I know I’ve been away for a long time, and I feel fairly confident that this will not be read by a lot of people. Be warned, I’m about to rant – not an angry (well maybe it is) rant, but more of a frustrated rant.
For more years than I care to admit, I have been dealing with an ever increasing hearing loss. I admit, for a long time I ignored the issues, denied it, hid it, flat out didn’t believe it, and thought it would just not be an issue.
It became an issue.
I noticed I was missing conversations, not hearing when people were talking to me, not noticing how loudly the radio/tv/stereo was playing, speaking louder than I thought (so embarrassing), and on and on. I noticed a constant high pitched hiss in my right ear, a lower and less noticeable hiss on left, that never seemed to stop. It was loudest when the room was quiet. The hiss would sometimes include a ping, or sudden beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeng, followed by more hissing.
I did my diligent searches online, and self-diagnosed (later confirmed by a real doctor) that I have a chronic case of tinnitus. The cause? Could be anything from exposure to loud, percussive noise, high blood pressure, or aliens. The cure? Mostly folk remedies, lipoflavenoid (sic) pills (ghastly things with very unfortunate gastronomical side effects), white noise machines meant to mask the sound, avoidance of salty food. . . all tried, none very effective.
I was pretty well resigned to just live with it, after all it didn’t’ stop me from doing anything and was only a mild annoyance, right? I just ignored it. That is, until I realized while sitting in a very loud auditorium full of screaming kids and ear-splitting music, that even above all that clamor, the sound I heard loudest and clearest – the hiss.
Time to get to the audiologist.
I was given a battery of tests, auditory assaults, in both ears. I sat in a little glass booth with headphones while the technician sat outside sending random sounds at varying volume to each ear. I thought she was messing with me when she’d ask, “did you hear that?” and I KNOW there was nothing coming through the headphones. But once this happened, four or five times, and she wasn’t laughing and pointing at me, I figured that I really had missed some sounds coming in.
The test results were not entirely unexpected – the left ear is far more gone than the right.
“Are you going to fit me with some hearing aids?” I ask, eagerly, feeling as I would when I get new glasses and don’t have to squint anymore.
“Not yet,” she tells me, in a grim and serious tone, that I hear perfectly clearly.
I was sent to a specialist for confirmation of her suspicion. I have a very real condition called ottosclerosis, where stapes bone in my ear has become fused with the other little bones and doesn’t work anymore. I’m told it is degenerative, but treatable with surgery, or, if I prefer, hearing aids.
Having once gone through laser surgery to correct near-sightedness that only seemed to help me for a couple of years, I figure I’d skip the ear surgery and go with the hearing aids. In my mind, I equate glasses with hearing aids being as how both are necessary apparatus for me to function normally in society.
Well guess what, boys and girls. They are not considered equal in the eyes of the insurers. Hearing aids are not covered. Anywhere. Don’t ask me why, and don’t assume I’m wrong, because I am not. They are not covered.
So, I hold my nose and take out a line of credit specific to the audiologists and am fitted with $4,000 worth of uninsured amplifiers. When I put them in and turn them on for the first time, and hear the lovely little musical chime to tell me they are working, then the ‘pop’ as the rev into action, I am astounded. The hiss is silenced. I am thrilled with the sounds of my new world. I can hear my hair! Tapping on my keyboard is exciting. I hear the ticking of the kitchen clock (that I swore up and down that my husband was lying about). I. Could. Hear. Everything. And it was good.
For a while.
Here is the rant part.
Hearing aids eat batteries, batteries die and they stop working at awkward times, they get full of wax and stop working at awkward times, they get sweaty, they get smelly! They amplify everything.
It soon became apparent that I could hear more than I wanted to hear. The lights in the ceiling fixtures above my desk at work, for example, emitted a staticky buzz that I had never noticed before. I could hear every fan in the building, the drone of the heating unit, even the refrigerator that was at the other end of the building.
I heard all these things just fine. To the point where they were louder than the voices of the people I was trying to have a conversation with.
Back to the doctor for an adjustment. She tweaks and pokes at the settings, lowering the frequency generally associated with fans and vents. She tries various sounds, volumes, resets the right to be different from the left, ups the low tones and downs the highs until things start to sound right. I can hear the world in proper proportions again – and I can hear the hiss as well.
“Oh you’ll never have it all, this is the best it can be.”
So that is what I accept. At least they are paid for.
But now, I have moved to the other side of the country and need to find a new audiologist as a new twist has begun. The hiss has joined a band. Along with the ping and beeeeeeeeeng and ssssssssss there is now a clarinet. It plays constantly, four tones, over and over. It is so loud that I don’t fully believe my husband when he tells me he doesn’t hear it. It is driving me nuts, and the hearing aids do not quiet it.
So, if you’ve stayed with me this long, please read the rest of the rant, and perhaps if you know someone with ottosclerosis you could please heed these requests (I believe them to be universal):
- It is really not funny when you mumble on purpose, then say WHAT?
- Hearing aids are not covered by insurance. If you are not going deaf and have never had to deal with it do not assume your friend is wrong or hasn’t looked hard enough. Trust me, they are not covered. And they are expensive.
- Cheap miracle ear things sold in the AARP catalog, or those ‘you can hear across the room’ listening things are the drug store equivalent to 4 dollar reading glasses. Yeah, they may help a little, but they are not PRESCRIPTION and are uncomfortable to wear. Don’t suggest them.
- Sometimes I have them off on purpose, for a reason. Respect that.
- There are not many ways to wear hearing aids and listen to headphones that are comfortable. There again, you may assume there are headsets and headphones specifically for hearing aid wearers, and you’d be wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, yes they exists, but are HORRIBLY EXPENSIVE and not always available.
- If you happen to put on my headphones to listen to music, and are alarmed at the volume and the fact that one side is twice as loud as the other, see number 5. My headphones are adjusted for me. Do. Not. FIX the balance.
Stop thinking it’s funny.
Here’s a few things I bet you never thought about, but I deal with every day.
Closed captioning is a joke. I’m appalled at how bad it is. When it does keep up with the dialog on TV, often it is wrong. When it lags, it is confusing, and sometimes just drops in the middle of a sentence. It sensors out dirty words because you know, it’s ok to hear them, but not to read them. It spells shit wrong. (It also sucks that I can’t even SEE the closed captioning without my glasses, so putting the TV on to fall asleep is sorta useless.)
It’s difficult to deal with anyone who must wear a mask – dentists, manicurists . . . over their mouths. Sometimes I can’t tell they’re even speaking, and it is embarrassing to keep asking them to repeat themselves, because I can’t see their lips moving.
Hearing aids pick up static from EVERYTHING. If I drive under power lines, SNAP CRACKLE POP! walk past a neon sign at the mall, SNAP CRACKLE POP! Stand too near the microwave oven (as I the same room), SNAP CRACKLE POP! Shake the towels fresh out of the dryer. . . you get the idea.
Talking on the phone is a new kind of hell. I have found that the only comfortable way is with the use of a speaker phone – which of course limits privacy greatly.
So, there you have it. If you’ve wondered why I haven’t been wearing my hearing aids as often as I should, or why I don’t talk on the phone as much as I once did, or ask you to repeat yourself, please be kind. I’m just going deaf.