Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Saying I’m slightly hard of hearing is like saying Rachael Ray cooks a little. I’m definitely deaf-ish.
Thirteen years ago my right ear shut down without warning--in the middle of a death-penalty trial. With one of the suspects on the stand.
I was taking notes in the front row, far left. When the sudden, muffled stillness settled in, I was stupefied. I craned my neck and cocked my head in an effort to understand what the bad guy was saying. He could’ve hollered, “I did it! Give me the chair!” for all I knew.
A deaf crime reporter is not a good thing; the very next day, I made an appointment at the audiologist. Tests showed what I already knew: the world was a lot quieter on the right side.
“Why?” I asked.
“Have you ever played in a rock band, worked a flight line or operated a jackhammer in a quarry?” the examiner asked, completely serious.
“Oh, yes. All of those,” I replied. “I also had scarlet fever, mumps and rabies.” Her eyes flew wide.
“Just kidding,” I chuckled. (I’m never as funny as I think I am.)
The good doctor looked at her computer print-out, then back at me. “Any family history of deafness?” she said.
“Are you kidding? My grandfather could hear the word ‘whisky’ whispered two floors up in a locked room.”
She cleared her throat. “Here’s the thing,” she said. “We don’t know why some people lose their hearing. It’s called idiopathic—no known cause.”
And there it was. Some people just go deaf.
With a diagnosis of 35 percent loss in the right ear, I paid $1,800 for a hearing aid the exact shape and size of a cashew. I popped it in, coughed once and never gave it another thought, except when it broke and had to be mailed to Minnesota for repairs (it’s a funny world when your hearing aid travels more than you do), or when the battery piped a perky little tune before going dead. (Nowadays they just beep, which is irritating.) I became adept at changing batteries one-handed in the dark, while driving or under the table in nice restaurants.
There was an interesting incident when a friend’s Beagle, Roxy, ate my hearing aid off the nightstand. He filed a homeowner’s insurance claim, which paid the grand sum of $600. (I hope it amplified Roxy’s growling guts until she went mad.)
Life was good for about seven years… until the world went quiet on the left. “Are you kidding me?” I asked the new audiologist who’d bought the practice of the old one. “Seriously? At 45 I’m my own grandma?” At least she seemed to think I was funny.
There was no reason for this latest hearing loss, either. It does seem unfair that my older brother spent 25 years at rock concerts and still has ears so keen he won’t use an electric toothbrush “because it’s too loud.” Not to mention my 84-year-old mother, who wakes up when a leaf lands on the ground outside her nursing home.
So now I wear two “audio enhancement devices,” but my hearing still isn’t 100 percent. Last night, Babygirl was chasing a fox in her slumber. Widdle nudged me and said, “Did she just bark?”
“I would NEVER do that in front of you,” I huffed, and punched him in the shoulder.
Hey, nobody’s perfect.
Julie R. Smith, who can hear the word “chardonnay” whispered a block away in a raging thunderstorm, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.