Hearing has never been my sensory strength. I notice and remember things that I see or touch much more than what I hear. I have never had the auditory equivalent of an "eagle eye" and when I am really focused (or reading) I tune out sound almost entirely. This has been mildly annoying to my family, as they are all far more sound focused than I am, and my girls long ago realized that there was no point in asking, "What was that sound?"
My mom's family has a long history of hereditary hearing loss and Mom and her siblings all needed hearing aids at a relatively young age. Since I seem to have inherited most of my other traits from Mom, I figured I'd need hearing aids someday, too. Over the past year or so I have come to understand that someday means, well, now.
The first thing I really noticed was that I wasn't hearing high pitched noises. Our washer and dryer buzz when they have finished their cycles, but unless conditions are perfect, I can't hear them. When I push the button to lock my car, I have to look to see if the lights flash because I usually don't hear the beep. Occasionally, Steve or the girls will comment on some annoying high pitched ring or squeal and I don't hear a thing.
I have never liked being in loud or crowded places, largely because they stress out my introverted self. But over the past couple of years, I have come to dislike such situations because I can't hear well enough to follow conversations in them. Several times I have found myself at a party or noisy restaurant unable to understand what people sitting quite close are saying. It makes me feel very alone and is exhausting.
I rarely watch TV, mostly because I'd much rather read. But when I do try to watch a program, I have to turn the volume up higher than anyone else in the house. This summer, Steve and I rented a couple of movies, something we rarely do. We had both read the books they were based on and were excited to see how they played out on film. I discovered that even with the volume up far louder than was comfortable for Steve, I had to focus intently to follow the actors' conversations and that I still missed some of what was said. After an hour and a half of straining to listen, I was completely exhausted. (And, as always, the books were better anyway!)
This summer I realized that no matter how loud they yell, I can't hear what people in another room are saying. When the girls holler from their bedrooms, I can tell they are talking, but I can't understand anything they are saying. I have given up even trying. I just tell the girls that they will have to come to the room I am in if they want me to hear what they say.
I have also realized that I am having difficulty hearing in all sorts of settings and that many of the ways I had unwittingly been compensating are no longer working. I can't follow conversation if there are background noises, like cars passing or water running in the sink. I can't understand when someone whispers. I watch people's faces for cues to what they are saying, so if someone turns their head or covers their mouth I can't tell what they are saying. I ask people to repeat themselves on a regular basis. I mishear words and phrases. Hearing has become hard work. And I am driving my family nuts.
So this week I an an appointment with an audiologist. It was an interesting experience. I have sat through several audiological exams with children, both students and Rachel, so I knew the basic process. But it was very different being the patient. I sat in the soundproof booth with assorted headphones on repeating words and listening to different pitched beeps. It wasn't painful, but it was surprisingly hard. I had to strain to hear the sounds and there were long pauses of silence, when I knew there must be sounds but couldn't hear a thing.
After the testing, the audiologist sat down with me and went over the results. I knew I had hearing problems, but I was startled by the severity of what she found. I have a significant hearing loss in both ears, one slightly worse than the other. I have a mild loss in low frequencies, or lower pitched sounds. And in middle and high frequencies, which includes human speech, I have a moderate hearing loss. No wonder I have been working so hard to hear! I have probably been losing my hearing for years, but the loss was so gradual that I learned to compensate and never really even noticed. The good news is, hearing aids should help me regain most of my hearing.
The audiologist was cautious when she explained that I need hearing aids for the rest of my life. I'm sure she sees lots of people who are upset my this prospect. But I don't mind at all. I just want to hear again! Right now, I am exploring all the hearing aid options and prices (Gulp!!!) and hope to order my aids soon. I remember getting glasses for the first time as a 4th grader and being shocked by all the details of the world that I had been missing. I'm sure hearing aids will be much the same. And I can't wait!