Louise’s story, part two: “Getting hearing aids”

This is part 2 of Louise’s story, as written for Elaine’s book Sound of Silence. Read the first part here if you haven’t already.

“So I was stubborn and chose to ignore what I now knew for certain was the truth. The trouble was the truth in a way did set me free but, to start with, not in a good way.  All those parties and lunches with noisy backgrounds become completely intolerable. I could “see” that I really couldn’t hear like my friends could and I became very self-conscious that my “hearing” strategies were not working as well as I pretended they were. None of this was fair. But what should I do? What did I do? For a year, I chose to do nothing. I simply gritted my teeth, ignored my husband and daughter’s complaints about how loud the TV was being played and spoke to no one about what I was going through. As a freak accident enlightened me to my hearing loss, a moment of serendipity put me on the path of meeting Elaine Saunders and getting hearing aids.

At this time, I was accompanying my young daughter to an Anglican church with a reasonably sized congregation. They needed volunteers to teach the various groups in their Sunday school. I put my hand up to help and by chance was paired with Elaine’s daughter Amy to oversee one group of students. Amy and I got on very well and I remember thinking although she was 15, she brought to the table some remarkably astute and highly relevant strategies and ideas to each of our students. As we grew to know each other, I remember her mentioning in passing that her mother was the CEO of hearing research facility Dynamic Hearing. How interesting. What were the odds? I had been a member of this church for years and never met or heard of her mum and I seriously doubt if I hadn’t decided to help out at their Sunday school and just happen to have her daughter as my assistant that I would have. Was this someone I could at least ask what my options were? I didn’t know and found myself too embarrassed to bring it up. But the struggle of trying to understand what people were saying had reached the point I knew I had to swallow my pride. I was getting tired of saying “what?” 30-40 times a day.

So I met with Elaine. She later told me I was clearly very angry about not having great hearing. She very patiently heard me out – all my frustrations about the situation I was in and all my misconceptions about how awful wearing hearing aids would be – not to mention what poor sound quality they would produce. (This thinking in hindsight somehow bemuses me as I had never actually tried them or spoken to anyone who wore them.) I am convinced if it hadn’t been for Elaine it may have been years before I did anything about my hearing. She invited me to her research facility to trial a range of hearing aids, gently suggesting I explore my options. I remember she stressed she wasn’t considered with what hearing aid brand I selected if I chose to purchase a pair. She was more concerned that I was happy with the sound. And yes, hearing aids are designed to cater to music lovers, with a special program to best capture and enhance the sound quality of each note.

Elaine allayed my fears about the whole experience enough to accept it was time to be open-minded. I really wasn’t too young, old, or whatever to do something about this. This is the only approach that would have worked for me; I wasn’t open minded enough at this point to respond to a company pushing their brand. It was time to give it a go.

Fast forward to the day when I tried my first hearing aids on. I had been through the testing of my hearing and the discussions of what my concerns were with the audiologist Elaine arranged for me to see. I put them on – tucking the tiny tube into each ear and looping the small casing that housed the hearing aid’s electronics behind my ear, closed the battery case, heard the beeps, and listened. I will never forget this moment. I was stunned. I honestly did not know just what I had been missing. Outside, I heard a car in the alleyway, its wheels spinning making a high pitch sound as they turned. And then there was a splash as the car went through a puddle – a sound that wasn’t muted. It was a sound with all the richness of sparkling diamonds. I clapped my hand over my mouth and I think I gasped.
“What is going on?” The audiologist was speaking to me. Her words were so clear! I understood them without hearing aids but now there was a fullness in the consonants.

“Yes,” she replied when I told her what I was experiencing. “Everyone with normal hearing can hear what you are hearing now.”

“Are you sure you haven’t just turned the amplifier up so it’s louder than normal?” I asked.

She laughed. “Actually, I have set the hearing program slightly under what would be normal hearing so you have some time to adjust to all the new sounds.”

And there were so many. It was wonderful and astounding, to say the least. Walking on a tiled floor, a door closing, someone sneezing. These were sounds I had always been able to hear. But now there was richness, a three-dimensionality to the quality. And music! The joy of it all! I never did lose my love of it but now that the richness in the texture of each note connected to each other is accessible to me again I experience it in the fullness that is available to those who have normal hearing. To go to hear a live symphony, to turn on the radio and experience the roundness of each sound each artist has chosen to produce. Words fail me.

The closest analogy I can come up with is equating hearing with vision. Imagine living in a world where it is deep twilight and the many colours of the rainbow spectrum are deeply muted; only you don’t know you can’t see what everyone else can. Getting hearing aids is like having someone turn on the lights again for you. And it wasn’t until Elaine asked me to write this that I wondered if I would have found the same joy in dancing if I hadn’t chosen to do something about my hearing, a passion that I discovered several years after getting my first hearing aids.”

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