There was an interesting Miss Manners column over the weekend which caused me to reflect on my own experience in social situations as a person who cannot hear in noisy environments. The advice seeker had a couple of friends who preferred silence when they go out to dine and she was frustrated and perplexed about the situation, turning to Miss Manners for counsel. I know this scenario all too well and found myself in a similar position over the weekend at a trampoline park birthday party. If you’ve been to one of these, you know what I’m talking about.
I cannot hear. Let me just put that out there. That’s not completely true because I’ve gone to lengths to improve my hearing over the last several years. About 11 years ago, when I returned to work from maternity leave, I found myself with a new boss, a boss who was a soft talker. I thought maybe the last twelve months I’d spent at home with my child had left my hearing for the worse, with the crying, screaming and tantrums that had been occurring. I gave it a few weeks but finally decided to address it with an ENT. I was 40 years old and if I needed hearing aids, so be it.
This was the beginning of a journey that finally led me to surgery for a cochlear implant in 2014. Early on, one doctor took a scan of my ears and proclaimed I had a thick, jelly-like substance clogging up my middle air and by removing it and adding tubes, I’d be good to go. After that first surgery, I was amazed by the difference in my hearing. Life was loud and clear, at least it was for a few months until the tubes fell out.
He repeated the surgery a couple of times but each time, the tubes would fall out, unable to stand up to the thick fluid that drained into my ears from the chronic sinusitis I’d been plagued with from birth. After a couple of years of this, the ENT referred me to an ear specialist, a confident surgeon who claimed he would fix me right up. He too thought tubes would be the way to go and after the first pair fell out he found a sturdier set and the summer of 2011 they went in. A couple months later they fell out and I just sort of gave up on the whole thing.
Mind you, I still couldn’t hear. I hated asking people to repeat themselves so I usually nodded along and then I’d be on the receiving end of a quizzical look and the gig would be up. I’d have to admit I hadn’t heard what they said. Sometimes they’d need to repeat it four or five times until I finally understood and that was painful for both of us. By now I had changed jobs (my new boss was also a soft talker) and usually I let her do most of the talking. Many times I would agree to do something in a meeting with her but then would have to email to clarify exactly what she needed. It worked for another year.
Fast forward to fall of 2012. Many of us were taking part in a Dale Carnegie class where we would have to give weekly speeches and then make comments about what we had heard. This was particularly troublesome because I couldn’t always hear what was going on in class and I’d find myself mirroring someone else’s comment’s from a nearby table. I knew I needed to do something more about my hearing and I made another appointment with the ear specialist. He told me one of my options would be a cochlear implant because traditional hearing aids wouldn’t work with the fluid in my ears. I wasn’t ready for this drastic solution and asked to have the tube surgery again.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that I was ready to wave the white flag and agree to cochlear surgery. I walked into the office and told the doctor my decision and he sent me for further tests to confirm I’d be a good candidate. I also have scalp psoriasis and I wanted to take the time to get that cleared up before he cut into my scalp and with diet changes, I was finally able to clear it up and surgery was set for April 1, 2014. The recovery was much worse than I thought it would be but about a month later they were ready to turn it on. I was about to hear sounds I’d missed out on most of my life.
I can vividly recall dropping my son in his first-grade class one morning and hearing the laughter of him and his friends in the opposite corner of the classroom. It was a beautiful thing. Again and again, I heard things I’d missed all these years, and that I wasn’t healing quickly from the surgery, was a small price to pay.
It took about a year for it to properly heal and for the hearing aid to feel like an integral part of my being. I likened this surgery to my childbirth experience. It was pretty rough but after enough time passes you think you’ll do it again because the benefits far outweigh the temporary pain you experience. Such was the case and I had my second cochlear surgery at the end of the summer. Two cochlear are better than one and I’m quite happy to report the second surgery was a breeze and I feel fully healed already.
That said, I’m never going to have great hearing in noisy situations. I was trying to make conversation at the trampoline park but could only hear about half of what was being said. I also have a hard time in noisy restaurants and other similar situations. It’s why I prefer social situations where I’m speaking with people one on one and in quiet environments.
My newest hearing aid is no piece of fluff. It’s the Baha 5 and I have a couple of accessories that help amplify the sound in otherwise difficult situations. I have a mic that a person can use to speak directly into and it goes right into my hearing aid connected behind my ear. I also have a tv streamer so the sound from it goes directly to my device. My hearing aid is connected to my phone and I can listen to calls, music and videos directly via it.
Choosing to do something about my hearing was one of those pivotal events in my life. I think of the years I spent not engaging in conversation, not speaking up and keeping my world small due to my hearing loss. It doesn’t help to have regrets so I just move forward, grateful for the gift of hearing I have today. It may not be perfect but it’s everything to me.