by Tom Mitchell
It was last summer when I began to wonder. In my daughter’s hospital room, I could hear the thumping of her heart machine, and the voices around her bed, but everyone sounded so much farther away than I thought they should. It wasn’t that large of a room. And then in the hospital cafeteria I had difficulty understanding what my other daughter was saying.
And then at her funeral services, I was meeting people whose voices I should know, but who sounded different. And I could hardly hear the service itself.
Church services, board meetings, anywhere where there was a group, I couldn’t hear from one end of a table to another. People were mumbling. Why couldn’t people speak up? And my wife was constantly having to repeat herself, and it was getting frustrating to her. So in September, I had my hearing tested at a local clinic. I don’t know the exact numbers of the results, but I was told that that I needed hearing aids, particularly in my right ear.
All my life I have always been proud of my hearing. As a kid, I could hear kids playing across the street, several houses away, and I used to love to listen to the echoes between houses. I had perfect pitch, and could always tell what notes were being struck on a piano, played on any instrument, or in what key was a song played.
I should have begun to suspect something when my perfect pitch was no longer perfect. But I was told by a friend of mine that that happens when you get into your fifties or sixties. So I let it slide. At one time, when I was younger, I tried to get a job with KSL-FM, working with a friend of mine who was convinced I could do the job. He showed me all the things I would have to do. I wouldn’t be on the air, but in production. One of the things I had to do was set up the large hubs of tape comprising the next day’s music. And in that set-up, I had to be sure that the volume levels and the stereo separation were exact. To do this I had to listen to a 1,000-cycle tone (6-octave C), and turn the knob so that the stereo separation fit an exact spot on a reader. And by the way, I had to tune the tone. My friend was surprised by the fact that I could set the tone exactly right, and hit almost the exact spot on the stereo meter, so close that it made no difference. I didn’t get the job, but it was gratifying to know that I could have done it.
But now, no more. Not even close. So this diagnosis was, for me, devastating. I was frightened. I’m afraid I didn’t think of all the questions I should have asked at that first appointment.
But where do I find hearing aids? I had absolutely no idea even where to start. I was told the Costco sold them for $2,000, but that you had to pay it all at once. I couldn’t afford that kind of payment all at once.
Suffice it to say that I did find a place which once again evaluated my hearing, and fitted me with customized appliances, and a pay plan and lifetime maintenance plan, and a week later, I walked out of that office astounded at what I’ve been missing. For example, as Donni and I were walking to the corner and I heard the audible traffic signal, and we kept walking, I said: “Well, where’s the corner?” And Donni said, “We’re not even near it yet.”
I could clearly hear the building on my right, a person’s cell phone ringing nearly in my ear, and a clear difference in the direction of the traffic. And there were sounds in my apartment I’d never heard before, and I seem to be able to navigate my own home with greater accuracy.
A popular Christmas carol says: “Do you hear what I hear?” And I ask you the same question. Do you hear what I can hear — now?
We live in a noisy world. And that noise, as you grow older, takes a toll on the workings of the inner ear. And as people get older, hearing changes. Now, you may not be going deaf, but your hearing is changing. It’s inevitable. So, for your own sake, even for your own safety and for so many other reasons, I urge you to have your hearing tested. Maybe once every two years or so. It’s painless. In fact, it’s the only completely painless medical test I know. And then, if your hearing begins to change, perhaps you can slow down the loss of your hearing. If you’re totally blind, as I am, this is a sense you must not take for granted. Because once gone, it can never be replaced.
But if you do someday find you need hearing aids, understand that, with proper fitting, hearing aids can, to a large extent, replace the sounds you’ve been missing. And I guarantee, you’ll love listening again.