If I was a gambling woman, I would’ve bet the ranch that I would’ve acquired hearing aids at some point in my life. I know those parameters aren’t real specific, but it would’ve been hard to nail down exactly how old I would be when the need arose.
I did not see “33” in my crystal ball, however. But regardless, I have them and I am thankful.
I believe my first reaction was, “hello, world!”
And they do kick ass. I’m actually surprised that my experience has been roughly what I expected. I’ll chronicle the basics now, while my acoustically-dampened world is still fresh in my head.
Hearing aids are not like your natural hearing.
They’re like a tiny speaker inserted into your ear. The microphone that picks up the sound is on the unit itself, which (in my case) rests behind the ear. (I didn’t expect it to stay put as well as it does!) The sound is then transmitted through a small clear cord that inserts as far deep into the outer ear canal as you can get. In fact, it ideally butts up against the eardrum a little bit.
Since I lost different parts of my hearing (mid-range frequencies) much more than others, I got the type of hearing aid that they adjust the different sound frequencies, like the graphic equalizer switches on a stereo, versus the ones that just amplify all sound across the board. So my hearing aids are set to boost those mid-range frequencies and as a result, the sound quality is a bit tinny.
I also hear lots of room noise. It’s kind of like listening to a recording of dead air, or having a speaker that’s on but not playing any sound, or like listening to the slight hiss of an audiotape (remember those? 60, 90, 120 minutes of analog sweetness?) Certain types of sounds are somewhat disproportionately amplified, such as central heating or A/C, or even my laptop fan, should it kick into higher gear. Strangely enough, I even heard a hissing I couldn’t place one day that ended up being someone doing yard work with a gasoline-fed powertool….2 lawns over. And I was indoors with windows closed to boot.
You need different programmed settings for different environments.
It’s amazing how quickly the sound ramps up when approaching a busy street. I’m very fortunate to have various settings individually programmed for different situations. The first setting is Universal, which is the default, because it’s the most suitable for a normal office or home environment. Another setting I use is for louder environments like restaurants, the mall, or walking along busy streets, because it helps filter out background noise. Yet another setting boosts the audio coming through a phone while filtering out all other room noise.
Some things are still hard.
Using the phone has presented the most significant challenge. Even though all phones made after 1989 are supposed to be automatically hearing-aid compatible, the accuracy of that statement varies. My office phone, ironically, is the worst. The front desk phone is marginally better (same manufacturer and model), and the pre-1995 cordless phone at home is best. The sensor that automatically switches the hearing aids from the default mode over to the phone mode isn’t completely perfect, so I’ve found it important to keep the remote control handy.
One thing I didn’t expect was how parts of my life slowed down. I can’t just reach over and pick up the phone anymore – I have to be ready with my remote control (with all the program buttons on it) to manually force the hearing aids into phone mode if they don’t stay switched over properly. This means that I don’t leave home without the remote control device and in fact, it’s very close to me at all times (unless I know I’m not leaving home or answering the phone and thus won’t need to change settings).
Sometimes, it’s the little things.
Singing is interesting, because now there’s a different vocal quality. Our trips back and forth to the office are different now because that’s one of my noisier environments but not noisy enough to switch settings. Since the quarters are so close, sound becomes even more amplified, compounded by truck engine noise and road-tire noise.
What I was least prepared for, however, is how dampened everything gets at night. You don’t realize it in the morning before putting the hearing aids in, but after having them in all day and letting your brain get used to them as the new “normal”, taking them out at night is like stuffing cottonballs tight into your ears. It’s like a heavy blanket that dampen, softens, and almost mutes everything.
The scary part is, that’s how I used to live my life. Everyone around me had to talk loud and enunciate very clearly and even then I would misinterpret words (much like playing a game of telephone). Watching TV without wireless headphones was out of the question, and it was no wonder that I wouldn’t hear the phone until the 4th ring or an alarm clock good go off for a solid minute before I would even realize it. It’s not that I was sleeping heavily; it’s that I was turned away from the alarm clock, laying on my good ear, with my less-functional ear exposed. (The alarm clock part is still a fact of life, because I don’t sleep with my hearing aids in, but everything else has improved.)
Hearing impairment is a 24/7 thorn in your side – so don’t be an ass, and never assume.
And being hearing impaired, even if not fully deaf, is a painful, frustrating, alienated world. People talk around you and you can’t hear what they’re saying. Classmates poked some fun at one aspect of another (even the hearing problem itself) and I had no idea. People had to poke me from behind to get my attention because otherwise I’d never know they were there. Emergency sirens could come up behind me and I wouldn’t hear them until they had passed me (I would see the lights first and pull over). When you don’t hear like everyone else, parts of life suck. Depending on vocal quality, some people were particularly tough to hear.
And I got sick of the people who were rude to me, thinking I was dumb, dense, self-absorbed, or ignorant when really all that it boiled down to was that I couldn’t hear them. Bad hearing is the single handicap people can’t see, so they give you no leeway because to them, you look like a normal person. It’s double-tough when you’re young, because NO ONE expects someone under 65-70 to be partially deaf.
I also got annoyed at people who would just talk super-fast, or those who would mumble or neglect to enunciate because whether they realized it or not (and I got even more annoyed at those who were aware of the situation), they were further alienating me. It was yet one more reminder of this issue, and yet one more frustrating experience, one more incident in which I could not function 100%.
Every night is a wake-up call.
So every night, taking them out serves as a reminder of what life could be like in a parallel universe of continuing with my previous situation. And every night, I’m reminded to be thankful (although I rarely rely on that as my sole reminder). It feels good to feel human again.