There's nothing funny about hearing loss, is there?

I once listened to the television at decibels my neighbors could hear. I strained to hear women's voices, thinking that they were part of a cabal against me; all those bad girls not wanting me to be a part of their conversation. I became the butt of a running joke at family gatherings when I rejoined with something that they had already been said. I was laughing at jokes without recognizing the punch lines and reading faces to find out whether or when I should laugh. Often I laughed in inappropriate places and got odd looks, as in "What in the heck do you think is so funny?"

It went on this way for years -- my wife turning down the television; separating myself from family conversations; hiding my inability to hear conversations when I was at work; struggling to fill in the blanks and giving the appearance of providing reasonable input to whomever I was dealing with at the time, or missing pieces of dialogue in movies, plays or in pieces of music.

Each time my wife told me that I could not hear, I would jokingly say, "What did you say?" She didn't laugh.

Without telling me beforehand because she knew I would put up the fight of my life, she made an appointment with an audiologist. I told her I didn't need to go; I was fine. I whined like a teenager who is forced to visit an aging relative. I kept saying that I had selective hearing. She never laughed at that one, either. She would not relent, and, eventually, I simply thought it best to go along with her to get her off my back. I would prove that I didn't need hearing assistance.

I laughed my way through the audiologist's presentation. My problem was that I couldn't hear half the things she was saying. I concluded that she was part of the bad girl conspiracy.

Finally, I agreed to go into an evaluation booth that looked like the one used in the TV game show, "The $64,000 Question." She outfitted me with headphones and put me through a rigorous array of sounds and words that I needed to repeat or respond to by raising my index finger. I couldn't hear most or part of the words. I remember working hard, breaking into a sweat trying to repeat those darn words, desperate to prove that I could hear just like I did when I was teenager.

She asked me to raise my finger when I heard a sound. Sometimes I did, others times I didn't. I suspected that she was tricking me, which made me want to raise my middle finger to express my displeasure.

After she evaluated the results, I remained snide, rude, and recalcitrant as she reviewed the test results with my wife and me. I found out, happily, that I was not profoundly deaf, but that I did have hearing loss in both ears that could benefit from hearing aids.

She helped me understand why I was experiencing those losses as they related to women, conversations in large groups, television shows, and all those jokes I missed. She offered some alternatives, and I shook my head petulantly at each. I was not going to wear something that made me acknowledge a diminution of my vitality.

The audiologist then suggested a pair of hearing aids that could be inserted into the ear canal, and they were not visible. They had a lovely name -- Lyric. But, she cautioned, they were not suited to everyone's ear canal.

She poked and prodded and finally announced that I was indeed a candidate. She put a pair in, made some computer adjustments and something happened. I could hear the stereo system playing in the office. Before, it was a muffled sound that drifted into my consciousness. Now, I could hear it clearly, full and vibrant -- almost annoying. I could hear my wife and the audiologist speaking to each other. They were no longer bad girls conspiring against me. I was part of their conversation. I had 90 days to try the hearing aids. Could it hurt?

It was raining outside when we left the office. When we got into the car, I asked my wife, "What is that noise?" She answered, "The rain." I hadn't heard it like this for a long time. I enjoyed the sound all the way home. More importantly, I didn't feel old wearing the two Lyrics -- I felt included.

--Sy Roth, Mount Sinai


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