just right and sounded good. Of course, every morning I would nearly jump out of my skin from the sheer loudness when I started up my car. But it seemed fine once I rolled the windows down and got onto the road.
Little by little my hearing worsened. It happened so slowly that I didn’t realize that it was happening. But everyone around me knew what was going on. My daughter would say something and I would say “what”? She would repeat it and I still couldn’t understand what she said. I wasn’t sure if she said “sheep” or “sheet”. Maybe it was “sheik”. Or was it “cheap” or “cheat”? Finally she would say, “never mind” and walk away.
Sometimes my wife would come into the family room and say, “Pick up the phone.” I’d look at her like she had two heads and ask her why. “Because it’s ringing! Didn’t you hear it?” she would say. “Of course I heard it,” I would reply. “I thought it was on the television!”
There were more and more times that I felt left out of group conversations. I could hear people talking to each other but I wasn’t exactly sure what they were saying. If I tried to get involved everyone would get frustrated, including me. I disrupted the flow of conversation by asking people to repeat. Or I missed so much that they would stop and have to go back to the beginning. Then if I still couldn’t understand I just pretended that I understood.
Eventually, it turns out that I was being left out of conversations. In fact, sometimes I wondered if they were doing it on purpose.
I felt like I was in a sea of humanity but alone. Helen Keller was right. People need to hear well for companionship. I was missing out on life.
Eventually I broke down and decided to try hearing aids. I went to the hearing aid cabinet in my office, pulled out a pair and programmed them.
Now you know my secret. I am an audiologist. I diagnose and provide non-medical treatment for people with hearing loss, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and dizziness. Pretty sad, huh? Here I am counseling patients that hearing aids will help and I’m the one who should be listening to my own advice!
Wearing hearing aids was strange at first because sounds were different. Kind of “crispy,” but not harsh. The best part was that speech was clear. I didn’t have to go through the mental effort to decide what word best fit into conversations.
My hearing loss is permanent and affects my ability to hear high frequency or high pitched sounds. This means that I hear sounds and speech but they are not clear. It’s like looking through a pair of eyeglasses that are just a little too weak. It’s also like using a manually adjusted camera that is a little out of focus. The leaves on a tree are visible but they are blurry.
It took a couple of adjustments to get the hearing aids to fit comfortably. It also took a few adjustments to get the volume comfortable and sound quality natural. But within a few weeks I was doing well.
Now when I look back at my journey to better hearing, I can’t believe that I waited so long. But I guess that it was better for me to come to my senses and do it for myself than for my wife and family. I’m happy that I finally made the decision to “heal myself”.
Hearing well has become a normal part of my life again. I never cease to be amazed that a tiny piece of plastic and wires can help me to hear so well. When I put them on in the morning I feel my world open up. My hearing sharpens like a camera coming into focus. I become aware of the sounds around me but they don’t interfere with my ability to understand conversations.
My hearing aids help my “depth perception” of hearing so I can tell where sounds are coming from. I like that because it is easier to mentally focus on what interests me. It’s like going from two-dimensional hearing to multi-dimensional hearing. Or going from “stereo” to “surround-sound”.
Years ago my patient told me that wearing his hearing aids is like going from “black-and-white” TV to “color”; widescreen, high definition television. I finally know what he was talking about.