It’s been three weeks now since I was fitted with new digital hearing aids.
My hearing aid fitting experience was, admittedly, rather depressing. I was repeatedly told how I had ‘very little hearing left’ and that I couldn’t expect much from my aids because there wasn’t ‘much left to amplify.’
I could see the audiologist’s point – I am profoundly deaf – but I wasn’t expecting to miraculously understand everything. I just wanted to hear sounds a little more.
I’ve worn one hearing aid for years, you see. Out of habit, mostly. So when it came for my hearing aid review I decided to ask for two new aids. The hearing aid fitting was pretty lengthy – over an hour to be exact. It’s all done via computers where they insert wires into your ears, play sounds and monitor how your ear responds to them.
The sound volume was eye wateringly loud to begin with. The audiologist agreed to turn it down slightly but added a separate musical setting onto the aid where the bass was amplified so that I could pick out low tones in songs.
At first, it was odd to receive sounds in both ears. So much, that my brain was telling me my right hearing aid wasn’t working and that all the sound was coming from my left aid. That’s completely normal, the audiologist reassured me. It will take time she reiterated. So, I promised to wear them all day, every day and to report back in six weeks time.
As I walked out of the audiology department, I was expecting to be bombarded with sounds. But it wasn’t quite like that. Instead new sounds creeped up on me. Distinguishing what those sounds were took (and still takes) a lot of time. For the first week I had crippling headaches and fatigue from trying to decipher all the noises.
And I say noises because despite most assumptions about hearing aids, they don’t actually help you hear sounds. They merely amplify whatever your residual hearing can pick up. And a lot of it doesn’t sound normal. Speech sounds strange. Crisper, yes, but robotic almost.
After the first couple of weeks, the volume of the aids feels like its died down. Not literally as though I need a new battery in, but its like my brain has adjusted and it doesn’t feel so loud anymore. I have made lots of discoveries these past weeks and I’ve summed them up as follows:
I’ve realised that I have been missing many sounds.
The evening I first had my hearing aids in, I discovered background music on the television. You know, the suspenseful chords or melodies they play to enhance the ambience of a show? Well I didn’t know anything about that until I had my new aids. I thought television shows just had sounds from the speech and action on screen. But nope. They have annoyingly, distracting, yet addictive muzak.
I have discovered the tick-tick-tick-tick-ticking of car indicators. I’ve also realised how LOUD cups and plates are when you put them away in the kitchen. And I’ve come to know that you can actually hear the television playing from the next room, and that every high pitched sound isn’t always a child squealing. Noises are constant.
I can confirm that I still cannot understand speech without lip patterns.
Yes, I can tell when someone is talking if they’re close by. But speech isn’t comprehensible without lip-reading. My audiologist seemed to think that I may suddenly be able to have telephone conversations, but I know that I don’t hear enough to do that. Hearing aids can be useful, but like I’ve said – they can’t create sounds that aren’t there.
The audiologist did actually stand behind me at one point during my hearing aid fitting. She said she was going to speak a sentence and wanted me to tell her what she said. I laughed. It didn’t work, obviously.
I’ve also found that wearing two silver hearing aids with purple/glitter moulds attracts attention.
When I wore just one hearing aid, it didn’t seem to be very noticeable. Blame my hairstyle, I don’t know. But I’ve seen more and more people looking at my ears. One day when I fetched my son from school, I noticed two young pupils staaaaaaring at my ears. My hair was up in a ponytail so my glittery moulds were shining in all their glory. I hoped that the children would ask me what I was wearing or would at least say something. But they stared then disappeared.
I’m hoping that they began a conversation with their parents about hearing aids. Because chatting about deafness normalises it. It makes hearing aids seem as ‘every day’ as wearing glasses. I love it when people say ‘wow I love your purple moulds!’ but its only deaf people that seem to say anything. For hearing people its still a bit of a should-I-shouldn’t-I topic.
I’ve discovered that music sounds different.
I was really keen to see how music sounded with my new hearing aids. So I dusted off my boombox and apprehensively played some CD’s.
For years I’ve relied on the bass notes and drum beats to follow and enjoy music. This has meant my song choices have always been poppy and mostly upbeat. But this time around, I can’t hear the bass so much anymore. I hear the voices. Or rather, I hear the sounds the voices make. By reading the lyrics and memorising the word placement, I can figure out what the voice is kind of doing.
So I popped on an Andrew Lloyd Webber CD. (I adore musicals.) And I selected a track I haven’t listened to for years.
“In sleep he sang to me
in dreams he came
that voice which calls to me
and speaks my name.”
Oh. My. God. I could make out the words. For the first time in over twenty years! I had goose bumps as Christine and the Phantom sang their haunting melodies. I could have cried.
I admit, if I didn’t already know the song (it was Phantom of the Opera) I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what the lyrics were but my point is the vocals were clearer than ever.
As I selected more and more songs to listen to, something became clear. I was now listening in a whole new way. I could no longer pick up the bass tones or the drum beats as easily, but for some reason I could now tell where the words were being sung.
However, the fact that everything sounds different does mean that some of my favourite tunes are no longer enjoyable. Performing at an event last week, I was anxious to have to use my new hearing aids and rely on high notes instead of bass beats to tell me where I was during my songs. It was scary, I confess, as I don’t quite trust my new aids fully with music yet. I’m still learning how to decipher all those notes.
I have some more performance work coming up and I am curious (and slightly petrified) about how the music is going to sound to me. Will it overwhelm me? Will I be able to make sense of anything?
I’ve found that decreasing the volume of music actually helps me better than increasing it. Because by turning it down, the sound feels clearer and less distorted. I also want everything and everyone else to BE QUIET while I listen to music as I can’t hear too many things at once. I don’t understand it all yet, but I’m persevering.
And finally, I’ve begun to really, really appreciate silence.
Wearing my hearing aids all day every day, I’ve found not only triggers tinnitus but its also absolutely exhausting. The skin on my right ear is sore from the constant friction from the mould – I guess I’m breaking it in like I would a new pair of shoes.
In the past, I was never too comfortable with silence and having my hearing aid die on me would trigger a panic-driven hunt for a new hearing battery or a repair appointment at the audiologists.
But now when I take my hearing aids out at the end of each day, it feels good. It’s a strange sensation to have moulds in both ears all day, I sometimes feel like I’m speaking through my nose or that I’m underwater . So to go au natural and just be as deaf as I really am, feels surprisingly indulgent. And the silence. Oh my goodness, now I now why they say ‘silence is golden.’
Because when you’ve heard tick-tick-tick-ticking, plates crashing and children’s squealing all day, it really truly is.
Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.
She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader.
Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki.
She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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