I (Jane) have had 74 years of good, and then good-enough-when-amplified hearing... I feel very grateful for that. But suddenly everything is changing.
Here's what I have to ignore: A very high-pitched shrieking sound in both ears, a pulsating whoosh somewhere on the right side of my head, and an occasional loud mid-frequency humming in my right ear.
The high pitched tinnitus is like a frantic siren that won't quit. The pulsating tinnitus reminds me of the nighttime rhythm of the old pump house that echoed up to my cabin each night at summer camp. And the hum sounds like a small plane flying low... in my ear.
I'm able to ignore these pretty well when my hearing aids are in place, especially when I'm actively involved in some pursuit that holds my attention. It's when I sit quietly or lie in bed that the cacophony reverberates. When the airplane hum awakens me during the night, I'm thankful that I'm able to insert my hearing aids and turn on a Zen channel that offers a pleasant, irregular chime sequence that can distract me, calm me, and allow me to fall back to sleep.
Along with these sounds has come another set of new experiences -- occasional dizziness, loss of balance, and sudden increased hearing loss. A lot to get used to.
I tell people, in person and on the phone, that I'm having difficulty hearing and I need them to speak up and slow down a bit. Although it may be an imposition to others, these accommodations really help. Most people are cooperative; some need reminders. I appreciate the efforts they make. It is a problem for both of us when they look away or decrease their volume below my threshold.
Here are some nice things I've noticed about hearing less well: People who want to talk with me must come closer. Conversations feel more intimate, and I have the full attention of my conversational partners, as they watch to be sure I'm understanding them. People get to the point more quickly, with less non-essential chatter.
Here's what I hate: Missing conversations a few feet away, having to say "what?" a lot, missing the topic sentence of others' conversations, not understanding the high pitched, soft voices of my grandchildren, distortion of voices and music on my car radio, using a cell phone.
My concerned doctors have been trying to figure out the source of all these changes, but alas the mystery continues, in spite of angiograms, MRI's, lumbar puncture, and various auditory tests.
My wonderful family is supportive, and concerned, even as my adult children worry that this might happen to them. My loving husband, who always enjoys a good conversation -- even room-to-room -- with the TV on -- finds it frustrating to talk with me. But (thank you, Norman) he's conscientiously trying to find just the right loudness level as we speak at a new closer range. Together, we've begun to enjoy a nightly Netflix foreign film with sub-titles or closed caption. I've started to teach him some basic sign language and finger spelling. I had an uncle who was deafened by meningitis at a young age, so all my family learned finger spelling to communicate with him. As a kid I taught it to my friends so we could converse silently and secretly during rest hour at camp. My children learned it as well, as a game. It will certainly come in handy now.
I have always thought of myself as healthy, optimistic, and adaptable, so as I grieve this significant loss. I try to adjust to my new reality, to focus on what I still can hear, rather than what has disappeared. My new mantra to those trying to talk with me is "face-to-face in a quiet place."
I watch children born deaf, happily play in the waiting room of the audiology clinic, a reminder that life can be lived fully, albeit a little differently. Many of the children are sporting cochlear implant devices. They are working to gain the experience of sound, a commodity we all so often take for granted.
I'm starting to read up on cochlear implants, for I feel a compelling need to hear better. I appreciate more than ever the importance of audition in my life, for socialization, communication, entertainment, and the enjoyment of environmental sounds. Did I mention that as a speech-language pathologist I am now an oxymoron? This looks like the end of my long and most satisfying career.
Back to my audiologist for yet another hearing aid tuning. As he increases the power of my aids one more time, he tells me I am now indeed within the range of candidacy for a cochlear implant. Perhaps I'll join the 60,000 adults in this country who have those robotic ears. I feel very fortunate that there's a viable option for some improvement ahead.
What's your experience with hearing loss?