Today I became the proud owner of my first ever hearing aids. I know, I know, I’m doing well for 80, I hope I hear you cry. Actually, I am a mere 43 years of age, simply have the hearing of a pensioner. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to hear your grandchildren tell you about their holidays,’ the literature asks, I’d settle for hearing my own children offering to do the dishes when we’re on holiday, I’d suggest.
I had great expectations for my aids, as did my family and friends. In fact, I’m not sure who was more excited. It’s hard living with someone whose favourite phrase is, ‘Run that by me again’. I thought they might change my life, hand me a seat back in the world of school halls, pubs, children’s concerts, in fact, in anywhere that has a ceiling over six feet high. Don’t get me wrong, I can function in such places but I often use up my ‘pardon lives’. I read once that social settings will allow you two chances at a ‘pardon’ and by the third you have to try something different. What it meant was that by the third, your interlocutor will decide that you are a: an idiot, b: not concentrating, c: not giving their company the attention it deserves – or a combination of all three. It’s quite easy to gauge what should be an appropriate response (that isn’t to say that I haven’t, famously, got it wrong sometimes) if you don’t mind simply nodding or shaking your head at opportune moments in an effort to keep the conversation moving. But this base level of chat doesn’t really lead to a riveting evening for either party.
And then there’s the TV. With all my training into following plots through settings, actions and two out of every three words on a good day, make that one if strong accents are involved, I could be a veritable Inspector Clouseau with 100% of the dialogue available to me. It would be nice not to have to read subtitles which are half a sentence behind the words I can half hear, too, grateful as I am to them for transforming my viewing experience over the past few years. Whispering, I wonder. Are the hearing aids that good? It’s only when you’re hard of hearing that you realise quite how much people whisper on TV and in films. I’m all for authenticity but what directors fail to grasp is that people whisper so that others can’t hear.
So, off I trot with tiny cones pushed into my ears, a wire hooked around the back connected to an inch long receptor and my remote control to turn my hearing up and down, with its potential for hours of amusement should it fall into the eagerly-awaiting hands of my children. In truth, I didn’t trot. I walked, very gingerly, out of the hospital doors, eyes darting in every direction. There was just so much going on - a lady’s crutches tip tapping across the linoleum to the right, a man coughing in A&E, a siren which wasn’t from the hospital car park but an ambulance was clearly on its way. The traffic was so loud, so close, I hardly dare cross the road. I made it to my car feeling like I was in a Bond movie. I didn’t even need to look to know that there was a man approaching who had bought a newspaper which he didn’t intend to read until later because he was forcing it into a loudly scrunching bag. I’d already learnt that you can tell the speed people are walking just by the sound of their feet tapping on the pavement. I never realised that my seatbelt makes a noise when you pull it across. I know I can't hear crickets, I wonder if I will.
I had a few minutes for my favourite past-time: a coffee and a scribble in a well-known coffee outlet. My friend called en route. ‘I can’t talk,’ I whispered, ‘you’re too loud.’ We persevered, the phone held six inches away from my ear but when I entered the coffee shop mid-conversation, I had to walk straight out. Everyone was so noisy! How could I possibly carry on my own conversation?
I’ve learnt that the hearing aids ‘wake up’ messages to the brain which have been redundant whilst hearing has been disintegrating and that this heightened sensitivity calms down once the brain has regrouped and worked out which sounds it really needs to focus on. Clever, isn’t it! Much as I enjoyed the new sensation and hearing sounds I never knew existed, amusing as it was to hear every word of the news set at 36 instead of 60 or, rather, maximum volume, I admit it was quite tiring and a little unsettling. My first impression is that, yes, in a fairly significant way, these aids will change my life but, for now, it was quite a relief to unplug my ears, tuck the aids back into their nifty little box for the night and snuggle down with just me, my tinnitus and a little normality for company.