Friday, June 14, 2013

Part I: Hard of Hearing (or Being Stubborn)

So... I wasn't sure where to write this since I have 3 distinct blogs (and some others), but I figured that I'd start somewhere. This is going to be long, so you were forewarned. 

When I was younger, I didn't really know if I had hearing loss or not -- we had those quick check-ups in elementary school which included audio, sight, and the physical and I managed to pass them all.  But at the back of my head, I passed them all because I knew how to space the sounds in the audiology test to pass it and I memorized the eye chart. I didn't really think I was doing myself a disservice since this seemed to be a triumph of being one step ahead. (I was an elementary student so the logic wasn't quite there). A part of me did know that I wasn't hearing correctly though and nor was I seeing correctly but I assumed that this meant that I had to be a stronger person. It just meant, to me, that I needed to work harder. 

Of course, I was proven wrong on account of seeing when I performed poorly on a few tests because for the first time, my last name put me in the back of the class (we were seated in alphabetical order by last name and usually this put me in the front of the class). My parents were trying to get to the bottom of the recent shift in my grades and finally I told them that I simply couldn't see the blackboard anymore. They gave me a quick test at home (they asked me to read a Ritz cracker box from afar) and of course, I did poorly. 

Shortly after that, my doctor decided to retest my hearing as well and the exposure of the loss of hearing came up as well. Instead of using perfectly timed intervals, she dispersed them and found the hearing loss (but in all fairness, I wasn't trying to "pass" that test either). Both of these events happened when I was perhaps under the age 10. I got my glasses shortly thereafter but the hearing... well, that took a while. 

I finally got a full hearing test, audiometer and all, and the results were something like 50% loss in the left ear and 5-10% on the right. The problem with my left ear was that there were sporadic clusters that were missing (or just low) and that they couldn't issue a hearing aid (but they did offer to create custom ear plugs which we did not opt for). So that was the end of that.

I still happily wear my glasses to this day -- I love them all, and it's a part of me. It's been ~13 years (give or take) and now we can fast forward to a few weeks ago. We were in a mall complex swinging by Petco to restock on the kitten's necessities when I saw a hearing aid center and that point, I realized that maybe now was the time to look into it. After all, technology had to have improved in the last few years and even if I didn't have enough to warrant a hearing aid, at least I could figure out where I was in terms of loss.

After checking around with my insurance, I found a place and scheduled my appointment. I was nervous... I figured to myself, what if all this time I had been hearing correctly and I was just nuts? What if I really did lose that hearing, then what I do to adjust? The test itself was the same as I remembered it but actually much shorter, a lot less sounds, and a lot less headphones. When the test was over, instead of giving me a percentage of loss in each ear, they explained it a bit differently and showed me a chart. 

So here's how it breaks down (and this will reference the crude drawing that isn't labelled below), my right ear is fine; that first squiggly line that appears just below average but above the cut-off line for loss? That's my right ear. It's not great but not bad either. The one with a huge slope downward is my left ear. As my audiologist explained it, the frequencies I can hear are in line with hearing vowels. I cannot hear consonants (that the huge dip) and therefore rely on my right ear to compensate. (Please note that the crude drawing is crude and therefore not the exact chart but it conveys the idea of the difference between my ears).

When we did a quick review of my history, she said that likely at the time they couldn't program a hearing aid for my loss because they were analog. Now that hearing aids are digital, they could program one that is specific to my loss and rebuilding the sounds.

Of course, you might have noticed "rebuilding the sounds," which means that there was a lot of work ahead of me. I'd be hearing sounds I hadn't heard as a kid so I'd have to relearn them. In addition, I'd have to learn how to block out background sounds and learn to not rely on all my other senses as much to understand a conversation. I don't know any type of sign language, I never really thought that I spent enough time learning to lip read, but it turns out, I do rely on a few other things. I do rely on body language, the rhythm of a voice to populate missing sounds/words, and I lip read a bit. I logically follow thing and assume what was said at times (so if it were a conversation about astrophysics and I missed a few words, I could try to populate them based on how the conversation was going). 

In other words, before, I needed to really know people to hear them. Active listening and passive listening was going to change. Albeit slowly, nonetheless, it was going to change. 

And so, when the hearing test was complete, after the audiologist coached me through what changes I could expect and what needed to happen, I picked my first hearing aid. I knew, before we left the testing area that I wanted to ReSound Verso so when we went to go finalize the order, I got to choose my colour. I initially wanted to pick the all blue one (and therefore name it "Stitch") but I opted for the glossy black. I haven't named it yet, but here's a product image of it:

I have it and it's been a few days since I've been wearing it. I'd go through it now, but I think I'll save it for another post.

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