Ear Robots

In the spring of 2006, I finally got over myself and got hearing aids. I hated them, and resented nearly every second I wore them because (at the time) I was only 31 years old and to have to wear something that was usually reserved for the Medicare set was humiliating.

But hearing loss is no joke. It requires a certain amount of social finesse to navigate the world when you can’t hear clearly. You need to have a sense of humor about yourself, because nine times out of ten, you’re answering a question that is not even close to what was asked. You need to be able to roll with occasionally looking like a buffoon. You need to be able to explain, quickly, what’s happening here.

And you need to be able to put up with the shitty, shitty, unimaginative jokes. When I tell people I can’t hear well, the first thing they all do is to start mouthing words with no sound. Not only is that the weakest fucking joke ever, but it’s fucking insulting t’boot. But EVERYONE does it, and I am always amazed.

It used to make me angry. Over the years, I’ve learned that a slightly raised brow (how I wish I could raise just the one) and a slightly tilted head coupled with a quiet stare is pretty effective in shutting that down. The tilted-head stare simply says “how interesting you are, that you feel this is appropriate.” Most people get it pretty quickly and knock it off. Only occasionally do I have to explain, in small words, why silently mouthing words at a hearing-impaired person is a dick move.

I understand the urge, though. My specialty in life is inappropriate jokes, but… social finesse. It’s not something I ever thought I’d be good at, but here we are.

Anyway, the hearing aids I got in 2006 were fucking top-of-the-line for the time. And well they should have been, since they cost me SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS. They’re not covered by most insurance, which is a topic for another day. I have a rant about that but it involves a whole lot of swear words and an interpretive dance. There is also shouting.

In 2006 we had a baby on the way and I wanted to be able to HEAR the baby, so hearing aids became necessary. As it turns out, the Mama instincts almost completely override the hearing issues, because I can hear that kid sneeze from down the street. Still, one has to be able to hear, or at least gather enough clues from the surrounding environment to know what’s going on. Approximately.

As the years progressed, I was so used to these hearing aids that I sometimes couldn’t tell if they were in my head at all. That is actually not the best thing, since the difference between wearing them and not wearing them is supposed to be noticeable. That’s the whole point. I quit going for regular check-ins and never pursued any kind of upgrade or anything like that because I just didn’t care. Besides, the hearing aid dispenser I’d been using was absolutely fucking terrible. I’d call to make an appointment and they would mumble on the phone and talk too fast and get really bitchy when I asked them to slow it down. Um, duh? THE PEOPLE CALLING YOU CAN’T HEAR YOU VERY WELL. SLOW THE FUCK DOWN, LADY. That gets irritating after awhile.

Seven years down the road, I found myself sort of back where I’d started. I was having more trouble than usual when it came to understanding people, watching television was really difficult even WITH closed-captioning (and there’s another rant for you). So I went to the otolaryngolgoist…

…and the shit hit the fan. I started with her because I wanted to rule out any physical reason for my hearing to be so awful. She checked my ears, and then decided to look up my nose. She was amazed by my sinuses, which are perpetually pissed off. She jammed a camera up there to see what was happening and, as all my doctors do, she sat back and said “…whoa. Can I have the other doctors take a look at this?” Seriously, EVERY TIME I go to a doctor, they pull in every medical professional within 5 miles to have a look at me. I should start charging THEM.

After seeing the ENT, I toddled across the hall to the audiologist, who was very nice. We chatted a bit about my hearing issues and then we started the test. The whole “raise your hand when you hear a sound” thing went all right, but then when he started the “word recognition” part, it was a disaster. That’s where he sits behind me and says a common word and I have to repeat it back to him. Annnnnnnnnd… NOPE! Disaster.

Which meant I then got to go see the hearing-aid lady. We discussed my issues and what my ideal hearing situation would look like (duh, excellent hearing with no hearing aids) and we talked about the types of situations that are more problematic than others. She took a bunch of notes and then we scheduled a follow-up for me to decide what I was going to do.

I totally understand why hearing aids are so expensive. There is an awful lot of technology stuck in my head at the moment. But what I don’t understand is why my shitty insurance company (and probably your shitty insurance company as well) doesn’t cover ANY of the costs. It’s maddening, and I’m lucky that we have enough money to cover these costs. But what if we hadn’t had the money? What then? Would I have been expected to just walk around all deaf and shit?

The healthcare situation in this country is a fucking disgrace.


After talking with Freddie and doing a bit of research, I made my decision. Molds were made of my ear canals (that was a fun 20 minutes, let me tell you), and an appointment was made with a representative of the manufacturer, since this is a pretty new-ish piece of technology.

That was an interesting appointment. I talked with the rep about my issues and my challenges and she explained how these new ones work and talked to me about some of the add-ons that are available, should I want them (and want to pay for them, haha). We put the new ‘aids into my ears and then adjusted them via the computer.

It was like night and day. I could hear ALL THE SOUNDS. That’s mostly due to the fact that everything is amplified where it wasn’t before, and partly due to the fact that my brain will need to re-learn what sounds to ignore and what sounds to pay attention to, and that is more a marathon than a sprint. That is what I need to remember: it’s not going to be perfect overnight.

I am to wear these hearing aids from the time I get up to the time I go to bed (except for the obvious times, like working out/swimming/showering), which is normal for me anyway. But because I can hear ALL THE THINGS right now, I’m noticing my anxiety levels are going through the roof. I spent most of yesterday feeling barely-controlled panic because HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO NOISY. All the things that I hadn’t been able to hear (or hear very well) were all now at the forefront of my consciousness and it’s a lot to take in. I sympathize completely with kids who don’t respond well to a lot of environmental stimulation. There’s a lot going on, all the time.

In my case, I know it will all calm down eventually. There’s no other way to do it except to do it.

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