It seems as though I’ve had hearing loss all my life but I didn’t. I’ve only forgotten what it’s like to hear conversation without saying, “excuse me,” “I’m sorry but……,” ” could you repeat that please?” Music was never the same but I adjusted, people with hearing loss are good at that and if they aren’t good at adjusting, we are good at faking it. At least, we think we are good at it. When I was 20 years old, the Otologist told me that I would probably be totally deaf by the time I reached 30.
It’s been 40 years since I lost all my speech discrimination in my left ear and avoided wearing a hearing aid in my right ear until I was 40 years old. Someone had the guts to tell me that I’m not hearing everything that was being said to me at meetings and that I should consider getting my hearing checked. That gutsy individual and I have been good friends ever since that day, and I did land up getting a hearing aid on my right ear and my life forever changed.
Over the past 19 years, my hearing barely changed until about two years ago needing some minor adjustments to my aid and than again, much more noticeably, one morning about three weeks ago, I put on my hearing aid and thought the aid wasn’t working. I changed the battery thinking, of course, it must be the battery but over the next few hours I began to realize something had changed. Voices around me sounded muffled, I couldn’t catch the words on my radio while driving, I could not hear the voices on the telephone and worst of all, my own voice didn’t sound right. The voices on the telephone were too low no matter how much I turned up the volume on both my aid and the phone.
I began to notice I was speaking louder than usual because my throat was hurting at the end of the day. I was exhausted from the emotional and physical strain of “listening.” My friends noticed not only was I not catching conversations, they had to tell me to lower my voice in public places. I immediately made an appointment to see my Audiologist.
I was hopeful the Audiologist would find something wrong with my aid, after all, I had a hearing test only eight months ago and nothing had changed at that time. As soon as I entered his office, he introduced me to his 4th year resident intern and informed me that they would be doing a full audiological evaluation, this way, I would not have to repeat it in four months, a year from my last one.
I hate, hate, hate, hearing tests. They always insist on testing my left ear even though it has been in the profound range for the past 40 years. The shooshing in my right ear, and the deafening words in my left ear vibrating through every bone in my body, I want to scream, isn’t this illegal? you are blasting loud noises in my ear, is it possible to be any deafer than I am in that ear? My body is thumping to the sound of BASEBALL, ICE CREAM, HOTDOG, AIRPLANE, and any two syllable words used. I have to laugh at the words used to evaluate us. Don’t the audiologists realize we have those words covered? The right ear goes through the same torture, only this time, as the words become louder with the added shooshing, my right ear begins to hurt. Haven’t these people heard that loud noises can make us deaf? Jeesh, I want to rip the headphones off my head. But I continue to be compliant.
At the end of the test, the intern says to me, I understand you are very sensitive to change, there’s been a small change in your speech discrimination and the Doctor will go over it with you. Hmm, yes, I’m sensitive to changes in my hearing because I know my hearing loss issues better than you do, is that what you mean by sensitive? Small change in my speech discrimination, okay, I can deal with small change. The Doctor explains to me that my word recognition has gone down from recognizing 12 out of 25 words to 7 out of 25 words. Meaning, eight months ago, I had speech discrimination of 48% and its decreased today to 27%. However, that’s not what “we consider a big change” he states. I immediately respond with, but, if I am in a conversation with someone or groups of someone’s, we don’t speak one word sentences. We speak in a flow of words, which make a paragraph which turns into a conversation of 100’s of words being said. If I am only grasping 7 out of 25 one word sentences, what am I really hearing in a paragraph of words?
The Doctor said, okay, let me have the intern read a paragraph from a book sitting behind you. As far as I was concerned, he could have put the intern in front of me and I would not have been able to tell him anything that was said.
As it turned out, he was very surprised that I could not even tell him what the subject of the paragraph was. He then decided to reprogram the aid, while the intern read the same paragraph. As you may or may not know, with all the new technology, the computer hooks up to our aids and can program it instantly.
The second time, I managed to give him three or four words but still did not know the subject or topic. The third programming produced a much better result and though I could not give him word for word, I was able to tell them the subject and a synopsis of what I understood the paragraph to mean. I was thrilled but I was grasping for straws and with those results, all I wanted to do was leave the office.
I asked the Doctor why my speech discrimination had decreased and he responded that it was probably the hair cells in my coclear, dying. My heart sank. All I wanted him to do was tell me it was just the aid.
The Doctor asked that I come back next week but I decided to return after my vacation in three weeks so that I could have time to adjust. As it turned out, within two to three days, I began to hear exactly as I did prior to the adjustment. With my leaving this week to go on vacation, I did not want to start looking into alternatives. What alternative do I have? Once I see whether more adjustments to my hearing aid can or cannot help me, I believe I will need to see a specialist who can tell me the decrease in my speech discrimination is as a result of hair cells dying in the coclear. If this is the case, than clearly deafness waited exactly 30 years to happen.
There’s a part of me that is feeling very panicked and anxious about losing the use of communicating by telephone, speaking to my friends in a restaurant, hearing my children’s voices and other life situations that involve hearing, listening, entertainment and so forth. I’ve always dealt with taking my aid off and feeling very comfortable in the silence. However, taking my aid off permanently and staying in silence “forever” is not something I can honestly say, I can get use to.
Yes, I may be in some form of denial, I want to hold onto what I have, I want another hearing aid, I want the Otologist to give me a prescription that will unstuff my ears. I want to wake up tomorrow and have my 48% discrimination back. But deep down inside, I know that is not going to happen. I know the road ahead is going to be difficult as I readjust my work life, my personal life and my emotions. I have to be okay because I want to be okay and because it’s important to me. I’m not going to say I’m not anxious because I am terribly anxious about this change and need to hear from others who have dealt with this type of situation. Right now, I plan to go on vacation for a week to take a breather away from my home which has no furniture, no walls and no floors, compliments of Hurricane Sandy and I need to get away from work and telephone calls to reduce my stress with communicating.