For all of you talking behind my back (or behind your hands so I can’t lipread), I have sad news. Actually, first–shame on you– and second, I went out and got myself some hearing. For the low, low price of $2,300, I am no longer Helen Keller. Well, full disclosure: that’s true unless i’m in the shower, pool, or hot tub, because this thing can’t get wet. I guess you can talk about me behind my back then. Anyway, yes. I got a hearing aid.
Let me set this post up by saying two things:
1. I was without a hearing aid for ten years. I am not looking to explain why or psychoanalyze myself. One of my best friends in the entire world is an audiologist. It helps quell your nerves and the childhood trauma when one of your favorite people is reassuring you every step of the way. Major thanks and love to Caitlin.
2. The last time I had a hearing aid, digital technology had just come out. The first generation was a stepping stone and incredibly flawed. It was programmed by a computer to have two settings and frequently shut off. It was more frustrating than not hearing at all!
So, what does that mean? NOTHING prepared me for this thing. I’ve lost quite a bit of hearing since the last time I had a hearing aid. If you’ve read my blog, you know that I don’t lament what I don’t have. Being moderate to severely hard of hearing is not the worst thing in the world. But, as I missed out on more and more, I started thinking THE.MOST.OBVIOUS.THING.IN.THE.WORLD. Why was I allowing myself to be left out and miss things and why on earth would I allow it to continue if I could do something about it? I know– Captain Obvious over here. So, I dug deep, put on my big girl pants, made an appointment with Caitlin (who had been patiently awaiting the day since the ink dried on her doctorate).
As the wait for it dwindled down, I was more and more excited, and thrilled at the prospect of being part of the world again. Now, I’ve always been honest on this blog when I talk about my hearing and I want to share really candidly, so i’m going to confess something. There was this little part of me that was scared it wasn’t going to work for me. Sure, countless people benefit and Caitlin was sure I would, too. Maybe I had Special Snowflake Syndrome, but it was really annoying wondering if I was setting myself up for disappointment.
The day finally arrived and when I got there, Caitlin went through her whole spiel (including some gross maintenance stuff i’ll spare you), then put it in. I froze. It was like I forgot how to move, but I was just completely freaked out because I could hear myself swallow, breathe, and when Caitlin spoke, I started to cry. It took approximately 45 seconds for me to realize just how much I had been missing. I knew right then and there that this was going to be life changing. I like to think I have a way with words, but when I try to describe what this is like, words seem to fail me. It’s like someone turned the volume up on the entire world, and it was set on near mute for a really long time.
It took about a minute for me to speak and stop answering Caitlin’s questions with anything but a nod. The prospect of hearing my voice was horrifying. I’m not going to lie– I cannot stand the sound of my own voice at the moment. Our brains process our own voices differently than strictly external sounds, and as my brain adjusts, my own voice sounds echo-y and oddly lisp-y to me (no matter how much people assure me I have no lisp of which to speak). It sounds like I’m listening to myself speak over a ham radio. It gets better everyday, but still strange.
The first conversation we had in Caitlin’s office was basically a 30 minute gab fest (shoutout to having your best friend be your doctor) and not ONCE did I need her to repeat herself. It felt miraculous. I sailed out of her office with a “have a great weekend!” to the receptionists, exhilarated when I heard their responses.
Then I stepped outside. Readers, I’m just going to say it. I was so cocky. “I don’t need to ease into it. Let’s just set it at its full settings,” I said in the office, which was pretty empty on a Friday afternoon. That Special Snowflake Syndrome reared its ugly head and decided I’d acclimate super fast. After all, i’d had a hearing aid before. I laugh at my naivete now. I walked out of that office and it was like I got smacked in the face with a 2×4 made entirely of loud noise. It came at me all at once–my feet crunching through the leaves, heavy traffic (horns, brakes, speeding cars, etc), wind, keys jingling, and god knows what else. There was no such thing as background noise- it was ALL FOREGROUND NOISE.
I was borrowing my step-dad’s SUV, and even that offered no respite. I fired that thing up and all of a sudden, I could hear the noise that accompanied the suspicious vibration I could only feel pre-hearing aid (PHA). On the way home, I decided to listen to music through my iPhone. Last time I did that in the car PHA, I turned it all the way up and tucked it into my bra strap so the speaker would be aimed at my ear. Imagine my shock when I pressed play with the volume at 1/4 capacity, tucked it in the center console and heard it crystal clear. Cue tears. Cue more tears when I started singing along and realized how out of tune/key I was.
I stopped at Starbucks on my way to my Friday night plans. Big mistake. Do you have any idea how LOUD Starbucks actually is? The cappuccino machines, the music, the chattering, even the pumping of syrup. It was like being assaulted when I walked through the door.
But beyond that, when the shock passed, I realized I could hear the cashier talking to the customers way in front of me, I could hear some guy selling a woman an iPhone at the table next to where I waited for a pumpkin spice latte (Absolutely DISGUSTING, by the way. Why do people drink these? I wasted my free drink trying that crap.). It blew my mind. It terrified me. Even now it scares me to think of just how much I’ve been missing all this time.
When I got home later that night, I could hear my refrigerator running. I could hear my next door neighbors through my wall. I could hear dogs barking outside, the gas turning on in the oven and all kinds of sounds that I couldn’t even identify. It’s like my brain is trying to catch up. I have relied on lip reading for so long that it’s hard to break that habit and rely only on sound. Sometimes, it takes a little time to process what I heard, so I say, “What?” out of habit, even though I heard it. Then, halfway through the repeat, I say, “Never mind! Got it!”
Even with all of that, my life has changed in ways I didn’t even realize it would. Hiking this weekend, I carried on conversations with people ahead of and behind me without even thinking about it. Even going to the store and buying things is a whole new experience. I can banter with the cashiers. I can hear sales associates even as they walk away talking as they lead me to what i’m looking for. I can hear my boss from in her office when I’m at my desk. I can listen and write notes at the same time because I’m not trying to lipread. I can hear the tea kettle whistling. I can carry on a conversation with my extremely soft spoken nine year old cousin.
I never realized how much EFFORT it took me just to do the smallest of things involving human interaction until I didn’t have to do them anymore. And it turns out that the TV has a volume DOWN button. Who’d have thought? It’s been a week and a half of revelations. I’m going to stop here for now. This post has gotten long. Next time i’ll share some funny anecdotes and crazy stories about adjusting to my new reality–there have been some really unexpected things. Like, how I burst out of my office when the copy machine was warming up because I thought someone was vacuuming at nine a.m. I had no idea what it sounded like. I’ll leave you with some firsthand accounts of that first weekend:
And for the LOVE of freaking puppies, the next person who covers their mouth and speaks to “test” me is going to be get a lovely kick in the shin. Yes, I can hear you. And I can see that you look ridiculous. Buckle up, kids. I’m bionic now.