Friday, May 15, 2015

Clear As a Bell

Recently, we went for our bi-yearly eye exam. As a result, I bought hearing aids.
Really, there is a connection.

I wear glasses, but the time between needing glasses and actually wearing them is somewhat protracted. I first noticed the need for glasses around the time they ended commercial whaling, when my 20/20 vision began showing signs of fraying around the edges like the cuffs of a well-worn shirt. Naturally, I panicked, and ran to the opticians to get glasses. I wore them for about 20 minutes before deciding the inconvenience wasn’t worth they pay-off; I could deal with frayed cuffs.



Fast forward, oh, twenty-five years or so.

The deterioration of my distance vision is now in danger of shaking hands with my middle-age myopia. I am still going to opticians and still getting updated pairs of glasses and still leaving them in the cases. Over the years I have built up an impressive, if expensive, collection.

Then, during one of my routine optician appointments, I let slip that I didn’t actually wear my glasses. The optician was shocked. She marched me outside and had me look down the street. Then she handed me my glasses and made me put them on.

“See what you’re missing,” she said.

I have worn them ever since.

Fast-forward another half dozen years (crikey, where do they all go?). 

I am at the optician again, waiting for my appointment when my eyes stray to a brochure about their range of hearing aids.



Unlike my eyesight my hearing has been dodgy since I was a youngster. It started out fine, but I did my level best to bugger it up, and I succeeded admirably considering I lacked the advantage of today’s youth with their ability to mainline 100,000 decibel thrash music directly into their eardrums (NOTE TO SELF: Invest in Hearing Aids Inc.). 

Accordingly, I have had a hearing aid for some time; I just never wear it.

Like my incrementally failing vision, I found I could compensate for the hearing loss, and as it became more pronounced, I compensated more. Occasionally I would try the hearing aid, but after a day or so I unfailingly decided I liked compensating better.

In the optician’s waiting room, however, it occurred to me that, perhaps, I had hit a tipping point—there were several indicators: 
     A) I had increased the volume on the telly until I was in danger of being hit with a noise-abatement order and now rely on the subtitles, and not simply to translate Geordie accents, 
     2) my wife was noticing my voice getting louder and louder and claimed that, in public places, I was all but shouting at her, and 
     Lastly) I myself was becoming wary of leaving the house on my own because I relied on my wife to handle any transactions that required talking to people.

And so, I proposed to give my hearing aid another try and, on a whim, asked for a hearing appointment during my eye appointment so I could assess what sort of progress had been made in the Audio Augmentation Arena over the past decade. I didn’t do this with the intent of purchasing, but that is, naturally, what happened.



My current hearing aid is courtesy of the NHS; the new one is through a private company. If I had gone through the NHS, I would have received an appointment to assess if I needed a hearing appointment, and then, after my hearing appointment, I would have been sent for hearing testing and then, if it was deemed I would, indeed, benefit from enhanced audio stimulation, I would have begun the process of fittings and fiddling and fine tuning—all in all, about an eighteen-month process. 

As this was not the NHS, the time between initial appointment and final fitting was two weeks.

To be fair, it needs to be noted that the NHS process cost me nothing, whereas the amount of money I paid for expediency was just short of heart-stopping.

It was, however, worth it. The audiologist did just what the optician did years ago: after being fitted, we went outside so I could hear what I had been missing; it was astonishing.

When I thought of how long I had been dropping out of group conversations, or sitting, confused, in the movies, or feeling embarrassed at handing over the wrong amounts of cash at the check-out—all because I couldn’t hear clearlyI  didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Don’t worry, paying the bill helped me decide.


The holy grail of hearing aids is to make them invisible, so they keep making them smaller.
I think that's the wrong way to go about it. What they need to do is camouflage them,
make them look like headphones or iPod ear-buds.

Or better yet...