PAINTER: Confessions of a hard-of-hearing man

Oct 17, 2012


Some of you probably already know this because I wore a hearing aid throughout my 26 years at the Grand Haven Tribune.

I’m not sure when my hearing began to diminish, but I do remember my mother taking me to an ear doctor in McKeesport, Pa., when I was 8 years old. The doctor told my mother that I must have been good at reading lips because of my hearing loss.

I didn’t think too much of it. After all, I thought I could hear my teachers, family and friends just fine.

But my hearing began to decline over time. Perhaps working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and working at a Ford Motor Co. stamping plant accelerated my hearing loss.

It became more troublesome in college. I developed an infection in my right ear during my freshman year, causing me to lose my equilibrium. I literally walked into trees on my way to classes because of my disorientation. My fellow students must have thought I was drunk as I staggered on the sidewalks.

I got some medication to clear up the infection and to help me with my dizziness, and managed to finish my first year. But I had to drop out during my sophomore year to work so that I could pay for surgery. Unfortunately, while the doctor said the surgery was successful, I could no longer hear in my right ear.

I also had a moderate hearing loss in my left ear — enough of a loss to require a hearing aid at the age of 30.

And, like many Americans, I was self-conscious about wearing a hearing aid. Aren’t hearing aids just for older people? But I knew if I was going to continue my newspaper career, I had to wear a hearing aid.

The technology in the late 1970s wasn’t anywhere near where it is at today. While I could hear better, there were obstacles to deal with.

For example, if I was in a crowded room, the background noise would drown out the voices of people talking to me. Another problem was that I couldn’t tell where sounds were coming from. If someone on my right was calling my name, I would turn to my left because my hearing aid was in my left ear.

Fortunately, I was able to adapt as a journalist. I had to keep focused when I attended meetings. I always sat in the front row. I also listened carefully when interviewing people — sometimes even asking them to repeat themselves. The most frustrating times were when either the hearing aid battery died or the hearing aid quit working.

Those of us who are hard-of-hearing have to deal with overcoming a lack of self-esteem or being socially isolated. I felt uncomfortable going to bars or to parties because I couldn’t hear very well. It was frustrating to hear someone talk and not be able to understand what they were saying in a crowded room. I always found a way to make excuses to stay away from those types of environments.

When you are hard-of-hearing, it helps to have understanding family members and friends. Mine have been.

My wife, Marilyn, has been very good in dealing with my problem through the years. I have this habit of nodding my head and saying “yes” even though I’m not sure what she said. She knows that I didn’t hear her and repeats what she said. While I tend to get annoyed, I know she’s just trying to help me.

We hard-of-hearing people also don’t realize how loud we can be. While talking loudly or banging things around may not be bothersome to me, it sure can be annoying to others.

There is no question that technological advances have made wearing hearing aids more acceptable. Many of the new digital hearing aids minimize background noise and make it easier to hear while using a telephone. Some even enable you to hear television programs better.

But hearing aids aren’t cheap. Good ones can cost from $1,000, $2,000 and up. Most insurance companies don’t provide coverage to purchase hearing aids.

I’m sure there are many people who are reluctant to purchase a hearing aid because of the cost, but there are programs available to help.

I know from experience that it is difficult to admit that you have a hearing problem. But if you are having difficult hearing, I urge you to make an appointment to see an audiologist. They can make your life much more enjoyable.



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