Charlie Swinbourne: Trying (and failing) to get my hearing aids fixed

Posted on October 25, 2013



On Wednesday, my daughter woke me up with a special gift.

“Your hearing aids daddy!” she said, as she handed them to me in four parts.

I anxiously looked down. Left hearing aid. Check. Left ear mould, check. Right hearing aid….

AGGGHHHH.

She’d snapped the elbow. That’s the bit that connects hearing aid with ear mould.

Here’s a pic:

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 09.45.19

When I told her it was broken, she looked so sad, I couldn’t blame her.

Since then, I’ve been flying on one engine, riding the monorail, cycling using only one pedal. You get the drift. Things haven’t been balanced.

So I was pleased when I got an emergency appointment at an audiology clinic just two days later, and even more pleased when I found out it was only ten minutes walk away.

In the meantime, I managed to source the part that had snapped, but found I couldn’t extract the broken bit, which was embedded in my hearing aid.

So, with high hopes of returning to the land of stereo, this morning I went to my first audiology appointment in at least a year.

This is what I learned in the 15 minutes I spent there.

Audiology clinics can feel impersonal. My audiologist came to get me just as I’d arrived, so I had no issue with missing my name being called out (a common problem for deaf patients) but he never told me his name. I nearly asked at one point, but then we started talking about my hearing aids. Maybe in a shortened time slot, he just had to get on with it, but it’d be nice to know who you’re meeting.

Audiology clinics van be quite matter-of-fact. My snapped hearing aid has left me relying on just one ear, which makes it a lot harder for me to communicate with my children, but my issue was treated more as a technical problem, as if I’d arrived with a broken walkman, rather than something that in reality could make my life a lot harder for days or weeks.

Audiologists can give up too easily. In the past, when elbows have broken, my audiologists have managed to extract them very easily. My audiologist tried to get it out with a couple of different implements, then quickly said that because the hearing aid I use isn’t a model they use (I was fitted with it in my past life, in London) it wouldn’t be possible. To be fair, he then tried a couple more times, but to no avail.

Audiologists can lack empathy. Well, maybe they can’t do everything in a 15 minute slot, but when the audiologist told me that he couldn’t fix my hearing aid or offer me a replacement (because I use a different model), and that I’d have to make a separate appointment at the main hospital to get a different type of hearing aid fitted, I didn’t get a sense that he understood this was basically sentencing me to weeks of not being able to hear properly. I did tell him, but I didn’t get much of a reaction.

The first thing I should say is that this is just one experience. I’ve had good audiologists in the past, so this isn’t the experience I’ve always had. But I’ve met audiologists like this before, and I’ve heard numerous reports from other deaf people of audiologists acting like this.

Maybe I expect too much, but for me there was just a sense that he didn’t really see fixing my hearing aid as being all that important, and that he didn’t get what the implications of not fixing it might be.

I’m a grown human being, I can take it, but I worry about people who are more vulnerable. The elderly, or the newly deafened. Children. People who need to feel more welcomed, and looked after.

Now, it might seem unfair that I’m criticising the guy for not fixing my hearing aid, but this is what happened next:

I went home, and thought ‘what the hell, even if I break my hearing aid, I’m going to be fitted with a new model so I have nothing to lose.’ I got a sewing needle out of the cupboard, took the back of the hearing aid off, pressed the needle very hard into the top of the broken plastic, and pushed.

POP.

The broken plastic flew through the air.

Ten minutes later, after I’d fitted the new elbow, I was hearing in stereo once more.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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