Recently I met a man with an obvious hearing loss. He used hearing aids and assistive listening devices, yet he missed parts of what I said. So I asked him if he’d like to learn about the local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). “No,” he said. “I’m not interested in giving more energy to my hearing loss than I already do. I would rather live a normal life.”
I wondered, what is a “normal” life with hearing loss? How much energy dedicated to it is “too much”. I wasn’t sure so I decided to map what my day looks like.
I wake up to my alarm clock. It’s designed for people with hearing loss; instead of ringing it makes a booming sound and vibrates vigorously under my pillow. The vibration is important, since I have no hearing after I remove the processors of my two cochlear implants at night. The alarm clock is also connected to my smoke and carbon monoxide detectors so that if those devices are activated, my alarm goes off.
Sometimes, in spite of my carefulness the vibrating device falls off the bed and I don’t wake up. That’s one of the reasons I have a hearing service dog. He alerts me to sounds especially when I have no hearing at night. Unfortunately the one thing my dog hasn’t yet learned is to alert me when the booming sound goes off. (Yes, we’re working on it.)
Recently my alarm didn’t wake me and my hearing dog slept through it. But my cat scratched my face until I woke up and turned off the alarm. Then he stopped. Maybe I have a “hearing loss” cat!
Once I’m up, I take the implant processors out of their electric dryer, remove the rechargeable batteries from their charger, put the batteries in the processor and put them on. Before I leave my home I check to make sure that I have spare batteries and assistive listening devices for challenging situations.
When I leave home I don’t think much about my hearing loss – until I need to pay attention to it.
If I get a phone call, I have to think how I’ll handle it. If I know my caller speaks clearly, I will simply go to the t-coil setting on my processors and answer it. If I know they don’t speak clearly, I‘ll probably let it go directly to voice mail, since my iPhone transcribes the voicemail to text. Other times I take out Cochlear’s “phone clip”, a very useful device that connects to my iPhone through Bluetooth. Rather than keeping it paired, I connected it each time as Bluetooth drains the batteries of my iPhone. Then I place the clip on my chest so it optimizes the best hearing for the caller. Often I need to fuss where the phone clip sits as the “hot spot” changes slightly for every call. It’s a fuss but I hear so well with it that it’s worth it to me.
For different hearing situations, my processor has auto scan, which automatically senses and adjusts the angles of the microphones on my processors, depending on the level of noise in the environment. Before auto scan, I had to adjust the setting manually or go through a remote device which I usually forgot to take along.
If I’m having trouble understanding what people are saying, I’ll ask them to speak louder, or to look at me directly so I can lip-read. If a person talks to me from another room, that’s the easiest; I simply don’t’ know they’re talking to me so no need to do anything!
If I still have trouble hearing especially when talking to multiple people or noisy environments, I use an assistive listening device. My current favorite is Cochlear’s “mini-mic.” It connects to the processor wirelessly once it’s initialized. Once that’s done, I attach the mic to the other person. It’s kind of a pain, but has such a dramatic, positive impact I don’t mind.
I also lip-read without even thinking about it, and if that doesn’t help will try to figure out what’s been said through context and logical deductions. This isn’t hard but it takes concentration and energy. The truth is we’re using so much more energy than a person with normal hearing that we often get exhausted (Auditory Fatigue). It’s important to recognize this fatigue and take care of ourselves.
And then, to add a little extra spice, sometimes I have to change my batteries in the middle of a conversation. Or my processors get knocked off my ears; fortunately they have never been damaged.
At the end of the day, I’ve get to reverse the process – remove my processors, put them in the electric tray, put my rechargeable batteries in the charger, set my alarm clock and make sure the vibrating devices sits securely under my pillow, and sleep with my deafness.
For me, this investment of effort has been completely worth it. At this point it’s so automatic that I hardly think about these steps. The “return on investment” has been substantial. I’ve become fascinated by what I do, what I’ve learned, met so many wonderful people through HLAA and come to terms with my hearing loss. It’s made me a happier person leading a fuller life. But maybe it’s not worth it to everyone. It certainly didn’t seem to be worth it to the man I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
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