The Living Deaf

So I went for my annual hearing test. The exam has two parts: the first part is where they play beeps at various decibel levels. First for the right ear and then the left. I am asked to hit a buzzer when I hear a beep. Some are loud, some are soft, some are just right and some I’m not sure I’m actually hearing but I press the buzzer anyway. I wonder what it’s like to the person administering the test. It probably sounds like Morse code gone wrong.

The second part is a pre-recorded voice repeating certain words (“you should say ‘bay'”) and I am asked to repeat the word I just heard. Some are easy to catch (bay, home, noon) and some sound like other words so I repeat them back as questions because I’m not sure if I heard them right (horse? true?).

For most people, this is a breeze. Wearing headphones in a soundproof room, pressing a hand-held buzzer whenever you hear a beep? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. For me however, it’s like being in an episode of Jeopardy!, except the person who wins is the one who sells hearing aids for a living. Me? I have no shot at winning.

No, I’m not fully deaf, but an eighty year-old geriatric likely has better hearing than I do. Having been in the call center business for more than  a decade, I’ve rather enjoyed the irony. (Also, if you’ve ever said hi and didn’t get a response, I’m not a snob. I just didn’t hear you. Sorry to disappoint. )

I tend to approach hearing tests -audiometric exams, if you want to be posh – with a sense of futility, because I already know I’m going to suck. I’m not a fan of failure and unlike actual written examinations, there is nothing I can do to pad my numbers. Then again, I may as well go out with a bang. If I’m going to fail something, why not fail at it spectacularly?

When we are done, Erin, my audiologist, shows me my results and compares it to the previous year. She very happily informs me that there haven’t been any significant changes. As dismal as my results always are, they have at least stayed at the same level for the last fifteen years or so: moderate to severe hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids is a good way to make sure my hearing loss doesn’t dip too dramatically (as if severe isn’t dramatic enough already). She says that I have not yet sunk to cochlear implant levels and “that’s a good thing.” You have to love how she tries. It’s like saying I might get there, but I’m not there yet and no one really wants to be there anyway, so cheer up and toodle pip!

The more appropriate term to use for my level of hearing loss is “hearing-challenged,” “hearing impaired,” or “hard of hearing.”  Technically a deaf person hears absolutely nothing. I just  like to use “deaf” because it’s faster. It’s short, concise and gets right to the point. I may bore a person I just met if I take the time to explain the hierarchies of hearing loss and how without hearing aids, things are muted and I miss out on an a lot – like the sound of rain, or footsteps, or hefty chunks of normal conversation. Once, I even slept through a fire alarm. Which is great because it was a drill, but not so great if it was real, because well… I like living.

The type of hearing loss I have is hereditary, which means it isn’t going to get better. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room for improvement; it will either stay at the same level of badness or sink to a lower level of badness. That’s one thing I like about it. There’s no false hope. I’m all for being a realist.

While there are other causes of hearing loss, there is one common theme: it’s important to have it checked out. The sooner you deal with it, the sooner you can get on with your life.  At the very least, I can guarantee you won’t have to go around toting a giant metal hearing horn like Beethoven did. It also helps to have a fantastic support group in place – no one in my family with hearing loss has ever used it to justify underachieving at life. With the right outlook, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the beginning of a more interesting one.

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