Long and Winding, with apologies
I remember hearing bats once as a child. I must have been five or six and I could hear their high-pitched squeaks in the night while on vacation. That was around the time when I must have stopped hearing birds, too. And leaves. Words that people spoke half-fell on my ears and there are people who have passed in and out of my life without the sound of their voice ever having been more than a jumble in my mind.
I learned to read lips, to discern what must have been said from the context used and gradually as my hearing failed, my coping mechanisms evolved. My dogs always erupt at the sounds of people outside, the toaster popping, doorbells, phones, and even the cat scratching at the sofa. This is their contribution to my alert system and an invaluable one at that.
When our daughter was born, she slept in the same room as we did so that I would be able to hear her strongest cries and get up. I don’t remember her ever snuffling or snorting or squeaking, but John says she did. The dogs alerted me to her as well; wonderful Wikket, border collie par excellence.
And time went on. I heard less and less. I could not hear someone speaking to me from the back seat of the car. A tap running in the house escaped my notice and the sink overflowed, again and again. John would have to repeat himself over and over and acted as my translator, magnifying what other people had said so that I knew what was going on. And Katherine started not talking to me after school because I couldn’t hear her.
In October, I decided to see what could be done. I got my hearing tested and the audiologist came out looking at my chart in disbelief. “Do you realize that you are almost deaf? How long have you been living like this?”
Of course I realized it. I had known it for years and it terrified me and embarrassed me to the depths of my soul. It was my dark secret and one that I could do nothing about because, frankly, I couldn’t afford to and because I’d watched other people with hearing loss suffer stigmatization and frustration with technology and communication. I come from a long line of deaf people and the solutions provided always seemed measures of desperation rather than viable solutions. Hearing aids were uncomfortable, expensive and looked horrible. Plus they didn’t always help. At least, that was what I had seen.
The audiologist was adamant. They were the only solution, but (and this was the wonderful “but”) technology had improved. Hearing aids were now digital and could talk to each other. They synchronized their efforts and the solution was almost as good as natural hearing. They were more comfortable, too and discrete. They have bluetooth connections to allow me to use my cellphone handsfree, pipe the tv audio directly into my ears and (oh joy!) to listen to my ipod wirelessly.
But they came with a hefty price tag. My Oticon Acto Pro hearing aids were $2200 each. $4400 is a lot of money and hearing aids are not typically covered in any meaningful manner via health care plans. They are tax-free and an income tax deduction, but $4400 is the hell of a lot of money.
Which I bit the bullet and did. And have not regretted for one second. Well, maybe for one, just before I put them on. I went for a walk in the woods right away, curious to hear what would be audible.
Did you know that leaves make sounds? That when they fall and hit the ground they whisper? It’s not just a figure of poetry.
Brooks and streams ARE musical, I thought it was another poetic construction, but it’s true. There isn’t just one sound to them, but a running stream tinkles and gurgles and babbles and sings all in the one set of sounds.
My feet are very noisy on the running trail and that sounded different from on the road and different again from on concrete.
At Christmas I discovered that a band playing isn’t just a jumble of noises, but you can hear the individual instruments and the air and intonations of each one. Even a junior band of first-year students.
Machines hum, wind whistles, and Katherine talks to me incessantly, now.
And voices….. words have beginnings and middles and ends sound-wise as well as in terms of lettering. I can hear whispers. I can hear tones in words that did not exist before. People don’t sound at all like I thought they did and they are really, really noisy. They sniff and murmur and shift positions and click their tongues infuriatingly. They also pee really loudly. In fact, the world is a constant onslaught of sounds. It has been five months now and I still occasionally have to turn off the hearing aid or take an Advil when it gets to be too much.