Last fall I went for a second hearing test to confirm what I already knew: I couldn’t hear well.
At the appointment I was fitted with a trial pair of hearing aides.
“Is this what everyone hears?” I asked – incredulous.
“Actually – it’s less. If I programmed them at full range initially, it would be too much,” said the audiologist. “We’ll work up to normal hearing capacity gradually.”
My eyes welled with tears.
“I’ve been missing a lot,” I murmured.
“Yes, you have.”
Tests confirmed that I had moderate hearing loss in the mid to low ranges and severe hearing loss in the high ranges. I was told that if there was no history of trauma, the decline was most likely genetic in origin. An MRI confirmed that assumption.
I wore my hearing aids home, overwhelmed by the barrage of noise in a car which had previously felt like a well-insulated tank. Now it seemed nothing but a rattly old jalopy buffeted by noisy winds and threateningly tinny in tone. Not nearly the sturdy old cruiser I had experienced it to be. I tried not to panic, and took calm cues from my husband’s normal demeanor in the driver’s seat.
At home, our dog Oliver clamored across the kitchen floor to greet us. “His nails!” I shouted. “They make noise!”
“You never heard that before?” asked my husband.
“No,” I said. “Everything makes noise. I had no idea.”
The next few days overwhelmed me with sound.
The torrent of water from the tap startled me. A rush of noise surging from the kitchen terrified me until I took another calming cue from Ollie who seemed completely nonplussed. I hurried in and yanked open the dishwasher and the din stopped. It was just the appliance and not an airplane about to crash-land on our house. The cascading clamor coming from the living room was not the dog falling down the stairs, but just the sound of him trotting down the steps, as usual.
I learned that hearing loss isolated me more than I had known. I initiate and join conversations now, knowing that I will be able to respond with more than a dubious nod of the head. My improved acuity reminds me daily that everyone struggles with hidden challenges that no one can see.
When it is time to take them off, the abrupt hush prompts a momentary flutter of panic as I put them in the little box they came in each night. In the time it takes to do that, I am used to the familiar muffle that was my old baseline. My sister asked me what this was like. I told her that taking off my hearing aides is like turning off the lights for your eyes. My brain seems relaxed in knowing that this is not my straining-to-hear-mode anymore, but a strange new portal to a peace and quiet place.
I sleep better than ever now, too.