Hearing aids
Tuesday February 06th 2007, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

I started to answer Anonymous’s question in the comments, and it got so long I think I’ll just move it here. I do not remember who made my first pair of hearing aids: I got them just before my third child was born. I’d had two such soft-spoken little babies before, and then, my stars, that third one was LOUD! They do take awhile to get used to. Um, the aids, I mean.

My second pair was the latest and greatest at the time, 19 years ago, with adaptive compression to try to squeeze things down into my hearing range. Which meant that the higher the notes went in the music, the flatter they went, and everything was offkey, my brain fighting with the aids. I absolutely hated it. And there was nothing better out there to be had. I have perfect pitch, and was trained as a musician before my deafness advanced. You can imagine… I simply quit listening to music for years. Years. For such a wasted long time, till one day something simply snapped: I remember the moment vividly. I was playing Taxi Mom, sitting at the red light at Charleston and Alma with a carful of kids, and suddenly punched the radio on, to whatever station it might be set to, I had no idea, I’d never listened to it, I didn’t care. I needed music! Off key, on key, who cares, just deal with it, I’m a musician and I can’t live without music!

I think that happened because a dear friend had recently surprised me with the gift of some tapes of his compositions. How could I not put them in and enjoy them. I didn’t have them in the car, but I was in the car, and suddenly it all just came together–it was quite a dramatic moment for me. Rock on!!!

Later, Sonic Innovations, a new company, was developing their first hearing aids, and, having a friend on their Board of Directors (this being Silicon Valley), and knowing through him what they were working on, I kept bugging him to bug them to get them out on the market. I wanted some! They sampled from I think thirteen bands of sound whereas my old ones did from three. Rather against my audiologist’s advice, I had him order me a pair immediately after they became available, even though they were only making moderate-loss ones at the time. The sound was so crystal clear, so perfectly pitched, that they actually sounded louder than my old ones, even though they were actually 13 dB less.

But I really did need more oomph, even so, and when, after another four or five years, they came out with a severe-loss version, I got a pair. At 8000 Hz, my hearing loss is 110 and 120 dB. And they, for the first time, gave me hearing at that 8000 Hz. It was absolutely mindblowing. I could walk outside and hear all these birds I couldn’t see–where on earth were they? Man, you guys live in a noisy world! …I remember being woken up by the birds in the woods immediately behind the house, growing up… I was totally in love.

But that first miserable pair of in-the-ears aids from 22 years ago fed back all the time, and when we moved to California I asked my new audiologist, John Miles, (who was quoted in Newsweek recently, go, John!) if that could damage my hearing. He kind of went, huh, nobody’s ever asked me that before. He dropped everything and took my audiograms, new and old, over to Stanford University and asked around. They said, yes, there hasn’t been a lot of research in the past, but we’re doing some now, and yes, hearing aid feedback can cause further loss, and yes, your patient is a classic case. Fifteen more dB gone from that at this and this frequency.


So. I got the adaptive compression ones I used for so long. Fast forward to my new louder Sonic Innovations aids, which did not have the feedback suppression they should have; I’m assuming that was due to patent/licensing issues with older companies. I finally had to, with great regret, hand them back to my audiologist, because they were feeding back, they weren’t worth the risk, and my husband was beginning to tell me I was getting deafer again. I replaced them with a pair from Oticon. The Oticons are safer for me. They have lots of bells and whistles. I can actually, for the first time in my hearing-aided life, use things with earphones; they can plug into them. (Wow, movies on airplanes are suddenly an option!) They’re very nice. But they are not quite entirely musically perfect, and oh, do I miss my Sonic Innovations: and if they ever do come out with much better feedback suppression, the very first thing I would do with my very first royalty check from Martingale would be to blow the bucks on a new pair.

John Miles once mentioned to me that severe-loss hearing aids are only a very tiny, tiny part of the market. My pair of Oticons cost $5400. On the other hand, that price tag is what it costs to feel like a participating member of the human race when I’m around other people, and to say they were worth every penny doesn’t begin to describe it. I’m grateful to have them.

Now, when you all see me at Stitches, it’s really really noisy there; make sure I can see your face when you talk to me…

5 Comments so far
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That’s how I feel about my eyesight. I pay a terrible fee for corrective lenses (contact lenses for most of my waking hours and glasses to find my way around before the lenses are in). For me there is no option to do without them. So much of what I love in life depends on my eyesight.

Comment by Marlene 02.06.07 @ 8:18 pm

you make me feel that all the griping I do about my eyesight is just petty. I see double, and am unable to keep focused on an object (irony is my vision other than that is 20/20)

Comment by Teresa 02.06.07 @ 11:12 pm

Oh, Teresa, it’s okay, it’s not a competition. We each have the things we have to deal with. I’m sorry you see double, and I hope it’s fixable! And Marlene, I’m blind without my glasses, too.

You know, one of the great blessings of a high-frequency hearing loss is that while you may not pick up on all the words someone is saying, you hear the basic song of their voice behind the words: the intonations, the inflections, the emotional nuances. I look back now, and I think, extremely hard though it was to have it become a noticeable problem in my teens, that was a perfect age to begin really learning what it had to offer by way of life lessons. It teaches how to observe people and to see how they feel, regardless of their words.

And I still deeply love my music, which I never turned away from again. Love it. I knit by it, to the point that it’s hard to settle myself down to knit if there’s not a CD going in the stereo.

Comment by AlisonH 02.07.07 @ 12:42 am

Alison, did I ever tell you that my writing professor in college suffered profound loss over about twenty years, and before that, she was a concert violinist? The first time she’d realized anything was wrong was when she went to play (thankfully just for some friends) and couldn’t understand why they were grimacing throughout her piece. Her violin was completely out of tune, and she couldn’t hear the dissonance to tell her so.

In the four years I knew her, the only sound she ever heard was at the Imperial War Museum in London, in their “WWII bomb shelter” that was supposed to show you what it had been like to be in a bombing during the Blitz. When a thunderous boom echoed through our room, she kind of laughed and whispered to me, “I heard that,” in a combination of annoyance and admiration.

Two years after I graduated, Cochlear Implants got good enough that she got them. For the first time since the early 90s, she’s hearing sounds. I haven’t managed to get myself down to Marlboro to see her again, but I think of her often.

Comment by Kristine 02.07.07 @ 4:39 am

Wow! No, you never told me that, Kristine. You know, after that car accident I was in, I went to the California Ear Institute for a number of sessions to try to re-teach my brain to have a sense of balance. While I was there, I asked around about cochlear implants. They said that given how well I do and what I have, and the state of implants at the moment, not to get them yet. But if I were as deaf as your professor was, there wouldn’t have been a question.

One stray thought to add: when I was a kid, we went to church in a building that had been converted from a private school in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Mormon churches are generally fairly plain, but this one had chandeliers in the chapel. When I was bored, being a kid, I would look at those chandeliers and simply listen to their music. Way more interesting than the speaker: they danced as well as sang.

There is a chandelier also in a gathering-together room in the Mormon temple in Oakland. It is the only place I have had this experience: it is in a quiet room that speaks of great peace to me, and when I look up at those pieces of glass moving gently in the air currents, my brain fills in the sounds. If I am looking at them. If I am being still. If I am trying to hear God. I hear that chandelier.

Comment by AlisonH 02.07.07 @ 10:30 am

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