Hearing the World in a New Way
Editor’s note: Second of a three-part series: On Growing Older.
The rustle of a single hamburger wrapper sounded like the crackle of one hundred papers. The keyboard at my computer started clacking very loudly! I heard myself sighing vociferously. (Do I really sigh that loudly?) I heard ice rattling in the office kitchen—never noticed that before—and when our office janitor was putting away dishes in the kitchen, it sounded as if she was banging stuff like she was mad. But of course she wasn’t. As I walked up the office stairs, I heard my shoes scuffing the carpet. And birds—why did I seldom notice the utter sweetness of their tunes? I now feel as if every time I step outside, the birds are there just waiting to strike up the band!
Having an amplifier in my ear was letting me hear sounds I hadn’t heard in years.
So what’s up? What gives?
If you are one of the 10 million persons in the United States who uses a hearing aid, I’m guessing you’ve figured out what I’m talking about. The numbers for Canada are about half a million folks using an artificial hearing boost. Everyone else: just wait until you can join this fortunate boomer club.
Having an amplifier in my ear was letting me hear sounds I hadn’t heard in years. It was fascinating. I took notes (for my doctor), and reveled in the sound explosion in my ear!
The Hear It website (which sells aids, so take it with a grain of salt), says that in the United States “35 million suffer from hearing loss, but more than 25 million of them do not have a hearing aid. Hearing loss affects three million Canadians, but only one in six of the hearing impaired wear hearing aids.” The site goes on to say that persons in both countries are losing their hearing earlier than ever. I have no doubt this is true. Folks with their car stereos boosted to the max surely do damage to their ears, as do earbuds turned too loud. “Just wait,” I want to tell them. But I don’t think it with spite. All of our five senses are beautiful gifts we’ve been given, and when they diminish it is a great loss, even if it isn’t the end of the world or our lives.
Two years ago I wrote about going to an ear specialist to check my hearing. I am deaf in one ear anyway (my left) and have been since early childhood (they suspect mumps was the cause—a frequent cause of single-ear childhood deafness). My disability was very minor compared to the tremendous issues that millions have to deal with. Lately, though, I noticed I was missing parts of words people were saying, straining to hear soft-spoken people or prayers, and having to be the one (and hating it) to ask for the volume to be turned up on speakerphones at the office during phone or video conference meetings. I found myself completely missing jokes at coffee break—and thought of my dear mother, who too frequently misses so much of what goes on.
And yes, I am shy about revealing my new hearing aid. It is very discreet; my hair covers it, and as far as I know, no one among my friends, family, and colleagues has noticed it. But then maybe they’re too polite to mention it or ask nosy questions. I decided not to tell anyone at first—just my immediate family. I wanted to kind of slide under the radar and slowly reveal my need for extra oomph in my right ear. So now you are among the first to know!
For I am truly of the baby boomer generation and have to deal with getting older. Gerontologists now talk about the young old (65–75), the old (75–85) and the old old (above 85). I used to write in the abstract about “aging” when it was happening to other people. Now I write about it for real. This is my life now, even though I haven’t hit 65. Yet.
So I’ve joined the very special hearing aid club. I find myself catching the maneuvers of others to discretely turn up their volume, take out an aid that has suddenly dinged that the battery is dying, using a small remote to change their volume, and learning the code behind shopping for hearing aid batteries (they’re color coded so that if you know your color, you can find your size and not even worry about reading the tiny numbers)! I feel so in.
I knew that my hearing aid was successful when I could suddenly hear—in a different room—someone I always had difficulty hearing. I also marveled that on a drive to go out with my husband for supper, I could hear him talk while we were both facing straight ahead! The embarrassment of my dating years (over 40 years ago)—trying to watch out of the corner of my eye whether my date was talking to me, or when to reveal to my date my handicap—were over!
A hearing aid should be like glasses: some people wear them, some don’t. I’ve had some minor hassles getting used to the device and wiggling it into my ear (when all our lives we are told not to stick things in our ears—not even Q-tips), but overall they are truly not that big a deal. And thanks be to God for the help they bring us!
To comment, or for my complete three-part series, On Growing Older, write and request it by email or postal mail from MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.