Thank you to Rayovac Hearing Aid Batteries for sponsoring my participation in this hearing mission. All opinions expressed in this piece are my own.
As someone with hearing loss, I appreciate my hearing aids and the freedom they give me to interact with others and live my life as fully as I can. Without my hearing aids, I would miss my children calling to me at night and laughing with them at play. Social situations and business meetings would be more challenging. I would often feel isolated and alone. So when I had the opportunity to share the gift of hearing with others, I jumped at the chance.
As my propeller plane touched down in Dominica after a long day of traveling, I had no idea what was in store. I was here as a guest of Rayovac Hearing Aid Batteries, the company that supplies the batteries for Starkey Hearing Foundation’s hearing missions. I was to help fit the people of Dominica with hearing aids.
I wondered how this would work. I am not an audiologist — although I have visited quite a few. How would I be able to assess someone’s hearing loss, find the right device and adjust it to enhance communication? It turns out I didn’t have to do it alone.
Day 1 of the mission was training where we reviewed the history and purpose of the hearing missions, and practiced the patented multi-step fitting process. I quickly realized there is not only a science to fitting hearing aids, but also an art.
The mission aids are simple analog amplifiers, without sophisticated programming or other functions. They are basic, which makes them cost-effective to distribute in large numbers in disadvantaged communities around the world. While these are not the advanced digital aids many of us use, they are far superior to nothing, which is what most of the recipients would have otherwise.
The biggest challenge in fitting the hearing aids was often the patient’s gratitude. He or she was frequently willing to accept the first aid and the first setting offered so not to be difficult or cause a fuss. It took patience and persistence to extract the truth from each person, repeating the assessment questions multiple ways to triangulate to the best result.
The process reminded me of my annual trip to the eye doctor. Do the letters look sharper and clearer in one (flips the lens) or two? One, or two? She asks me the same question several times until I can confidently reply. Then she waits a minute and asks me again.
It was the same for fitting the aids. Does my voice sound clearer now or (turns up the volume) this way? Is that too loud (turn the volume down) or just right? Back and forth until the answer becomes clear. This was done for each ear individually and then to balance the two sides.
I sometimes wondered if we were asking too much of the patients, particularly those that have not heard before or for a very long time. Would they know if something is too loud or too soft or even understand that concept? Only someone with typical hearing can really assess this. That’s why I often ask my husband or children if someone is hard to hear and use my decibel reader app to alert me to dangerously loud sounds.
But maybe getting the volume exactly right is not really the point. That is where the art comes into play. Making sure the person can hear and understand what I am saying is the more important task, and that is what we achieved through the fitting exercises.
Reflecting on my mission experience each evening, I imagined the patients returning home not only with hearing aids, but also with hope. Perhaps they were now better able to communicate with a family member or friend. Maybe they could converse on the phone with more ease or watch TV at a more comfortable volume. It will take hard work, but I have faith that each person will make the most of the gift of hearing he received. I am grateful for my small part in this extraordinary experience.
Readers, have you given the gift of hearing?