One of the things people don’t understand about hearing loss is noise. They think people who can’t hear live in a quiet world. There’s a logic to that and indeed, before the invention of hearing aids, they’d have been right. Without the things that sit on our ears the world IS a very quiet place.
But with hearing aids……WOAH……
Adjusted to ramp up the sounds of speech a hearing aid will, unfortunately, ramp up everything else within the frequency ranges concerned.
The other day my friend Fiona was telling me about a recent evening when some friends had come for supper. One of the visitors had an especially quiet, difficult-to-understand voice and Fiona was straining to hear. We’ve all been there. You’re concentrating like mad, probably leaning slightly forward to get as near as you can without invading someone’s personal space, eyes fixed on their lips………when Fiona’s husband started opening a bag of frozen peas just behind her back.
“Oh no……” I shouted. “Oh no”. Fiona started miming the actions of her husband having a life and death struggle with a packet of frozen vegetables (why do they make them so hard to open………) Soon we were collapsed in helpless laughter, interspersed with (on my part) attempts to be a duly commiserative and supportive friend. It was a tale both hugely funny and illustrative of speech comprehension nightmares. And poor old husband. He’s just making the supper, not realising what a deafening cacophony he is unleashing right behind his wife’s head.
Nigel and I used to have similar problems with the washing up, which he always does. (I cook. Nigel washes up and does the laundry. Brilliant deal in my opinion). He’s particularly adept at constructing large piles of pots, pans and implements in the drainer. Inevitably, the said piles sometimes slip. Now (post implant) it makes a clatter and I look up, somewhat startled, but I can keep calm and resume whatever I’m doing. “It’s just my love”, I think to myself, “washing the dishes. All is well.”
With hearing aids it was excruciating. People don’t realise the sheer physical pain of loud noises through hearing aids. The shock of this sudden terrible noise, and the pain of it, would often have me shouting at poor innocent hubby. “AAARGH” I’d yell. “AAARGH”. Often I’d rip my hearing aids out, which is not great for communication, and occasionally flounce out of the room (also not great for marital harmony). And all because the pans slipped.
How hard it must be for people to understand. The problem is that Chris can hear the frozen pea packet crackling and Nigel can hear the dishes slipping but they aren’t hearing the ear-splitting, piercing, PAINFUL sounds that someone with hearing aids is hearing. It must be baffling that a noise that seems to them so everyday is causing someone else such anguish. What THEY hear is not what WE hear.
Sometimes problems are caused because people are just trying to be helpful.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a talk put on by a local history society. Their Chairman was talking about the local cinema (demolished in the sixties) and the room was packed to the gills with elderly people looking forward to reminiscing about their youth at the Saturday matinees. By the time I arrived the only seats not taken were right at the front, so I plonked myself down in the front row to listen. The Chairman announced that they were trialling the use of a new microphone system that night (the room doesn’t have a hearing loop). It BOOMED, if you know what I mean. It was quite loud and also somewhat distorted, perhaps because the sound was bouncing off the walls of the small-ish room. Then he announced that the microphone meant he was going to give his talk from the very back of the room. Off he went, until he was standing some ten or so rows of people behind me.
He started his talk. Bear in mind I am now very confident about my lecture-listening abilities. The implant has made a huge difference and I can now dispense with hearing loops in almost all venues and listen to talks in quite a relaxed way, sometimes looking at the speaker and sometimes at the screen. No problem.
But not with a BOOMING, distorting, microphone used by a speaker completely behind my back. He began and it was hopeless. I sat there, deciphering a little but not much, thinking through what my options were. I could leave, but I wanted to hear the talk. I could just sit there and look at the PowerPoint photos, but that would have been a bit sad without words to accompany them. I could stop the proceedings and ask the chap to come back to the front, which I balked at. Or…….
I decided just to turn round and look at him, swivelling occasionally to look at the picture on the screen. At first he looked at me quizzically, presumably assuming I was about to ask a question, but then he just carried on. Heaven knows what the rest of the audience thought, but I’m not easily embarrassed when my hearing is concerned. At the end of the talk one of the committee members came up to me and said “Sorry, Vera, that didn’t work did it?”
A couple of days later I bumped into a dog walking acquaintance who had also been at the talk. He has hearing aids and we stopped to discuss what had happened. “The problem is”, he said, “they think it’s about volume and it isn’t – it’s about clarity” and that seemed to sum it up.
Image Copyright: Martha Gallegos / 123RF Stock Photo