The deaf factor – coping wth hearing loss

Woman with finger in ears

What do you do when you find out you’re deaf? You go for a large cup of tea and sticky bun of course. And that’s what I did today. When it was confirmed that I’m deaf. Or half deaf at least.

The news didn’t come as a total shock. Months of ‘Can you turn it up please,’ followed by, ‘Can you higher it up again,’ to be concluded with, ‘Just give me the remote!’ have been pointing to the fact that my ear canals probably weren’t doing the job they are supposed to be doing.

The first signs that there was something amiss appeared around the beginning of this year when I noticed a funny intermittent noise at night before I went to sleep. It came and went like a friendly whoosing visitor every few days until I realised one night that Mr Whooshie hadn’t left. He was still there. In fact, he wasn’t just a night visitor anymore; sometimes he appeared during the day.

Finally I visited the GP. Sheepishly I explained I probably needed drops or something, which she duly doled out. A week later, nada difference. There is nothing I can do for you she said, expect refer you to a ENT. That’s Ear Nose and Throat Doctor to you non-hypochondriacs.

Mr ENT was lovely. Much younger than I expected. Did this mean I was getting old? He looked about 4 years older than me. What have I been doing with my life!?

He diagnosed pulsatile tinnitus. Always good when you get a complicated name. This means you are not making the problem up because there is a latin-sounding word for it. He advised some scans and offered the bad news that if nothing showed on the scans, I would have to learn to live with the noise. Part of me wanted to say out loud – that’s ridiculous! Fix it you medical Benjamin Button! But the main part of me was quite accepting of this fact. Sure hadn’t I been living with it for ages now?

So after being booked for a scan I arrived at Beaumont Hospital to find a building bulging at the seams with sick people looking for seat space. I did not feel like I belonged there. Especially when I saw the small deaf boy who had been fitted with a cochlear implant.

A lady took me into a soundproofed room and carried out a hearing test. On my right ear I heard a series of beeps, low and high pitched. On my leaf ear I heard the first beeps and then they eerily disappeared. Knowing that the beeps were there but I couldn’t hear them was scary. For the first time in this whole process I felt genuinely worried.

I was hoostered back to the ENT who was so busy he almost forgot about me. I sat outside his room and a nurse told me to try to catch his attention in the hope of being seen again. On one dash back in the door he called me and asked me to take a seat while he left to find a pen. When he arrived back with my chart and opened it I saw a V like dip on the blue criss cross lines.

‘Hearing loss. Great!’ he cried. ‘Now we have a cause. Ear trauma.’ I tried to think of the traumatic things I had heard over the years. The truth about Santa Claus. The truth about sex and the cold fact that Mam and Dad had done that. The news that you were again single. While all traumatic, none had caused me to go deaf, as far as I could remember. So what was he talking about?

I wasn’t really to know. Before he left and ran off, he muttered something about a scan. But I thought I was here for a scan today I said. Oh no, he laughed, I’ll have to book that in.

And he did. For one year from then. When I got the letter confirming my appointment for 12 months time I was shocked that it would take a year to have a simple scan to find out if there were tumours in my ears causing all these issues. While I doubt there is any such cause, it would be nice to find out in any time sooner than that.

And so myself and my deafness continued on. In bed I would tell himself to finish anything he had to say to me before I turned over to the ‘deaf side’. The TV duly remains at 80 out of 100. And in pubs I watch people’s lips to help follow conversation as more often than not, I can’t identify what they are saying.

Recently I came across a company who sell hearing aids at a promotional show I was doing. I was attracted by their signage on tinnitus. They said they could treat it. I shyly approached and got speaking to a lovely gentleman who informed me that deafness is not an older person’s problem and they treat patients from 20 to 95. I booked an appointment to see them and today was the day.

I was a little put off by the lady audiologist’s refusal to get me a drink of water at the start of the appointment. Oh, it won’t take long, can you last, she asked? I thought it would take an hour, I replied. Yes it probably will, she said, ushering me to sit down. I was parched. And now I was worried that this was nothing more than a sales pitch.

The tests were carried out using a laptop and headphones. More beeps. And background noise. And low and high pitched squeaks. It was noticeable that lefty ear was not playing ball. At the end of the test she turned the computer round and there staring back was the exact same V that had presented itself in the ENTs office a few months ago. You’ve lost 65% of the high end tones of your hearing, she said. You need a hearing aid.

Before the appointment they had insisted I should bring a partner for moral support. Don’t be silly I scoffed, why I waste anyone’s time doing that? And now with this news I felt all teary and upset. And not impressed at all that I was suffering permanent hearing loss.

The hearing aids were produced. She had a small box with lots of bits and bobs. Tiny plastic tear drop shapes with miniature mouse tails were probed through among tweezers and round batteries like silver ecstasy tablets. The mini mice were the hearing aids.

She fitted one to my ear and after some echoes and crazy amplification she brought me out into the hall where there was a carpet to muffle the sounds. It all sounded…. normal.

Now I want one. I want one to allow me to hear everything I should hear at 30 years of age. I want one to stop any further hearing loss, which they are supposed to help with. And I want one, as it may help with Mr Whooshie who has lately become Mr Ringing Very Loudly All The Time.

After the news I went to a lovely coffee shop in town for a cup of tea and sticky bun and to call my fiancé to divulge the news that not only do I wear glasses, have grey hair and a dodgy back, I now need a hearing aid. What a catch!

I have to think about the New Year to see if it’s worth going for the hearing aid. It’s not like it’s really affecting my life. I can still hear. I can still do my job normally. And I really don’t want to feel that I’ve been flogged a very expensive medical device. Importantly I need to get the scan completed to rule out any nastiness well and for good.

I can’t help but wonder what else is to go wrong health wise. Surely these should be the best, creak-free years of your life?! Of course, when something does go wrong, it encourages you to appreciate every part of you that is in full working order. And haven’t I plenty of those. My elbows are great!

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