Kim Allen Stull, a 51-year-old mother and former nurse, has had hearing loss since birth. She got by without hearing aids until her hearing loss got so bad it began to affect her job.
“It finally came crashing down in June of this year when the stress of trying to perform my job as a nurse while recognizing that I could potentially harm my patients if my hearing loss meant I heard doctors’ orders incorrectly, did not hear physical signs of illness, or failed to hear a patient’s verbal reports correctly,” she said. “All these valid fears caused me to quit my job and try to find some other path.”
We had the opportunity to talk to her about her hearing loss, the struggle to find an affordable option for hearing aids, and the joy of rediscovering her children’s voices.
Jill: Can you tell us a bit about how you lost your hearing?
Kim: I am diagnosed with severe hearing loss related to nerve damage. I also have extreme tinnitus. The audiologist told me it appears to be a hereditary situation, although mine manifested at a much earlier age. I first recognized difficulties in my mid twenties. I did suffer numerous ear infections as a child that included drainage and bleeding from my ears. My right ear more than my left. Coincidentally, my hearing loss is more severe in my right ear. I have been told that antibiotics used in treating ear infection at that time (1960’s-’70s) may have some connection, but I have not been able to substantiate that. I also do not remember a time that I have not had severe tinnitus.
I first noticed my hearing loss affecting my life when I was having to listen closer to folks with deep voices and softer talkers. At that time I worked for a senior citizens center, scheduling activities, etc., I had scheduled a free hearing check clinic and they also tested my hearing. This time they found “some” measurable low tone hearing loss.
Jill: How did hearing loss affect your life – with friends and family, and your job?
Kim: Early on, I didn’t recognize any major difficulties. As the years passed, I found myself paying attention to people’s mouths and body language when they talked, essentially lip reading. I would say over the last 5-6 years I’ve seen the greatest amount of hearing loss. I’ve had to ask people to repeat themselves sometimes several times until I understood what they have said. I began to feel like folks were perceiving me as irritating, and in my work as a nurse I also found doctors sometimes treated me as if I was less than competent when I had to verify orders repeatedly. I began to feel fearful that I would make mistakes that could harm my patients, therefore I began to overcompensate to make sure I had all bases covered. This caused additional work and stress in an already stressful career.
“Early on, I didn’t recognize any major difficulties. As the years passed, I found myself paying attention to people’s mouths and body language when they talked, essentially lip reading.”
My friends and family have been so supportive and patient with me… but I have noticed the irritation from time to time. I also had a situation where one of my family members came home from work and I didn’t hear the door or his movements in the house. It terrified me that he had been in the house 10 full minutes without my knowledge. What if that was an intruder? I began to fear being alone. I can’t even describe that feeling of helplessness…
Jill: When did you decide that you needed to get hearing aids? What was your experience in trying to purchase them?
Kim: I actually didn’t see hearing aids as an option until earlier this year. Financially there was absolutely no way to afford them. I was living on my own and having a hard time financially. When my living situation changed I began to look for options, and actually went as far as an evaluation and a hold-order on them but had to cancel due to another financial setback.
Jill: How did you find additional resources to finally be able to purchase hearing aids?
Kim: My supervisor at work told me of a program through a local vocational rehabilitation center that may or may not be an option. She helped me communicate with them and the long paperwork process began. I was approved financially and eventually an audiology consult and approved for receipt of the hearing aids based on need. The problem with this was the time element involved. I was told it would be months before the money would be released through the program and work was becoming more stressful for me due to my hearing loss. When the workload threatened to increase substantially due to staffing shortages, my family and I decided I made the difficult decision for me to resign my position as a home health nurse. I could no longer continue to work with the increased stress caused by my hearing disability. I assumed I would no longer be eligible for the rehabilitation program, but after my resignation in June 2016, was informed that this was not the case. I continued on the waiting list and received my Phonak hearing aids on September 6, 2016. I am still restricted from finding employment until my final case documents are closed, but that should be soon hopefully.
Jill: How has your life changed since getting hearing aids?
Kim: I can’t begin to describe how receiving my hearing aids have changed my life. I still get emotional about it. How can one put into words the feelings when you hear your children’s voices clearly for the first time since they were born? I have a 19-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son…how do I begin to describe that?
“I can’t begin to describe how receiving my hearing aids have changed my life.”
My daughter, Ebbi, and I talk incessantly now. And going to my son, Aaron’s, football games and hearing his name announced over the loud speaker after he makes an amazing play is so exciting!!! They have their mama intact for the first time in their lives! So awesome!
The day I received my hearing aids my fella was driving me home, and I remember I told my friends on social media that I didn’t realize that traffic was so loud! Lol!
Jill: What would you tell others who are in a similar situation, and might be putting off getting hearing aids because of cost or other factors (denial, being ashamed, scared, etc.)?
Kim: Never give up!!! I almost did, and it would have been the biggest mistake of my life! There are programs out there, you just have to search and dig ’til you find them. You owe it to yourself and those you love to continue to fight for every sound you are missing!
“You owe it to yourself and those you love to continue to fight for every sound you are missing!”
I want to thank my family and friends for all their continued love and support. My fellow, John, our families, my parents, and my friends (especially my best friend, Linda) have stayed by my side, encouraging and supporting me through all my ups and downs. They have never let me give up. I am blessed.
Jill: Thank you so much for sharing your story, Kim!