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?