A few months ago, I made the decision to address my hearing loss.
I realized I was losing my hearing over 6 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter. One day, I went to talk on the phone and held the receiver to my left ear. It was so difficult to understand and I had to switch it to my right ear. I realized everything sounded garbled on the left. When I was in social settings and there was a lot of background noise or multiple people talking, I would lose track of what people were saying. If I couldn't see someone's mouth, it was even harder to know the words being said.
At 20 weeks pregnant, I went to an ENT and had a hearing test. The doctor couldn't believe how poor my hearing was in my left ear and I had loss in my right ear too. He sent me for an MRI to rule out a brain tumor causing the hearing loss. I had a feeling it was just my genes- my dad and his family all lost their hearing in their early 30's. Thankfully, no tumor at all. After my daughter was born, I went back to the ENT practice, met with an audiologist and got hearing aids.
I HATED them. They slipped out of my ear all the time (turns out I have a very narrow ear canal and need a custom fit. Of course.) My baby up on my shoulder was deafening, as was a paper towel ripping, but I still couldn't understand what people said on TV without close caption. They were very expensive and I was very unhappy, so I returned them. And I made peace with lip reading and doing my best to compensate for my poor hearing.
Then, over the summer, while on a playdate, the mom and I were chatting. She is a speech pathologist who works with students who are hearing impaired. She told me unaddressed hearing loss leads to dementia and suggested I try again. A few weeks later, on the soccer field, I felt so frustrated and embarrassed that I couldn't understand what other parents were saying to me. A grocery store encounter with a clerk left me clueless about what she was trying to tell me. I decided it was time to try to address the hearing loss again.
This time around, I let the audiologist know about my narrow ear canals and my passed frustration. We talked about appropriate expectations. I was fitted for hearing aids with blue tooth capability to let me stream conversations, music and podcasts. The hearing aids fit. I've gotten used to certain noises being louder (the click of a keyboard, the car indicator, and yes, a paper towel ripping.) I still struggle to hear conversation sometimes. I get closer to my students and ask them to repeat themselves. I still use close caption on the television. I still hold the phone to my right ear.
But I wear my hearing aids so that someone else who might feel embarrassed or sad about hearing loss might see that it's okay. They are not awful. They are a tool to help me have a better life. Why wouldn't I use every tool possible to enhance my communication with others? I got over the stigma of wearing hearing aids and being under 40 (for a few more months!). And I hope my story might help others who are feeling left out because you just can't hear everything the way you wish you would.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski