This is going to be hard to write.
I am in the process of buying new hearing aids.
Many people forget, I think, that I am hard of hearing. My aids are small, the smallest available (CIC – Completely In Canal) and skin coloured, so they are practically invisible. I am highly functioning in hearing society, don’t sign and my lip reading skills help a lot. As a result, I have become quite mouthy about my loss, and frequently remind people, in a loud and (hopefully) humorous way. It’s taken a long time for me to be able to do this, and do it in a way that feels comfortable.
One of the hard things about shaving my hair off was having my aids be so visible all the time. I normally hate any photos taken of my profile with my hair pulled back, because you can see my aids clearly.
When I was a teenager, it was something I felt I could choose to reveal about myself to the people who knew me well. I felt that strangers and acquaintances might hold some sort of opinion of me that had nothing to do with who I am as a person, and everything to do with my loss.
When I was little, my aids were behind the ear and highly visible (huge by today’s standards), so there was no need to proclaim my deafness. This is one of the very few photos in which you can actually see my old, big, aids.
Eventually, I came to realize that someone who does that is being idiotic, and that I was being idiotic by sabotaging myself in social situations, pretending I could follow conversations when I couldn’t.
My new stance is to be verbal about it, “I want to sit in the middle of the table so I can hear everyone”; “Please put on the subtitles for me”; “I call shotgun ’cause I’m the disabled one and get first pick!” I try not to abuse this, and to be polite or humorous at all times. My hearing loss is a part of who I am, and I need to recognize it.
This is another way for me to speak up for myself. This is another way for me to identify myself as hard of hearing and to claim it as a part of my personhood. This is an opportunity for me to explain more about what being hard of hearing means to me.
I’ve worn hearing aids since I was 2 years old. The only way I can explain what my unaided, ‘natural’ hearing is like, is like listening to your music through crap ipod headphones at a volume where you can still hear stuff, but you can’t differentiate words and specific sounds. If someone speaks close to my ear, I can understand them. I can hear people in the pool (sound travels differently over water). I CANNOT hear whispers (pet peeve).
I have had my current, old hearing aids for 5 years. I have used the same model/brand for 11 years. Technology has whizzed by and I’ve stayed behind. As time comes for me to upgrade, I turn to my audiologist/speech therapist (from since I was a baby) Bia Novaes. She has been with me through every audiological adventure of my life – she’s the one who told me that I wasn’t pronouncing my silent letters because I couldn’t hear them, a moment of hilarity. (THIS IS WHY I CAN’T SAY ‘PIZZA’ PROPERLY.) She’s a safety blanket for me throughout the process – I trust her to look out for my best interests and to understand how I react to things.
She set up appointments for me to make moulds of my ears. This involves taking a tiny fluff of cotton tied in something like super thin dental floss/fishing line and pushing it down my ear canal, then filling my ear with this cold, plasticky dough and waiting for it to dry. I’m familiar with this process because moulds and casings need to fit perfectly, so they get made once a year or so while you’re growing up.
When I was a kid, they used to give me the left-over mould to play with. I could roll it into a ball before it got hard and it was SUPER bouncy. Lemons-Lemonade.
First, Bia did my audiogram – mapping which sounds I can and cannot hear. This is my least favourite part of the whole process. I sit in a little soundproof box with a window facing the audiologist, with some variety of headphone connected to a computer. I am then subjected to a series of beeps in different tones, at different volumes, and raise my hand each time I hear one.
I detest this part, because of the long stretches of silence that comes when I cannot hear the beeps. It’s the most depressing reminder of my loss. I crane my ears, desperate to hear each buzz, beep and boop that I might be able to pick up, terrified of a change. Fortunately, my hearing hasn’t changed in years.
Hooked into the computer.
After this, the new hearing aids are put in, while attached to the computer. I feel BIONIC. I have wires coming out of my ears and all sorts of crazy sound things are happening. The aids are feedback-ing and I have control (sometimes) – “This is really loud” or “your voice is really quiet, can it be louder?” and ultimately, “I like these! I can’t hear the CPU, and your voice is super clear!”
My hearing aids make a noise when the battery needs to be changed. In my old ones, it was a series of beeps. The ones I tried recently said “Pilha Fraca” (Low Battery) into my ear! As Bia tried the function I immediately cried out. “No! I don’t like that! That’s awful! Please take that off! I don’t want a voice in my ear!” You know how it feels when your cellphone starts talking to you because you sat on it wrong? It totally freaks you out because you have no idea why it’s happening. That was happening in my ear.
Shudder. Fortunately, it was changed to beeps without incident. Bia was completely understanding and we were both laughing over what a terrible idea it was.
Programing my aids. R and L ear, different sound bands. I am hooked directly in.
When I leave Bia’s, new aids in ears, the last part of the whole process starts… testing them. I try to hit up many different sound environments to see how they feel.
I have to acknowledge how different they are bound to feel, and take it in stride when things sound odd.
I have to struggle with my own depression that emerges from the whole process. If the aids don’t suit, it means I spend a few days with everything sounding “off”.
Everything will sound “off” anyway, but sometimes it’s really unbearable.
Then I make a decision. I choose which of the two brands I’m trying I feel most comfortable with and hope that I made the right choice.
And that’s that.