Last February, in between check-ups at the doctor’s office after my youngest had ear tubes placed in her tiny ears, I mentioned to her doctor that I noticed a difficulty with my ears – that hearing, between watching TV or listening to my students at the community college speak, was becoming a bit more of a challenge. I was a bit dismissive in my explanation, guessing my ears needed a thorough cleaning.
After my daughter’s post-op examination, the doctor kindly suggested I see an audiologist, and following his orders, I did. I had a hearing test, and to my shock, I was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss. It wasn’t caused by noise damage or a childhood infection. Turns out, I’ve had it my entire life and it’s likely gotten worse in recent years, leading me to cup the back of my ears in the classroom or watch a movie with closed captioning. To buffer the brunt of such a revelation the type of hearing loss I possess has a sweet nickname: the cookie bite, coined after the U-shape produced on the testing graph.
Before I left the audiologist, I was outfitted with a pair of hearing aids. After the appointment, I reeled with a bit of shock, the sort that not only highlights one’s current state but also caused me to think back over the decades to situations when I couldn’t understand what was being said or how I struggled to make sense of music lyrics. More than likely, it’s the reason why I never took to podcasts or audiobooks. And, I admit I’ve had several age-related outbursts, revealing my own prejudices and narrow-minded thinking.
Unlike my two children, I was born before newborn hearing tests, and I can hear low and high sounds – my loss makes conversations difficult to understand. Until last year, I thought either I was terrible at focusing when someone talked or background noises like music were the problem. Not my ability to hear. This type of diagnosis is unlike anything else I’ve encountered. I’m lucky that most of my medical problems are the result of an injury that could be easily treated with a cast or stitches. This new knowledge was different – both a relief that I wasn’t a complete failure as a listener and made me wonder: what had I been missing all these years? And, as I joked to my husband, what had I been agreeing to?
With his typical knowing smile, he did remark that I was cranking up the volume on the TV, but he assumed it was due to poor audio quality. He also made some light jokes about not hearing a crying kiddo in the middle of the night.
With the assistance of my hearing aids, I can understand song lyrics much easier than previously but I’m still not a podcast or audiobook convert, yet. As an independent journalist and writing instructor, I’m relieved that I can hear more clearly and don’t have to interrupt the conversation to ask “What? Can you repeat that?” I feel like a spy because my hearing aids can connect to my phone so I can take hands-free calls, impressing my kids. When I’m not wearing my hearing aids, the world is dull, and I understand how difficult of a place it is to navigate. How alienating it feels to miss the sounds that carry us through life, connecting us through chatter and song.
Sometimes the world does feel too loud, but this past year I’ve learned that this is also a gift. And if it gets to be too much, I simply lower the volume on the device tucked behind my ear.
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