Monday, December 11, 2017

Tuned In To Life: My Hearing Aid Adventure

By Kara Jackman 

I’m the proud owner of a hearing aid. I finally bit the bullet and bought one. I like it very much. My hearing continued to decrease, while my tinnitus decided to increase. I was left with no other choice. I had had more than enough close calls walking across the street, or with people coming up on my side and scaring the crap  out of me. Life just didn’t feel safe.

All of this started with what I thought was an ear infection to what has now graduated into hearing loss, pain on the right side of the face and ear, tingling, numbness, weird, uncontrollable facial spasming on one side of my face, and difficulty chewing because of the pain. 

I think this could be happening because of the ruptured right ear drum, created by enduring a number of ear infections over my 38 years. I'm more prone to them because of the cleft lip and palate and maze-like sinuses I was born with many years ago. The worst thing about my current conditon, and the thing that continues to be my undoing, is the tinnitus.
If you don’t know what tinnitus is consider yourself blessed. When I tell people I have tinnitus they often ask what it is. Then like a schmuck at an auto repair shop performing that “sound-his-car-makes” for the mechanic, I try to squeal as high as the frequency in my ear, or I play the toner on my Cleartune app. Almost always people say, “It’s like that all the time,” to which I reply “Yes.”

In the last three weeks the tinnitus has worsened, gotten louder, and sometimes even throws out another frequency, attempting to harmonize with itself, albeit very, very poorly. Other symptoms from the last three weeks include, facial spasms. Like really wacky face spasms that I can not control all that well. Most of the day I expend an enormous amount of energy to keep it from happening. Then I get in the car to go home from work and let my face get it’s groove on to whatever music I’m listening to that day. We do agree on one thing, my facial spasms and I, “Hotel California” by the Eagles is a terrible song.
The tinnitus, hearing loss, and bouncing face are all a bit too much too handle so I thought I would take it easy (ahem...sarcasm) and start using a highly technical hearing aid. It is composed of two pieces, a receiver shaped like a pen, and corresponding in-ear device.
It took some doing to get used to it. The pen receiver has a carrying case made of leather. Someone asked me if it was a knife because of the little leather jacket it wears.  No. Thanks for playing, though.  Shelly, show them their consolation prize. Or others have taken the more direct approach of asking “What is that?” I answer honestly, saying it is a receiver for the hearing aid you cannot see in my right ear.
The receiver picks up the sound and directs it to the ear piece.  The receiver, or pen, is best used if placed out on a table aimed at someone speaking.  There is no discreet way of doing this, but I have devised a few. I leave it on my desk in my office, I hold it like a pen in my hand, and I put it in my purse or pocket if on the go. It helps tremendously in overriding the high pitched squeal in my right ear.
It has also improved my ability to watch TV. I love to eat and watch TV  I can do that now without the volume being on 20-24 on the TV volume meter.  My neighbors are thrilled. Now, I can watch whatever I want, including the super quiet Netflix dramas on five or seven with the receiver sitting at the base of the TV speaker system. Football, basketball game and I'm in the kitchen, no problem. I can hear the play-by-play.

Thanks to the hearing device, In a setting with lots of people around I feel more balanced out, as if there is sound entering both ears. Unfortunately, though I have to point the pen in the direction of whomever may be so lucky to speak to me. I do not want to look like a television news reporter getting the  “man on the street” perspective, I keep the pen in my pocket or my purse. I usually pick up the noise of my shirt moving around, or catch the receiver rubbing up against the items in my bag. Thus defeating the purpose of its use. Many times, I end up blindly agreeing to things that I hope do not get me or someone else in trouble.  Often I worry that I have said “Yes” to questions like “Would you kill someone for me?” Or “Do you like the Eagles’ “Hotel California?” More than anything, I hope the latter has not happened

The other cool thing about it is I can leave the room and still hear what’s happening in the room I just left. If the receiver happens to have been left behind, I’m hoping at some point to hear some juicy gossip or some stuff talked about me “behind my back.” It has not happened yet. I will keep you posted.

The sound transmitted is tinny and hollow sounding. However, this was the best of the three or four hearing aids I tried. The garden variety version just goes in your ear and amplifies everything. With the pen, I have some control over how loud or whom I get to listen to. It is nice. The Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid, or (BAHA) was not a fit because I did not love how it felt. I do know that the BAHA is a great hearing aid for a great many people in the craniofacial community. It’s just not my jam.
One would think that in 2017 with the advent of $1,000+ headphones and beats by Dre that the world could come up with a better hearing aid. Unfortunately, this is not true. However, if there were ever a person to get the mix, tone, and warmth of sound right, I strongly believe it would be Dr. Dre. I say this after listening to some of his music over the years, but mostly because I watched HBO’s The Defiant Ones. So get on it Dre, please. Don’t leave money on the table! These devices are not cheap.

I'm new to the hearing aid racket, but I like it. Sometimes you have to take some risks to make your life more livable. I am glad I made this decision. I hope that if you ever need a hearing aid, or already wear one, that you do so with pride. No more FOMO for you or me! We are all tuned in to life. 

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