Early next year marks my 25th anniversary of wearing hearing aids. I’m not sure they do cards for this sort of silver celebration but, nonetheless, it seemed to be worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on what the gadgets have meant for me.
I still remember sitting across the table from the audiologist, in tears at the news that I would need them. I remember her pushing across a box of tissues and smiling wanly that they had ‘all mod cons’. (She was referring to the tissues.) I remember one close relative telling me that hearing aids would ‘do nothing for my looks.’ (Cheers for that.)
A quarter of a century on and these days, of course, being anywhere without my little plastic lumps, or indeed functioning batteries, is enough to induce feelings of mild panic.
I don’t know of any other country prepared to give those that need them these devices completely free of charge – you don’t even have to pay upfront and then claim the money back. I try not to forget that I’m constantly walking around with kit worth hundreds if not thousands of pounds wedged in my ears.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a fair number of trials and tribulations along the way. And there are still some unanswered questions.
Table etiquette, for example. Is changing the battery at the table when a meal is in full flow a terrible social faux pas? When I did this at lunch once, before the food had arrived I might add, the acquaintance with whom I had put on the nosebag looked faintly horrified. So I excused myself awkwardly and did the changeover behind a pillar in the restaurant. But are hearing aids really that unhygienic?
If they were going to fall in anyone’s chicken fricassée, it would be mine, after all, no one else’s.
Equally, what you should do if you get the ‘battery dead’ alert in an important meeting – or job interview?
Then there’s (shudder) the bedroom. At what point in, ahem, proceedings, should the things be taken out? And what is the best way of doing so unobtrusively, so that you don’t get a backtrack of hideous screeching rather than Lady in Red?
Don’t get me started on the batteries. They may be inanimate objects but I am sure they have the ability to reproduce. In my flat, they seem to be everywhere – on carpets, in bowls, in bags, inside the duvet cover… And I genuinely have no idea how they get there.
Then there are those infuriating orange stickers, which live up to their name far too much, by sticking to everything you don’t want them to adhere themselves to. Wretched things.
I know I’m not the best at the world on the old cleaning and maintenance front, and, to my enduring shame, I’m still pretty clueless about how to change the tubing, after all these years. So off I traipse to my local audiology department, having left it far too long. Again.
I’ve jumped in swimming pools with them inserted, and been wilfully negligent when it comes to keeping them dry in the rain.
Other people’s attitudes to my aids have been interesting. I’m sure some seem to see them as a kind of weakness or oddity, or as something worthy of pity. I have previously written of a woman who asked ‘Are you all right?’ in faux sympathy when I was adjusting my aids in boxfit class. She wouldn’t have said anything had I been fiddling with my glasses. Surely the moral of that particular tale is – don’t mess with anyone wearing boxing gloves?
Anyway, people can laugh all they like. My aids are firmly part of my daily life like phone, keys and wallet. So much so that it’s easy to forget they’re there, like your nose or some other body part, maybe.
But they shouldn’t be taken for granted, nor should their ready availability on the NHS. So, happy silver anniversary, hearing aids. I know you’re not the sort to expect presents or cosy dinner à deux. Actually, there’d be three of us anyway, always a crowd on the romantic meal front. But thanks for the last quarter century – and here’s to the next 25 years.
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