Walking home yesterday, I almost stepped on a hearing aid. It was lying in the center of the sidewalk, deserted. I zigged quickly to avoid flattening it with my heel and stopped dead in my tracks. My heart sank, crushed for the person who would soon find his lifeline missing. I imagined the panic and chagrin when he noticed it was gone, the self loathing for losing something so important, and the despair at having to find the funds for a new one. Hearing aids are incredibly expensive. I was as devastated as if it was my own hearing aid that had been lost.
I stood there silently for a few moments, gazing at it. The hearing aid was pink, almost salmon in color. A medium-sized behind-the-ear model. The tubing was attached. It looked new. It seemed lonely.
Pedestrians walked by in both directions. Many of them stared at me as they passed — my lack of motion and transfixed expression appearing odd for the busy afternoon. I must have looked lost.
My body was paralyzed in the moment, but my mind was racing. Should I take it home with me and try to return it to its owner with an ad on Craig’s List or some crazy thing? Turn it into an audiologist who might find a way to trace it to someone? Ask a nearby store to hold it in case someone returned looking for it? Or leave it as I found it, hoping against hope that the owner would find his way back to this spot and reclaim it? None of these options seemed very good.
Suddenly, I jumped to attention. Perhaps the owner was still near by. I spied a stooped woman shuffling slowly a half a block ahead. Maybe it was hers! I ran to catch her, momentarily forgetting the hearing aid and leaving it behind. This was not smart since someone could have stepped on it damaging it irreparably, but it was too late. I was almost to her.
I called to her, but she did not hear me. “A good sign,” I thought optimistically. I caught up and gently tapped her on the shoulder. “Excuse me, did you lose a hearing aid?” I asked. Her face took on a look of panic as she reached for her ear. “I don’t know,” she answered and continued to fumble with her ear. I told her to wait and ran back to get the hearing aid, which was luckily still resting undamaged in its spot.
It was strange to pick it up — such an intimate item belonging to another. It rested lightly in my palm. Delicate, yet so powerful. I carried it by the tips of my fingers, not wanting to invade its privacy.
“That’s not mine,” the woman said when I showed it to her, “but thank you for asking me. That was very sweet.” It may have been nice, but it had not been effective. The actual owner was certainly long gone by now.
I was distraught.
My mind shot back 13 years to the days before I started wearing my hearing aids regularly. When I couldn’t hear family and friends, but would laugh along anyway. When I worried before every meeting at work that I would miss something important. The time my toddler was hurt, but my husband and I couldn’t communicate because I couldn’t hear him. All the shame and isolation flooded over me in that moment, knowing someone else would soon feel the same way.
Defeated, I stood silently for a few moments more, before walking back to where I had originally found the hearing aid. I placed it gently on the sidewalk (off to one side so it was less likely to be trampled), took one last forlorn look at it and continued on my way.
I wonder if it is still there, patiently waiting for a miracle.
Readers, have you ever lost your hearing aid?
This post first appeared in District Lit’s issue on disability, medicine, and illness.