Ten years ago when my hearing dropped suddenly and severely, I despaired of ever living a hearing life again. Despite a cochlear implant and a sophisticated hearing aid, that despair seemed justified. I could hear, but I could not function in a hearing world
Some terrible times are burned into my memory.
Taking my daughter and some of her friends to a restaurant for her 21st birthday. My daughter sat next to me and helped with handwritten notes and clearly enunciated explanations, but that wasn’t enough. I was never even sure of her friends’ names, although I do know three of them were named Sarah.
Going to a college friend’s funeral in Cambridge in a beautiful Harvard chapel with terrible acoustics. Several old classmates were there but I didn’t recognize them and I couldn’t hear names clearly enough to know who I was talking to.
My children’s college graduations – both lovely occasions, of which I heard nothing, from start to finish. But even the milder hearing loss I had from age 30 on meant that I never really heard any school event, pre-k to graduate school.
The daily morning meeting of editors in my department at The New York Times. 15 to 20 people planning a daily section, of which about a fifth would be content I was responsible for. I delivered my information but I never heard the responses, or questions about it. I cringe at the memory.
Most of the 2008-2010 theater seasons. As theater editor I was expected to see as much as possible. No one said anything about hearing it. I remember going to a play with Ben Brantley, the theater critic. Not only could I not hear a word of the play but I couldn’t hear him in the intermission either. Did I tell him? Vaguely. Maybe. At that point in my career the stigma of hearing loss and aging was terrifying. (Readers of my memoir, Shouting Won’t Help, know that that strategy did not work!)
Now a mere a decade later, technology has delivered the tools I need to function in a hearing world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some that I personally use. Some allow me to hear at the theater, some at the movies, some over dinner in a noisy restaurant, some in a gym class, some to hear music again. I can go hiking and hear my companion ten feet ahead of me. I can hear everyone at my book club (as long as they speak one at a time). I can communicate with friends who are even deafer than me, friends I used to “talk” to over our computers sitting side by side. I can understand on a windy cold morning when someone asks me my dog’s name. (Oliver.)
But it’s not just technology that allows me to hear better now. It’s attitude. I ask for CART captions. I ask for a seat in the front. I ask people to repeat themselves slowly and clearly. I ask my Pilates teacher to wear my clip-on mic so I can hear her. I make myself tell everyone that I have hearing loss, and explain to them over and over again how to talk so that I can understand them. I credit my friends at the Hearing Loss Association of America, #HLAA, for showing me the way.
In addition, instead of giving in to my hearing loss, I make myself hear better. I make myself listen. I did auditory rehabilitation – that is, I practiced listening — in both informal and formal programs, and part of what I learned was how to listen.
I accept my hearing loss – I use my devices, flawed as they sometimes seem, I ask for help. Most of all, I demand respect. It’s surprising how successful that is.
Next week I’ll write about how technology has allowed me to love theater again. The week after, I’ll write about the new live captioning devices that me possible conversation in a noisy place. And the week after that I’ll write about how a new hearing aid can completely change the way you hear, even if the one you already had was top of the line and cost more than you’ve ever spent on any one thing except maybe a car or a house.
For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health.
You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.