Suddenly, I Was The Deafest I Had Ever Been

When my two hearing aids died on a recent trip overseas, I was plunged into silence. For several years, I have worn hearing aids 24/7 so I was not prepared for the sudden absence of external sound or for the ringing from inside my head that overtook the quiet, a cacophony of unwanted noise and disruption.

I had forgotten how the external world would start to recede as I became lost in my own internal musings. How I would begin to feel disoriented, confused, and alone. Since my hearing loss is progressive and I have worn hearing aids for the better part of 20 years, I realized this was probably the deafest I had ever been. And it was to stay this way for the better part of two weeks. Despair momentarily took hold.

Nobody seemed to understand the shock this was to my system — the isolation I felt or the care I needed to take in order to do simple things like cross the street. How exhausting it was both physically and mentally to participate in the world around me. I kept reminding myself that this was only temporary.

For the first few days my family continued to talk to me from the other room or when behind me. Waiters would ask us questions and my husband needed to reply, but he stared blankly, used to my taking the lead on these types of exchanges. Everything felt awkward. The simplest things became a source of tension.

It was quite an adjustment for everyone. As anyone with hearing loss knows, not being able to communicate effectively has a severe impact on the quality of relationships.

As time went on, we adapted, as people do. I figured out a workaround with my iPhone and a listening app and we started to remember that we needed to be face to face to communicate. We fell into a pattern that while not ideal, worked for the interim.

My favorite moments were listening to music on my iPhone. Without the impact of my hearing aid programming, I could turn up the volume and experience the music as it was actually written. There were notes I hadn’t heard before — an underlying bass beat that wasn’t there for me before. A new harmony in the background voices I had missed previously. It was wonderful to experience this depth of sound in the music.

Time passed and I was finally in possession of a replacement pair of hearing devices. I held them in my hand, but was afraid to put them on.

I was almost accustomed to the silence and had figured out a partial workaround on my iPhone. I had found a mental equilibrium.

I wasn’t looking forward to the new disruption of relearning to hear with my hearing aids and renegotiating communication patterns with my family. But I knew it would be worth the effort.

I mustered up my courage and plopped the hearing aids into my ears hoping muscle memory was something that existed for hearing as much as for yoga or other sports. Luckily for me, it did. My brain adapted quickly to the new level of sound and I fell back into my normal hearing aid life. Only this time, I didn’t take it for granted.

Readers, have you ever experienced a sudden plunge in your ability to hear?

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43 thoughts on “Suddenly, I Was The Deafest I Had Ever Been

  1. I do every night because I don’t sleep with my hearing aids. I’m not left with silence though. Just the roar from my tinnitus

  2. I couldn’t live without my hearing aids, I would find it hard work lip-reading and trying to communicate with just anyone. I feel we should learn sign language just in case something like this did happen!

  3. Its very scary to be so dependent on hearing aids, especially when they malfunction . Not only do HAs amplify sounds, they help mask tinnitus and give you equilibrium and balance, especially as we age. And if you also have vision problems along with a hearing loss, it can be even more challenging.

    • We sometimes toy with the idea of learning a few signs, but most of the people I come in contact with each day do not sign so I’m not sure it would be that helpful. Thanks for your question.

      • Sign language is not an easy language to learn and I’ve taken 3 classes over the years. You really need to practice is often. Luckily my church has signing and live time captioning for the Sunday services , but I always prefer the captioning . I find when someone is signing , I still end up focusing on their face for lip reading and visual clues , and end up missing everything they just signed .

  4. I’ve needed hearing aids for 10+ years and have had them for going on 2 years. Have improved the quality of my life greatly, especially hearing birds and other nature sounds. However, restaurants, meetings, crowds are sheer agony. I am a volunteer naturalist for local metroparks and have encountered some Deaf folks in the parks. Have taken first ASL course at local community college. I very much enjoy hanging out with Deaf community. Some meetups in noisy restaurants – love the freedom of taking my hearing aids out and signing. Will definitely take further classes and continue contact with Deaf community. No one in my family signs and only a couple of my hearing friends sign.

  5. I have single sided deafness since age 6 when a skull fracture/concussion took away hearing in my left ear. I am eligible for the BaHa surgery and have never been able to afford the Cros hearing aids. I’ve always just tried to adapt.
    Last year due to a 1st time ear infection and complications…I was totally deaf for 2-3 weeks. It was the scariest time…I didn’t feel safe…I overflowed the sink or bathtub…I had to take time off work because I couldn’t communicate in person or on the phone. TMy neighbor had to attend Dr appts with me with a white board so I could ‘talk’.
    Thankfully my ruptured ear drum healed and the fluid cleared and my hearing was restored. It was horrible and scary…I’ve never felt so cut off!

  6. Shari, I can’t think of a more unsettling experience than to be on vacation and loose hearing. As others have reported, removing my “appliances” at night plunges me into complete sound darkness. Every night as I prepare to go silent, I am reminded that I AM DISABLED! For years I resisted that truth largely because my HAs kept me in he normal range of performance – even to appreciate music! Then one day before I inserted my little instruments I realized I could not hear the water as I filled the coffee pot. I thought, “I’m not just hearing impaired – I’m deaf!”

    Your comment about feeling at risk when deaf and out on the street was instructive. Without auditory clues the mystery of our environment goes unsolved. Even with all the technology hanging on my head, I often find myself in situations where I feel challenged just to know what’s happening. Quiet honestly, it’s frightening to consider what it would be like without my instruments.

  7. Learning to sign is fine if you have the opertunity to practice regularly. I don’t sign and have never learned as I know only 2 people who sign.
    I did have the misfortune to have 1 of my aids brake just as I entered T5 at Heathrow. I had 3 week using 1 aid which was far from perfict but better then nothing. I’m profoundly dear and have been for many years.

      • I think so too with the heat and humidity , plays havoc with hearing aids for sure . And they don’t make them like they used to. My first hearing aid at age 13 (42 years ago, wow!) was a Widex BTE analog and it lasted me 8 years with no troubles! I still use it for a spare . These new digitals are not built to last.

  8. New Digital aids may not last long but are much better then the old aids, I’m glad I have digital aids as they are more powerful and I can understand more, even if I am picking up a lot of sound I wish didn’t.

  9. Hi

    I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had my hearing aids fail when on a trip.

    However, like others here I wear standard size BTE hearing aids with ear moulds and I can’t sleep wearing them. they would hurt my ears.

    I get reminded every night of how deaf I am without my aids as I’m plunged into a semi-silent world, save for the constant hiss and whistle of my tinnitus, when I remove my aids when going to bed.

    I often feel that we live in a twilight world, somewhere between the hearing world and the deaf world, when we are hard of hearing.


  10. Hi Shari,
    Thank you so much for this post and for your honesty. I am especially grateful for your sharing of your momentary despair and disorientation, as well as isolation. As a woman with severe hearing loss, I experience that whenever I have a malfunction of any kind with my HAs. It’s like I suddenly remember that without my technology, I am vulnerable.

    If you don’t mind sharing, what was the workaround you figured out with your iPhone? I am not familiar with the listening app.

    Thanks again, Shari.

    Susan Gabriel

  11. Wondering if anyone has had any experience or success using any kind of voice recognition software app either on their I PHONE or other IOS device ? I know that with the NOTES app on I PHONE , you can use the microphone and it will interpret words you say but it’s very slow and not very accurate.

  12. I’m new to the hearing loss world, and even now getting used to the hearing aid I find myself taking it out at work and finding solace in the silence versus the “noisy” colleagues carrying on with their life.

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