On Hearing Aids. A love letter to a small device.
On Hearing Aids. A love letter to a small device. (Send this to anyone who needs the fear taken out of this life-changing technology.)
I feel I owe this to any of you who you think need hearing aids. Or whose children need them. Compared to the gift they give, they are no big deal.
Losing hearing. Big Deal. I feel you on this. Huge transition and lots of emotions. If you are in that spot and need support, read my other pieces, One Ear Down and Silence.
But the hearing aid? Here’s the skinny.
Now, I’m giving a HUGE disclaimer. My husband works for a giant company with awesome insurance (and shitty pay.) Don’t be jealous. My hearing tests and hearing aid were a minimal cost compared to some insurance plans. If you have shitty insurance, you need to plan. Use your HSA or flexible spending. Make sure everything happens within one deductible year. Don’t mess around. I had a hearing test years ago on crap insurance and it cost me a crap load. Hopefully, this paragraph keeps the haters at bay.
At first, yes, they take some getting used to. Sound is not exactly the same as it was. Here is where the skill of your audiologist is key. Go to the best. Don’t mess around with some scammer in a strip mall. I heard Costco is pretty awesome. I went to Mass Eye and Ear in Boston. After my initial evaluation, I went to their satellite office in Medford. When I first put the hearing aid in, I cried. Because it was NOT the same to my sad sad brain. But let me tell you, that hearing aid lady worked magic. Hearing aids have an entire computer program these days. They can change as many levels as Photoshop can alter in a photo. She pushed this curve up a little here and that one down a little there, and voila…more palatable for my brain. Don’t be afraid to tell them. “My voice sounds too tinny to me. It’s too loud.” “It itches my ear canal. It’s wobbling around.” Tell the person. They are there to help you adjust things for your specific brain. They can swap out the end for a smaller piece and add a “kickstand” which is a little tiny plastic thread that sits inside on your ear and holds the inside in place. Can’t even feel it. This still isn’t the end. Take a month. Mine were at a reduced volume for that month to help my brain adjust. I wore them as much as I could so that my brain could adapt. At my second appointment, I was so ready to increase the volume. They made things so much better, I wanted the fullest possible result. At first, I was constantly checking to make sure it was in the right place in my ear. That’s normal. It takes a while for the device to heat up and mold to your specific ear. I hardly ever check it now. At first, your brain will notice it ALL the TIME. This is normal and will wear off. I hardly ever notice it now!
As far as convenience. Mine are rechargeable and water-resistant. This is key because I’m terrible with new routines. And because I have several times forgotten they were in my ear and dove into the ocean or popped into the shower. Water resistance buys you time to grab them and dry them off without losing thousands of dollars. I get up in the morning, and pop them in. Wear them all day, and stick them back in the charger. Once a month (or whenever I notice it’s been a while and they aren’t sounding as clear as they should because, like I told you, I’m horrible with routines) I clean the little holes and change the filter. Takes 1 minute. Brush the holes, take the little rubber end off, stick the piece into this little birth control-looking disk, pop out one filter, pop in the other one, and back to living.
Yes, occasionally they bug my ear lobe. If I felt like visiting the clinic again, I could probably get that fixed, but I just take it off, rub my ear, and take a little break from them. Do they bug me in loud spaces? Here’s the coolest thing. They come with an app on your phone. When you find yourself annoyed in any way, whip out your cell, bring up the app, and press a button. Restaurant, noisy space, road noise. Whatever. The thing magically adjusts somehow and it totally works. I find I hear better in crowds than I did before and better than most hearing people I know. Think you screwed up the settings? Don’t worry! Just stick it back in the charger and it resets. Besides manually adjusting, the hearing aid adjusts on its own too! When I went back to the audiologist for my tune-up appointment, I told her that I feel like sometimes its working and sometimes it isn’t. “I’ll adjust the speed at which it adapts to new situations so your brain doesn’t notice. Voila. All better. I’m telling you, you need to go to a healthcare professional who really knows their technology!
About life with a hearing aid. Stigma? No one has noticed I have one. If they do, they’ve never mentioned it. If I mention it when a person is super soft-spoken in a really loud place (usually because I forgot I can just use the app on my phone) the person just apologizes and speaks up a little. I rarely think about my hearing aid these days. (Except when I leave the house, having totally forgotten to put it in, are we noticing a theme here about me?) It has given me my life back. The loud ringing turns down to a point where I don’t notice it when the aid is in. I don’t fear I will get run over anymore. I don’t feel high anxiety when going to crowded events. Music sounds better. Yes, I wish this had never happened. Yes, I still feel anxiety if I let my brain project that this is forever. Yes, when the aid is not in, the ringing is awful and I can’t hear a damn thing. Music and singing don’t sound the same. But it's better. Better to a point where I know that I can keep going like this.
I wanted to write this piece to take away the fear. Fear gets bigger when encouraged by the unknown. So let this all be known to you now. It isn’t scary, it's awesome. These are not your great-grandma’s hearing aids. If Phonak wants to pay me to be their spokesperson, I’m in.