Some music to set the mood . . . from Art and Paul.
It's been a week now, since I picked up my new ears.
Friends ask me what it's like.. . to wear hearing aids. And I answer that it's just like wearing little microphones in your ears.
Which is exactly what they are. Little microphones behind my ear, amplifying sounds into my ear. It's really quite amazing.
I could hear before. I just couldn't hear everything, and I couldn't hear it clearly. I mean, without my hearing aids, I can take a walk outside and hear bird calls and traffic. But with my hearing aids, I hear BIRD CALLS! and TRAFFIC!
(I actually delight every time I step outside - at the bird calls all around me. So loud and clear and wonderful. Makes me smile every time.)
Have you ever heard the Tale of the Boiling Frog? It's a great metaphor (whether it actually happens or not in Real Life). It goes like this: Basically, if you plop a frog into a pot of already-boiling water, he'll immediately jump out. But. If the frog is already in the pot, and THEN you turn up the heat and gradually bring the pot to a boil, he'll not jump out -- but just . . . cook himself.
Because, so the metaphor goes, we don't notice change -- unless it's sudden and drastic. If change is slow and gradual, though, we just adapt. (Until it's too late.)
Well, hearing is like that. Over the years, as my hearing gradually deteriorated, my brain just . . . adapted. It thought of my ever-expanding silence as . . . Normal.
When you get hearing aids, everything (and I mean EVERYthing) is suddenly LOUD. Because . . . your brain thinks silence is Normal.
It takes a while for your formerly non-hearing brain to adjust to all the new . . . noise. Ambient noise (the ever-present background noise of life) is a particular problem for new hearing aid wearers. Other people's cell phone ringtones. Shuffling paper. Doors opening and closing. Keyboard key strokes. Unwrapping a granola bar. Windshield wipers. Fans. Dog walking across wood floor. Clocks ticking. Sounds that people with normal hearing have just learned to ignore are suddenly new and exciting for the hearing aid wearer's brain.
The first few days with my hearing aids, the ambient noise was nearly unbearable. Just moving a piece of paper from one side of my desk to the other was like . . . firecrackers going off! I had to move to an entirely different part of the house whenever Tom filled the dishwasher . . . it was that disturbingly loud. I had headaches from the ambient noise.
It's getting better, though. Amazingly better - in just a week! My brain is making the adjustment -- and beginning to tire of the new ambient noise around me, allowing me to move it into the background again. (Except for highway driving noises. That's still a problem. But I have hope!)
I'm also getting used to the sound of my own voice. Because it's "mic'd" too! With my hearing aids, I hear myself "in stereo" whenever I speak out loud: The voice inside my head AND the voice outside my head! I have had to enlist my friends and family in giving me feedback about how loud I'm speaking. Because it sounds (to me) like I'm talking really, really LOUD. But apparently I'm not. In fact, my feedback so far has been . . . speak up! That's all getting better, too. (Although it is scary to hear yourself singing along to songs on your iPod. Really bizarre.)
Mostly, though, I'm just in awe of . . . hearing! Comfortably and easily. My weekly staff meeting (the situation that ultimately convinced me I had to Do Something) was amazing. I could hear everything. I didn't have to place myself Just So. I didn't even have to look at the speakers around the table to be able to "get" what they were saying.
It's so much less stressful . . . to hear!
The day after I got my hearing aids, I was standing in the kitchen at my office, water running, rinsing out my lunch dishes. The Finance Guy stopped in the doorway of the kitchen to ask me a couple of questions. I had always struggled talking with The Finance Guy -- not just because he's The Finance Guy, but also because I had a hard time understanding him. You see. . . he mumbles. But last week, standing there with the water running and everything, I suddenly realized . . . I was conversing - comfortably - with The Finance Guy! (Turns out he doesn't mumble so much after all.)
It's been quite a week. Hearing. Adapting. Listening. No more . . . sounds of silence for me!
Today's soundtrack brought to you by Pete and the boys . . .
Listening to you . . .
I get the music . . .
Think about all the sounds you hear every day.
The click of the keyboard keys. The sound of someone filling the dishwasher. The oven timer going off. The dog walking across the wood floor. The furnace kicking on. Music on your iPod playing in another room. Regular conversation.
Just the mundane, normal sounds of life.
Guest speakers at a conference. Co-workers during a staff meeting. Friends enjoying a lunch together in a noisy restaurant. Television dialogue.
Just the mundane, normal sounds of life.
Sure. Unless you notice that you can't hear those mundane, normal sounds of life quite like you used to. Maybe you stop using the oven timer altogether and set your iPhone (turned up loud and with the "vibrate" setting on) instead. Maybe you've figured out just where to sit at staff meetings so you have a better chance at hearing even the more quiet speakers. Maybe you just stopped watching television altogether -- unless you can plug in earphones and watch on your iPad.
Maybe. . . you're going deaf.
For years - at least a decade - I've noticed (and my family and friends have noticed) my hearing deteriorating. Oh, I can still hold my own in one-on-one conversations, and I've developed coping strategies to adapt to my growing hearing loss. I know just where to sit in group meetings. I've learned to arrive on the early side and sit down front at large gatherings with guest speakers. I rely more and more on my earphones for television. And I pretend I hear things I really don't (because, really, there are only so many time you can ask someone to repeat themselves.)
But in the last year, things have gotten noticeably worse. I'm having a harder and harder time getting the details in meetings. I'm missing pieces of information I need. It takes a lot of energy and hard work for me to concentrate on hearing clearly. My family, even though they're patient and understanding, get frustrated with me. My Not Hearing is beginning to take a toll.
So last month, my doctor referred me to an audiologist, and I went through an extenisive regimen of ear and hearing tests. Turns out I have moderate sensorineural hearing loss (nerve damage; very common as we age; some people are even more prone - thanks to heredity). It's permanent. And progressive.
Lucky for me, I don't feel ashamed that I have a hearing problem. (Lots of people seem to have a stigma with not being able to hear . . . I don't quite get that.) Lucky for me, I am open to using assisted-hearing devices: hearing aids, closed captioning, etc. And, probably luckiest of all for me, our health insurance includes generous coverage for hearing aids (I had no idea hearing aids were a major health investment -- but they are).
I picked up my "new ears" today.
(Spot them if you can!)
It's going to take a little while (but probably not too long!) for me to adjust. The world . . . it turns out . . . is a Very Noisy place!
I'll share more with you . . . as I surprise myself . . . with my new-found hearing ability. For now, it is simply a pleasure . . .