We humans have five basic physical senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. The organs associated with each of those senses send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world all around us. We also have other senses in addition to the primary five, but let’s concentrate only on those five.
What if you had to lose one of those senses, and you could make your choice, which would you choose? What if you could no longer feel things? Although it could be dangerous, how bad can it be as long as you can still see? Not being able to smell, yes that would be a loss, and maybe sometimes a blessing, but if you still had your sight and taste, it could be overcome.
Then what about taste? Of course, you would miss it, but as long as you can still see and smell you could still enjoy food and drink albeit not quite as much.
Then how about the loss of sight? I know there are numerous people who are blind and have learned to deal with it and thrive but is a hell of a tough battle to overcome, and I personally doubt if I could ever be that strong.
Then we have the loss of hearing, either entirely or like many older people, who like me are wearing hearing aids, a partial loss. If you suffered a total or almost total loss of hearing it would mean the end to enjoying music, watching TV or movies without subtitles, participating in conversations unless you learned to sign and those around you could do the same, but then, of course, you could learn to read lips.
Fortunately, for those people with total or almost total loss of hearing, if they can afford it, there is also the newer miracle of cochlear implants. An expensive, $30K-$50K procedure that the studies say has proven to be over 90% effective.
But what about those of us with a mild or moderate loss of hearing? For the majority of people hearing aids are the solution to hearing improvement, but unfortunately, for many people like myself, they are an improvement, but not a total answer.
Five years ago, my son thought it would be a great present on Father’s Day to take my grandsons and me out to an outdoor shooting range. One of the weapons he brought was a Winchester Model 70 30.06 similar to what I had used in Vietnam. I was wearing ear protectors but found they were uncomfortable against the built-up cheek rest on the stock, so I stupidly removed them. I had shot many hundreds of rounds in the Marines with that particular weapon using nothing but cotton in my ears for protection, and other than some loss of high frequencies, I had no other noticeable hearing damage.
However, that was almost 60 years ago, and our bodies change with age, like developing osteoporosis, where our bones become more brittle. Did you know there are tiny bones in our inner ear? I guess I had forgotten that, but I damn sure am aware of them now as that afternoon I managed to do severe irrecoverable damage to them in both ears.
I noticed when we were leaving the shooting range, I could barely hear my grandsons speaking, and all the sounds around me were attenuated and muddled. I assumed it was like all the times previously when I had been exposed to explosive blasts and that within a few days, I would recover my hearing.
Two days later, I was no better. A week later, I was still no better, and finally, two weeks later, I knew I had a problem, and I better see a specialist. So I made an appointment the following week to see a Doctor of Otology, called an ENT Specialist, and an audiologist. I hoped that maybe I would be lucky, and they would find it was something trivial like just wax buildup that had been jarred loose or compressed or something other simple like that. Anyhow, my fingers were crossed!
The audiologist first examined me and, unfortunately, determined there was no simple visual problem. The audiologist then performed a hearing test and confirmed that in both ears, I had a severe loss of higher frequencies and moderate loss of the lower ones and that I would definitely need hearing aids.
The ENT Specialist, after spending almost an hour examining me, told me the disturbing news that I might as well buy the most expensive hearing aids as even with those I would not be fully satisfied.
A week later and after spending $6400, I walked out of the clinic wearing my new top of the line rechargeable hearing aids. Over the next several months, I returned to the audiologist for various adjustments to the tuning of the selectable programs and for different earpieces. Have I been satisfied, as the doctor anticipated, no, not at all?
The first issue was with music. With my new hearing aids, all the music I listened to sounded flat and off-key. I could no longer even identify the voices of well-known artists. What was even worse was that up to the time on the shooting range, I had enjoyed playing the mountain dulcimer, which is sort of like a banjo except it sounds much prettier. With my hearing aids, no matter what program I used or adjustment I had made, my dulcimer sounded terrible, and I might as well be playing a cheap banjo.
After three years, I was finally able to fix the streaming music problem with one of three different models of off the shelf programmable earbuds I had bought and tried. Recently I also solved my dilemma with live music by trying cheap analog hearing aids, without all the frequency compression and fancy filtering. I only wish that either of them worked really well for voices. Well, actually that is not true as if the earbuds had higher volume for external sounds, even though they look kind of geeky, they would be almost perfect and cost $6000 less than my fancy over-priced hearing aids.
Where am I now with my hearing aids? In large groups or noisy environments like restaurants, I usually cannot understand the conversations and typically just have a glassy-eyed uncomprehending stare on my face. When we entertain, I insist that there be no more than two additional couples as if two or more conversations get started. I am at a loss to comprehend any of them. When at home, I do not watch anything on TV without subtitles, and in most movie theaters, I probably miss at least half of the conversations.
And what about in my writer’s group? At first, I have to admit I could not follow the women with high voices and a few of the men that mumbled when they read. Now, after a lot of tuning and tweaking of the hearing aids, things are much better, but still far from perfect. So if they see me looking at them while they are speaking with a glassy stare on my face, guess what?
And what about in my writer’s group? At first, I have to admit I could not follow the women with high voices and a few of the men that mumbled when they read. Now, after a lot of tuning and tweaking of the hearing aids, things are much better, but still far from perfect. So if they see me looking at them with a glassy stare on my face while they are speaking, guess what?