I was very proud of my HIFI set up. I had built it piece by glorious piece from a classic valve amplifier found on eBay to a specialist record player cartridge that cost me more than $1,000. My CD player was a work of engineering joy, and I knew my woofer from my tweeter.
In this quest for auditory perfection, I ordered a CD that was designed to balance the texture of the music by analyzing the sound frequencies. As a bonus, the CD had a series of test tracks to rate my own sensitivity to different musical ranges. There were beeps and bleeps and the tones became progressively less audible to gauge my capacity for hearing frequencies.
Going through the test, carefully noting which tracks were clearly audible and which were not, the software then did a prompt diagnosis and report. I referred to the final figures on the explanatory booklet and it said, “See a doctor and have your hearing checked professionally.” My fastidious musical appreciation had been just a fantasy: I was going deaf.
In the months that followed, I went into denial. I was in my early 60’s and in very good shape all round. I discussed the hearing issue with my girlfriend, and she said I did tend to watch TV with the volume louder than usual, but she hadn’t wanted to say anything. Suddenly, things began to fall into place, and I realized that I was straining to understand conversation that was on the higher end of the spectrum, especially unfamiliar female voices.
So I saw a specialist for a hearing test. He said I was suffering from age-related hearing loss. I was at a point where I would benefit from hearing aids. Not profound loss but not that good either.
The consultant suggested I go to my local audiology clinic for further evaluation, and six weeks later they confirmed what I already knew: My hearing loss was more than just age-related, and I needed hearing aids. The whole situation hit me with a bitter irony because my day job was running a disability dating site and podcasting about disabled living. My site had a large membership from the deaf community, and I was gradually blending into my own business demographic.
So, my path into hearing loss had begun as I struggled to adapt my brain to falling leaves that sounded like aircraft landing and tap water that sounded like waves crashing on the sea wall. The hospital said it would take a couple of weeks for my brain to re-filter important sounds from unimportant ambient noise.
It was a heavy challenge for me, and there were times I didn’t really want to carry on. Extraneous noise came at me from every direction in a mish-mash of sounds. Is that what a bluebottle sounded like? It was like a bassoon. In the end, it took me almost three months of adaptation to feel comfortable with my hearing aids daily.
Now three years on, I have adapted to hearing loss and become aware of what “hidden disability” is all about. Also, I have become aware of the amazing products and technological advances that lay in store for me. I purchased a cool Bluetooth adapter that connects to my smart phone via an app so I can have my music playlist piped directly into my skull without wearing headphones. I also found that most theaters have “smart loop” technology, so all the stage action is transmitted to me with crystal clarity.
My audiologist is quite positive that, although my hearing will get progressively worse, the compensating technology will get progressively better, so I probably won’t need to learn sign language anytime soon. I am aware, though, that my lip-reading skills have improved ten-fold since I concentrate much more than before on people when they speak to me, and I can always use my hearing as an excuse if I wish to ignore my girlfriend’s instructions.
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