I am sorry.
I had no idea. OK, I had some idea; I just didn't want to admit it.
I need to apologize to all the people to whom I said the following:
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”
“Could you say that again?”
“What did he say?”
“What did she say?”
The list goes on, but you get the drift. I have a hearing loss. Not anything drastic, but significant enough to be problematic and annoying. Problematic for me and annoying for my wife and co-workers.
When I was in my late 40s, I used to say that I wouldn't get a hearing aid until I was 50. And to be honest, I was just kidding. I never thought I'd need a hearing aid at age 50, let alone 53.
But my time has come. I came to my epiphany all by myself. To my wonderful wife’s credit, she lived with the TV volume at 40 for way longer than she needed to, and without complaint.
When I arrived for my appointment with the audiologist, she looked at my paperwork and said, “Why are you here? You don’t fit any of the normal risk factors for hearing loss for a person your age.”
The average person my age doesn’t need hearing aids. According to HealthyHearing.com, “The average age of first-time hearing aid wearers is 70 years of age.”
My job wasn't something that regularly exposed my hearing to damaging levels of sound, such as working with heavy machinery all day. I didn't take any medicines that could affect my hearing, and I have never had an illness that could have damaged my hearing.
But the form I had to fill out was missing two key questions:
• Have you been careless with your hearing?
• Did you listen to your mother when she warned you that the music you were listening to was too loud?
Yes, on the first. No, on the second.
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I was ahead of the curve in one respect, “A large number of people wait 15 years from the time they know they have hearing loss until they purchase their first hearing aids,” according to the Better Hearing Institute.
I am a child of the Sony Walkman generation. From about 1980 to 2019, I have been addicted to listening to my favorite music — and now podcasts — through headphones connected to everything from the Walkman to the iPhone. And that music was probably set to decibel levels that were damaging my hearing, slowly but surely.
When I told an old friend about my new hearing aids, he joked, "I blame The Who." Let's be honest: "Won't Get Fooled Again" sounds much better to a teenager when the volume is cranked to 11 instead of 6.
Also, as a photojournalist, I didn't always use the ear protection offered to me or the earplugs I carried in my camera bag. The risk of loud noise needed to be balanced against hearing what was coming at me from behind or the side. Walking around with cameras while trying to find the best angle requires you to have your head on a swivel and your ears tuned to pick up any potential physical dangers. So that probably contributed to my hearing loss.
As the photo editor, I attended meetings, but my job often kept me outside of the newsroom. Other than occasionally asking my subjects to repeat their names so I could spell them correctly, the hearing loss wasn't a huge problem. I didn’t notice it as something that needed to be fixed.
But when I was promoted to associate editor earlier this year, a mostly indoor office job involving lots of meetings, I started to realize that there were times when I just couldn't make out what someone was saying. It felt like I was back in sixth grade, when I kept moving closer to the blackboard because I needed glasses.
The hearing test revealed a loss of hearing in a certain portion of the spectrum related to human speech. This is why some people in meetings came in loud and clear, while others sounded like the teacher in the Charlie Brown TV specials.
It was time to get hearing aids.
But I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. “Approximately 48 million Americans (20%) report some degree of hearing loss,” according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Hearing aids in 2019 are amazing. I can adjust mine with an app on my iPhone. I can change the aids' microphone pattern so I can pinpoint the direction in which I want to listen. I can add bass and/or treble. I can stream music (softly) into my aids from my phone and take phone calls. These are not your grandfather’s hearing aids.
One of my biggest revelations was when I spoke with my wife for the first time with the hearing aids in my ears. She said, “I am going to have to get used to you whispering.” Ugggh. I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but science has conclusively proved that at times, I was talking too loudly. That stings.
"Ever since we met (in 1984), you have had a voice that carried, but in the last few years, you have been talking louder," said my wife. I would like to apologize to all the people who said, "Shhhhhhush” to me, and in return, I gave them "the look."
I can hear more now than ever. I had no idea how vast and complex the wall of nature sounds that surrounds our house at night was. There is one cricket in our front yard that comes in so loud and clear you would think it was sitting on my shoulder.
Now I can listen to the TV at a comfortable level for my wife, who, by the way, has perfect hearing. Of course, the statistics are stacked in her favor. “Adult men (age 20-69) are twice as likely to have hearing loss than women of the same age,” according to HealthyHearing.com.
I can hear my co-workers, some louder than others, but that was expected. Being able to hear more clearly is a wonderful thing.
Bottom line: Your hearing is precious, so protect it. If you think you have a hearing loss, go get tested.
The one thing hearing aids can’t solve is the mumbler problem — like the kid on the microphone in a restaurant who announces when your order is ready by mumbling, “Orderfortodd, orderfortodd.” Unfortunately, there is no setting on the app for that — at least not yet.