Meandering Through A Hearing World

What To Do About The Hearing Loss

This week, I received an e-mail from a very good friend. It’s always good to hear from her. We met thirty years ago on the first day of my M.B.A. program. We began talking and realized we were two of eleven women in our class of fifty. We decided to partner with the other female students, figuring it was the only way to get through the arduous two-year program. In time we became close friends. Since graduation, we’ve helped each other through moves, divorces, death of our parents and her husband, empty nests, and menopause. No one could want for a better friend.

In our back and forth e-mails about setting a date to get together, my friend asked if I had given further thought to a cochlear implant. I explained I had decided against it. Explain more when we’re together, I wrote, leaving her with a to-be-continued mystery.

In reality, deciding between sticking with my hearing aids or ditching them for a cochlear implant was a dilemma and not a mystery. Yet though the decision has been made, I still wonder if keeping my hearing aids was right for me. I have a profound hearing loss. Through the years, I’ve kept up with technological advances, always purchasing the best hearing aids for my type of loss. I hear pretty well with my aids but know I miss words and sometimes whole sentences. At times, hearing comes down to piecing together then sorting through sounds until a context emerges. Certainly, if someone is talking about food I perk up the ears because I easily mistake the sentence, I ate pork chops, for I hate pork chops. Not to mention the confusion that arises with the words three and tree or taught and bought. For those with normal hearing, these aren’t difficult words to distinguish, but when you couple poor hearing with speech coming at you like a gale-force wind, the words jumble into a plethora of undistinguishable and undefinable sentences, leaving one to wonder what was said.

I talked with several audiologists about cochlear implants and was told that the device could bring my hearing to the lower limits of normal. What about hearing in noise, I asked? Everyone has trouble hearing in noise, was the answer.

That response set me thinking. The surgery, the recovery, and rehab involved with a cochlear implant might not greatly improve my hearing in noise. It would not correct my hearing to normal levels but would greatly increase what I do hear in a not too noisy hearing environment. Hearing improvement depends on rehab and the willingness of the patient to work at hearing, one audiologist told me. Some patients do better than others.

But what really set me thinking was the finality of choosing a cochlear implant. There is no turning back. You cannot change your mind and switch back to wearing hearing aids. Cochlear implant surgery is permanent and a life-changer.

In the end, I decided to stick to my technologically-advanced hearing aids. They are far from perfect. I still have many frustrating social moments. It is in those moments when ambivalence reigns. I know I can make a phone call and get on a surgical schedule in a month or so. Yet what stops me is hope. I believe hearing technology will advance, and that one day, we may have a non-surgical hearing solution that will restore hearing to near normal levels. May I live to see and experience that hearing miracle.

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Linda Bilodeau

I’ve grappled with hearing loss since 1978. Through it all, I’ve faced periods of denial, acceptance, curiosity, trust and hope. But more often than not, I’ve felt annoyed, angry and frightened. I’ve encountered despair, loneliness and envy. I’ve experienced panic attacks. I’ve met understanding people, kind souls who helped me a great deal and others who thought I had nothing short of an invisible plague. As a way of coming to terms with my hearing loss, I’ve decided to put my feelings about my disability down on paper. My hope is to better understand myself and perhaps you’ll find a little something in my meanderings that will help you, too.

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