For obvious reasons, I can’t lip read if I’m driving. I can lip read moderately well from the front passenger seat, if I peer at the side of the driver’s face. But this only works if the road noise isn’t too loud (so it doesn’t mask my remaining hearing) and I can bear to take my eyes off the road (I’m a terrible back seat driver, especially from the front passenger seat). So it’s a bit of a problem.
It was hard even when my hearing is a lot better than it is now. Before I retired one colleague once told me that her mother had made her promise not to travel with me again, after hearing that I was turning my head to look at her when I was driving. I don’t blame her (and I promise I don’t do it now). Another time I was giving a different colleague a lift back to the office, through a part of Bradford I didn’t know very well. Majid (a lovely, quietly spoken young man) offered to direct me and we set off. All went well for a while until there was something I couldn’t decipher. “Hang on, Majid” I said. “I didn’t catch that – wait until we get to the lights and I can stop”. Luckily the lights were on red and I turned to look at him. “Sorry, what did you say?” “You’ve gone the wrong way” he said. We both saw the funny side, as did the rest of the office when we eventually got back there.
These days, if I am giving someone a lift, I tell them very firmly that I can’t talk when I’m driving – but it doesn’t make for very convivial journeys. It also means that, if my husband and I are going somewhere together, he always ends up doing all the driving, which doesn’t seem fair.
Some months ago, in an attempt to find a solution to this, I borrowed a special microphone that was loaned to me by a friend with hearing loss. It is another of the many gadgets aimed at helping deaf people and works by feeding sound directly from a hand held microphone into your hearing aids’ loop setting. My friend had used it successfully when her children were small, so that they could talk to their mum, using the microphone, from the back seat. But it didn’t work for me.
The initial problem was that the only loop setting installed on my hearing aids was the type where sound other than the direct feed (via the loop) is cut out. That is exactly what you need for listening to a speaker in a public meeting, but it wasn’t suitable for driving. I need to hear the other road noise, or how will I know that an ambulance is fast approaching with its sirens going? So, off to the audiology department to have an additional loop setting activated, which doesn’t cut out general sound. So far so good, thanks to the very helpful staff at my local hospital. However, I then found I was getting terrible interference from the car. I could have lived with the strange sound whenever I pressed the brake pedal, but the incredibly loud whine when I turned on the car headlights was a killer. Why it didn’t affect my friend’s hearing aids but did mine remains a mystery.
But there is other technology out there so I decided to try something else. People had recommended a Roger pen (strange name….I know). It is described as an all-inclusive wireless microphone, offering better speech understanding in noise and over distance. Sounded good. The drawback is the price, which at £550 made me take a sharp intake of breath and shelve the idea. Given how poor my hearing is now, I also doubted I would get much benefit. But as my husband pointed out, it was available on a 28 day sale or return basis from Action on Hearing Loss, so surely I should at least give it a try? Given that he suffers at least as much from my deafness as I do I eventually decided he was right. The credit card came out and a large box duly arrived. There was a bit of a hiccup because not all the necessary parts for the charger had been included but a week later we were all set for the test run.
What I had bought was the “pen”, a microphone designed to look like a pen, which can be pointed at someone like a hand held microphone, placed on a table to pick up sound from people seated round it, or hung on a lanyard round someone’s neck (the person you want to hear). Then there is a receiver. I bought the simplest variety, the MyLink. It hangs round my neck, like a pendant, and feeds sound from the microphone directly into my hearing aids, via the loop setting.
We switched on, Nigel took the pen into the living room and I stayed in the kitchen shouting out “OK, say something”. “I’m in the living room with Izzy”, he said, and I heard it. Not perfectly (the brain had to do a bit of work) but he said words and I correctly deciphered them. This is nothing short of miraculous, for someone who is normally almost completely reliant on lip reading. “I’m looking at the log basket”, he said. I got it. I couldn’t decipher the next one – it was “oh ye of little faith” – but he had a point.
So we tried it in the car, with Nigel driving, on a long journey from Yorkshire to Suffolk. I said at the start of this post that I can lip read a car driver moderately well from the front passenger seat, and that’s true. However, in real life the effort to communicate on a long journey becomes too much after a while, for both of us. It’s just too tiring.
But with the Roger pen helping my hearing AND lip reading at the same time we did just fine. We could talk (and understand each other). There was very mild interference from the car (I heard a quiet electronic noise when he had his foot on the brake pedal) but nothing that wasn’t easy to ignore. After much fiddling about with the loop settings on my hearing aids (eventually I left it on the one that cuts out background noise) and the volume settings on the receiver I arrived at a point where I could feel myself relaxing. Instead of restricting conversation to shouted essentials I could, well, talk to my husband. Not as easily as if we were sat opposite each other in the house but without too much difficulty. To someone with good hearing this probably sounds deeply unexciting but for me, believe me, it is revolutionary.
So it was thumbs up for the Roger pen after the first test. Other test results (“in the restaurant”, “me driving”) will have to wait for another post. Meanwhile, do you have any Roger pen experiences?? I’d love to hear about them.
Image copyright: ksym / 123RF Stock Photo