Piercing story 2

Day in the Life Spotlight: GRWM Hearing Aids Edition

My morning routine goes something like this: I wake up check my phone. Then, I get dressed and make my bed. But before I head to the bathroom, I walk over to the little gray box perched at the edge of my desk. This is my drying box and its where I put my hearing aids every night before bed. My hearing disability has been around since my preschool teachers discovered it after a class field trip to a hospital. What I remember happening next was various hearing tests conducted in a sound-proof box. The results were affirmative: I needed hearing aids. Ironically, I don’t remember much about the day I got my first hearing aids. I was around four, so what I remember the most was getting to go to McDonald’s afterwards. But after that, everything from my daily routines to how I interacted with others was different.

Obviously, when you rely on two pieces of machinery to hear for you, you need to work at maintaining them. I put my hearing aids in a drying box at night, which has a thing called a drying brick that I need to change out every two months. I need to change my batteries every week. Every month change out my hearing aid domes (the plasticky part that goes in the ear canal) and wax traps (they prevent ear wax from damaging the hearing aid). At the same time, I need to clean off ear wax with a tissue so that the hearing aid isn’t plugged up. 

black headphones on a yellow background Malte Wingen on Unsplash

Twice a year, I go to an audiologist (ear doctor) who checks my hearing aids and makes sure I have enough supplies. She also does two hearing tests on me in a sound-proof box in order to produce an audiogram that tracks my hearing. I call them the beep test and the words test. For both tests, I wear a giant set of noise-cancelling headphones, which allows the audiologist to test one ear at a time. During the beep test, I’m given a weird clicker thing. Every time I hear a beep over the headphones, I press the button on the clicker. The trick is that the beeps are played at different frequencies. Recently, I’ve caught myself holding my breath during the test because I get worried that it’ll cause me to miss hearing the beep. The words test is much simpler. The audiologist repeats a list of words to me over the headphones and I repeat them back. As the audiologist goes down the list, her voice gets softer, and I stop responding when I can’t hear the words anymore. That’s some of the technical stuff that happens in my life but after a while, I got used to it.

But there are so many other little things that took more than a few adjustments. Social interactions became weird. Well, weirder than normal. For instance, crowds are awful. This is the most frustrating part of having a hearing disability for me. I can’t even begin to count how many times I missed jokes in the cafeteria or key moments during class group work. In my own personal experience, it was embarrassing to ask people to repeat because it made me feel stupid. Sometimes, I don’t bother to ask someone to repeat and just nod or laugh along. In order to listen to music through my headphones, I need to take out my hearing aids. Then I keep reminding myself where I put them because they’re so small, they’re easy to miss. My speech was scrambled because I couldn’t hear myself pronounce the soft ‘s’ or ‘f’ sounds. I went to speech therapy in grade school and I still have to remind myself how to say soft sounds. It seriously amazes me how much good hearing gets you. 

Silver ear piercing in ear Kimia Zarifi, via Unsplash

I’ve only recently found an accurate way to describe hearing loss. Do you remember those old, animated Charlie Brown specials? Remember how the only sounds the adults made were, “wa-ah wa-ah wa-ah waaa?” Now imagine that the entire world sounds like that, just indecipherable mush. Trying to make sense of that mush takes a lot. Maybe you always need the subtitles on Netflix, or you need to ask someone to repeat something ten times, or your batteries go out in the middle of the day and you forgot to bring some from home. Personally, I just try to make it work as best I can. Some days are good. I remember to pack extra batteries, or I do well in my foreign language class. Other days, I get sullen and frustrated because my hearing isn’t clear. But now, when I tell people that I wear hearing aids, they say, “Oh really, I couldn’t tell.” And that gives me hope, because even if a hearing disability makes all these little things a chore, I’m managing. I’m doing okay.