For years the world had sounded a certain way to my ears, but over time the sounds became not quite as sharp as they used to be.
I also began to have an annoying noise in my head. Yes, I had heard the term, “Tinnitus,” but wasn’t that something that people who were serverly Deaf had? I ignored the symptoms and assumed that it would go away. Either that, or I’d get used to it, which I did. Sometimes it would sound like a waterfall, sometimes hissing and at other times a sound that I struggle to describe… but all were annoying.
Tinnitus was easy enough to not to mention to people. However, my progressing hearing loss was something altogether different.
My wife Raine noticed my hearing loss first, and mentioned the fact many times.
I, being a typical man over fifty, would just shrug. If she persisted, I would get defensive about it. As far as I was concerned, if Raine and the rest of the world mumbled, it was hardly my fault.
“As far as I was concerned, if Raine and the rest of the world mumbled, it was hardly my fault.”
Time went on and my hearing loss gradually got worse. But one day, I realized that perhaps there was a bigger issue with my hearing. It happened when I had a build-up of wax removed from my ear, which had made me profoundly deaf for almost a week. The nurse was talking to me after the surgery, but I was still struggling to hear her.
I left the doctor’s office with an instruction from the nurse. She told me that if my hearing didn’t return to normal within the next 48 hours, I should consider taking a hearing test.
I was due to see my own doctor the following day for an unrelated matter, so toward the end of our consultation I mentioned my hearing. She looked at me smiling, and said that she didn’t think I had a problem, as I was carrying out a perfectly normal conversation with her. However, should my hearing still concern me in another day or two, she said to contact her for a referral to the audiology clinic at the local hospital.
I left feeling very upbeat. My doctor had told me I seemed fine, and she should know, shouldn’t she?
But, two days on my hearing was no better. Even I was getting concerned.
“My doctor had told me I seemed fine, and she should know, shouldn’t she? But, two days on my hearing was no better. Even I was getting concerned.”
I decided to consult that famous medic, “Dr. Google,” and ended up on a website called Action On Hearing Loss, formerly RNID, a charity since 1911. I quickly discovered that they offered an online hearing test.
Liking the fact that the online hearing test was discreet, I decided to take it. I used my computer speakers to listen to the tones. At the end of the test, Raine shot me a look, which said that she was more than a little surprised. She thought I’d missed a lot of tones, but I smiled this away and said that it was background sounds and nothing more. The results were emailed to me.
My results were wrong. The had to be.
I knew this because they stated two things: one, that I had significant hearing loss, and two, that I should consult my general physician.
I was convinced that background noise was the problem, so I took the online test a second time. This time I used headphones. The result was exactly the same, so I took a third test.
Later that day, feeling defeated, I telephoned my doctor and asked for a referral to audiology. She smiled into the phone and told me that, “we were having a telephone conversation, so how could I have a hearing problem?” I politely agreed. and yet still pushed for the referral.
Finally, she reluctantly agreed.
Six weeks later I had a full hearing test at my local hospital’s audiology department.
I was asked if I would object to a student being present during my test. I had no problem with this, and in fact always encourage it, as students need to learn.
However, I was surprised that the student herself had hearing loss. I found this odd, as she was also the one who asked me a number of questions concerning my hearing and lifestyle. It seemed wrong to be interacting with someone who really was deaf.
I felt a fraud and desperately wanted the test over so I could go home and stop wasting these people’s time. A part of me felt quite ashamed. After all these were people were concerned with helping real deaf people.
“A part of me felt quite ashamed. After all these were people were concerned with helping real deaf people.”
As the test finished, the audiologist smiled and told me that I had hearing loss in both ears and needed to be issued two hearing aids.
My heart sank and my mouth felt dry.
There was no telling how my hearing loss had occurred, I was told. I had been to many rock concerts and was in a band in the ’80s. Additionally, I had a series of TIA’s (mini strokes) 16 years earlier. Something had caused my hearing loss over time, like many adults.
In fact, about 20 percent of Americans, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. At age 65, one out of three people has a hearing loss.
I was offered a choice of hearing aids, and I chose silver Phonak hearing aids. As my audiologist herself put it, if you are wearing hearing aids, you might as well be proud of the fact and not try to hide it with a flesh tone. I agreed, though honestly feeling in a daze.
I went home and waited for my appointment to come through, to be fitted with my new Phonak hearing aids. During this time I looked into what being deaf was all about. I was shocked to discover that I was a part of the deaf community, something I knew nothing about.
“I was shocked to discover that I was a part of the deaf community, something I knew nothing about.”
My whole life had been spent interacting with hearing people. I had never known a family member or friend who was deaf. The only time I had seen the deaf was at a distance or on television.
However, I also discovered perks with my new diagnosis, such as being entitled to a Disabled Person’s Railcard in the UK, which is a very nice thing!
During my hearing aid appointment, I was hooked up to a computer and my two bright, shiny, silver hearing aids were connected to a series of cables. This time, I had to listen to different sounds and tones, but while wearing my new hearing aids.
We had a brief conversation about music and guitars. It turned out that my audiologist had once been a bass player back in the day, but still had perfect hearing.
I was shown a flow chart on the computer screen, and I learned that my hearing had good in low and mid tones, but dropped on the upper tones sharply.
Because of the level of my hearing loss, my audiologist said I wouldn’t need a full ear mold, and could use open ended domes, which have holes in them that would allow me to hear certain tones as I would normally.
“I learned that my hearing had good in low and mid tones, but dropped on the upper tones sharply.”
I chose automatic volume controlled hearing aids – a feature in Phonak hearing aids called AutoSense OS – as they were smaller than the ones with volume controls. Turning them on and off was so easy, and just required opening and closing the battery compartment.
I looked in the mirror, but I couldn’t see them. Well, not easily. They blended in perfectly with the frames of my glasses.
At first, the sound in my ears was harsh and far too loud. Everything sounded wrong. A sheet of paper screwed up sound like a struck tin tea tray to my poor ears.
“At first, the sound in my ears was harsh and far too loud. Everything sounded wrong.”
I was told to keep my new hearing aids in the cases and to try putting them in for a short time when I got home. I was cautioned not to use them outside in the street until I had got used to them, as it would be disorientating.
On the way home I stopped at a big, chain coffee shop. The place was full of people and finding a table wasn’t all that easy, but eventually I choose a seat in a far corner. As I waited for my Mocha to cool, I decided to be brave – or was it stupid? I wasn’t at all sure which it was…
I unzipped the cases and put in both my hearing aids. Once they were in my ears I turned them on. Suddenly, I heard two sets of musical tones and then the world crowded into my ears. The noise was shocking! Not painful, necessarily, but still very loud and sharp, even brittle to my ears.
Within a few minutes, I had grown more accustomed to it, but what was the most strange was that background conversations were now in my foreground. I was trying to talk to Raine and had strangers chattering as though they were sat in my lap.
It was like having a superpower, but not being able to control it. I wondered whether I had been wise choosing automatic volumes.
“It was like having a superpower, but not being able to control it.”
I went home and kept the hearing aids in for most of the day and evening, only taking them out when I my ears ached and I began to experience a slight headache.
All this happened last November. Since that time, I have worn my hearing aids every single day. I only take them out for sleeping, bathing, showering, swimming and other such activities – including rainstorms.
“The positive change it has brought to my life is beyond measure.”
The Honeybirds performing live at Scarborough castle’s War Weekend.
So far, the positive change it has brought to my life is beyond measure.
For example, last Sunday I listened to a close-harmony female trio, The Honeybirds, and heard every perfect note sung by Jenny, Daisy and Tessa. This was at an outside event with crowds of people milling around and talking near me.
The weekend before I went to the theatre and took in a show in the round. I was able to hear every word the actors said in perfect clarity.
My hearing loss diagnosis was a tough, and it was even tougher to get used to my new hearing technology, but the results have been overwhelming.
I look forward to sharing more of my hearing loss journey with you hearing on HearingLikeMe! If you have any questions for me, please let me know in the comments!