Thank you to Rayovac Hearing Aid Batteries for sponsoring my participation in this hearing mission. All opinions expressed in this piece are my own. To read my other post about this mission, click here.
My advocacy work typically takes the form of writing or speaking. I focus on breaking down barriers for people with hearing loss, crushing stigma and promoting self-advocacy. I want people to live their best lives despite struggling with hearing loss and tinnitus. But I had never given the gift of hearing itself, until recently.
Rayovac Hearing Aid Batteries invited me to participate in a Starkey Hearing Foundation mission to Dominica. Rayovac supplies all the batteries for these missions. I was there as a hearing health advocate, volunteer, and writer, with the goal of capturing the mission experience in words. I thank Rayovac for this memorable opportunity.
Mothers came with young sons and daughters. Grown children brought aging parents. Friends came together. The crowd was a mix, but the one thing they shared was excitement and hope for a chance at better communication. They were here to get hearing aids.
The first mission day was a whirlwind, as I worked to implement the fitting process we had learned in training. Start with a power 2 amplifier, ask the person to repeat sounds and words (“Ba Ba Ba” or “Hello”) and adjust the volume until it felt comfortable. This might involve switching to a different strength amplifier or not. Do the same thing for the other ear and then balance the two sides.
It is a fairly simple process, but each patient is unique, and taking the time to personalize the sound as much as possible is important. Day one was all about getting my sea legs. The second day I felt more confident. I could fit most patients and knew when to ask for help or a second opinion from someone more skilled.
Some people were easy to fit. They had mild to moderate hearing loss of equal intensity in both ears. Most of these were older folks who indicated their hearing had deteriorated as they aged. They could explain if they wanted the volume louder or softer with ease. They were thrilled with their enhanced ability to converse with me and everyone else nearby. I felt confident that they would utilize their new aids well.
People with more severe hearing losses were harder to fit since they had difficulty indicating if they needed the sound louder or softer. It wasn’t a language problem. It was the concept. They didn’t know what things were supposed to sound like. These patients would need hours of practice to make the most of their new aids. A supportive family and time at aftercare would be required, but most seemed excited about the challenge.
Others came to the mission to get hearing aids, but left empty-handed. After their ears were checked and wax was removed, their hearing had improved to the point where they no longer had difficulty understanding conversation. We turned them away with nothing but a smile and the promise that if they needed hearing assistance in the future they could seek help at aftercare.
The mission days flew by as patient after patient came though my station. I always shed tears of joy when watching cochlear implant activation videos, so I had expected to be a puddle on the floor after each successful fitting, but I was too busy to get emotional. It was only with time and reflection that the magnitude of the gift we were giving hit home.
Now that I am back in NYC, the success stories keep replaying in my mind’s eye.
The adult son who brought his mother for hearing aids. It had been a while since they could communicate well. It was a challenging fitting and the mother was frustrated. So was the son. We persevered through the experience and found the right place. Their tearful embrace at the finish was a wonderful reward.
An aging couple that came in together. Both received hearing aids, but one at a time, so the other could assist in communication when needed. Slow going, but a true partnership that will only be strengthened by the new hearing aids.
The little girl who danced with joy when her grandmother could hear her.
The middle-aged woman who arrived in her Sunday best, ready for a big day. And she had one. The smile on her face as she told me about her family was beaming. She heard each question I asked her perfectly with her new hearing aids.
There are many more and each one brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. I am truly grateful for my small role in this marvelous experience.
Readers, would you participate in a hearing aid mission?
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