Sunday, January 22, 2012



This next posting on deafness has a “prequel” that involves my gorgeous mother-in-law who, even at 91, still looked like a million bucks. But as for her hearing, that started to go long before any of her other faculties. Despite her quite perfect figure (she worked out at the gym regularly, well into her 80’s), one of her most endearing characteristics was her lifelong enthusiasm for food.

One summer when she was visiting us at the Squam Lake bungalow we rented for many years, we were sitting around the dinner table chowing down on burgers when my husband and son mumbled something to each other that she could not hear. That was well before she had reluctantly agreed to having her hearing tested. In attempting to smooth over the situation, I piped up with something that was true: “I also have trouble hearing the TIMBRE of their voice.” She brightened right up, and quipped, “What? More hamburger?”

We all laughed, her included, and from that moment, whenever someone needed something repeated, we’d say, “What’s the matter? Do you have hamburger in your ears?”

Maybe you are wondering why I am telling you that story. Well, the tables have turned and I am now the one with a hearing disability. But the remedies for hamburger-in-the-ear syndrome have improved greatly in recent years. Here’s my story.

On this first day of life with my new hearing aids I am wondering if audiologists feel like obstetricians. I'm suddenly aware of a whole new world of noise (or is that just sound?). It's no wonder that newborn babies start out life by wanting to scream. What with mom's Gizzard Philharmonic going 24/7, it must have been noisy enough in the womb. But after 9 months of the same tune, it probably got more soothing than the thunderous rustle of the audiologist's papers that heralded my entrance into the hearing world. Or her deafening footfalls as she walked down the corridor. In my shock at how loud everything was, I was able to get her to turn down the volume a bit, but supposedly what's left of my brain is going to adjust to the new decibel level. 

I went to quartet rehearsal that night with some trepidation, wondering how terrible it might be to hear clearly my own sound right underneath my ear. But my particular aids have a music program which, even though it doesn't play the right notes for me, works very well. Now, when the orchestra conductor says in rehearsal "start at letter C," I won't be flailing around starting at letter D, G, P, T, V, or Z. This can only be for the better.

On the new version of Top Chef, candidates who don't make it clearly into the first round are placed "on the bubble." I had never heard that expression before but I'll bet it's going to become part of the Zeitgeist. I certainly know what it's like to live in a bubble;after all, I have lived in the Yale bubble for the last several decades. My head has always been a busy place, but unbeknownst to me, an increasingly quiet one. But thanks to the Connecticut Dept. of Disabilities and technology, I no longer have to live in a hearing-impaired bubble. 

On the other hand, it may be a mixed blessing that I will finally, a few days before the end of the semester, get to hear my French students for the first time. If it all gets to be too much, however, it's easy to turn off the batteries. Or maybe I can find some hamburger to put in my ears.

Never mind about the dog being man's or woman's best friend. Once you have hearing aids you will never be lonely. Why? Because they talk to you. And they do so in a pleasant voice that enunciates very clearly. Now the sad truth is that you don't really hear them speaking to you unless you have at least one on. For example when you take them out of the box and activate the battery, the nice lady who lives inside says "left, ready." I can't actually hear her saying that until I put on the other hearing aid, but that is the proof that I really need them.

The lovely person at the State Disabiities Office where I am treated with great sensitivity and respect says that hearing aids can be a cure for social isolation. Although I can see where she’s coming from, I’d have to say, maybe not so much. That would take a lot more than two little metal gizmos behind the ear. On the other hand, my neighbor who got her hearing aids through the Disabilities Office and told me to go there is coming over tonight to watch a favorite program with us. I am eager to see what my hearing aids and Dorothy’s will have to say to each other. And our husbands will be SO glad not to have to risk impairing their own hearing by having the volume turned up sky high.

This is what passes for high adventure in the life of an old lady with hearing aids.

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