Lately I feel like I’ve betrayed my older male friends somewhat. Since I got my very expensive hearing aids about six weeks ago, their wives are elbowing them and pointing at me. “See? He did it,” they declare. “Why don’t you?” My friends respond with a grunt and a looking away. For years, my responses were identical to theirs. Loss of hearing is slow and insidious. The increments are so small we don’t notice it, but the people around us do.
Then wives would question me about what finally made me go to an audiologist. I wasn’t sure what the final straw was, but it could have been when my three-year-old granddaughter, Lila, said something to me and I said, “What?” Then she said it again and I said, “What?” again. The third time, she said it in measured cadence: “Can. We. Go. Out. Side. And. Ride. Bikes?” Yeah. I think that’s when I knew I had to do something.
My first awareness that there might be something wrong was four or five years ago when I was still teaching. At a forty-minute meeting with a handful of other teachers I heard myself say, “What?” nearly a half dozen times when nobody else did. Clearly I was the only one not hearing whatever was being said. After that, I noticed how often my wife asked me to turn down the television. Soon she was gently suggesting that I get my ears tested.
Sometime later I mentioned it to my doctor at my annual physical. “There’s no wax in your ears,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for someone your age to experience some loss of hearing.” When I asked what I should do about it, he said, “Do you want to wear hearing aids?” I said no, it wasn’t that bad. “Okay then,” he said. “Live with it.” I did for a couple of more years.
Then my wife said she heard beeping down in the basement of our South Portland house. “You don’t hear it?” she asked. I didn’t. When I went down there though, I did. Water comes into that basement after a storm sometimes and there’s a battery back-up for the sump pump that sends an alarm when it’s time to add distilled water to the cells. That’s where the high-pitched beep was coming from. I added water and it was fine, but the experience revealed another dimension to my hearing issue. What if I were by myself? I might have had to replace the battery. A hundred bucks — not too big a deal. But I began to think about it more and what other safety issues might be implied by what happened.
When I finally went for a hearing test, the audiologist told me I had moderate to severe loss with higher-frequency sounds. The hearing aids I purchased reopened that world for me. The first thing I noticed was that I could hear myself breathing through my nose, and realized I hadn’t heard it for years. Then I went outside and the birds were very loud.
Mornings are my favorite time of day. I like to sleep with the windows open during this time of year and let the birds wake me. I like to smell fresh morning air, then watch the day fill with light. Nobody else would be up but me and the world would be mine alone. But I’m sleeping in lately because I haven’t been hearing their high-pitched sounds loudly enough to wake me. That isn’t going to change because I take the hearing aids out at night and put them on the nightstand with my glasses. I still have my own teeth, but if I live long enough I may be taking them out too someday. Then I’ll need a bigger nightstand.
One of my older male friends took me aside afterward and asked me a few questions about my hearing aids and I patiently answered him. After one more experience such as what I described above, I think he’s going to make the jump and go for a test himself.
I'm in Greece and having difficulty finding wifi connections, so this is an abbreviated post.