Monday, July 16, 2012

Please Speak Loudly So I Can See What You Say

Please Speak Loudly So I Can See What You Say
What a wonderful week we had with my Aunt Mary in Indiana. Her ten children and other family gathered for her ninety-eighth birthday celebration and reunion.  Aunt Mary no longer hears so well.  She has hearing aids, but she says, “These things don’t work.”  She puts them in, fiddles with them, removes them in frustration and lays them on the coffee table.
Imagine a large living room with two dozen cousins holding one dozen conversations, all trying to be heard.  In the small sitting room around the corner are another ten to twelve people doing likewise. Aunt Mary sat, enjoying watching us enjoy one another, unable to hear a word. When one of us wanted to speak with her, we leaned forward toward her rocker, opened our mouth, paused a moment to get her attention, then shouted. 

I went to an audiologist once. She said I was beginning to lose the upper ranges of my hearing. I knew that. When people are talking, music is playing and dishes are clanging, I have to listen hard to hear you.  She advised me to be fitted with hearing aids. I passed. I wasn’t that bad yet.

In all honesty, I suspect many of my contemporaries strain our ears and listen hard to hear less. We are of the age when hearing devices begin to look more attractive as the television volume creeps ever upward.

One afternoon at Aunt Mary’s, Cousin Shirley brought out a little thing that looked rather like a Bluetooth device and said, “Mom, try this. I saw it advertised in the Sunday supplement. The ad says it’s the latest breakthrough in sound amplification. And it only cost twenty-four dollars.”

Cousin Roger, one of Aunt Mary’s younger children, scoffed. Roger is sixty-five and also has a hearing problem.  His normal voice is a soft shout. He watched as Shirley inserted the device into one of Aunt Mary’s ears. “How does that sound, Mom?” he bellowed. She nodded to affirm she could hear him. (Neighbors three blocks away could hear Roger.)  The thing fell out of her ear.  Aunt Mary tried it in her other ear. It fell out again.

“I can hear with this about the same as with my own hearing aids,” she said, “as long as I hold it in place.” Then it fell out from her ear once more and that ended the great experiment.

“I admit I can’t hardly hear,” Roger told us. “But I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars on those things. Nobody I know is happy with their hearing aids. People buy them, try them for a while, then give up. There they sit, on a shelf in the bathroom, gathering dust. Why, if there were a real breakthrough in hearing aids, word of mouth would spread the news like wildfire. We’d all be lined up to buy one. Think about it. I’d be first in line.”

“Those hearing aid salesmen are slick,” Roger continued. “They know everybody wants to hear. I’ll bet none of those things work any better than Shirley’s twenty-four dollar gadget yet they cost hundreds and thousands. I know one woman who walked into a sales office over in Louisville. She said she wanted the best; she wanted the most expensive one they had. You know the price instantly went up another thousand dollars. She said it didn’t work any better than her old one. Hope is what they are selling. Hope is what we are buying. We hope this one will work.”

I laughed along with everyone else, but I wondered if he might be right.

When I returned home I told a friend about Roger’s opinions. “How many people do you know who really like their hearing aids,” I said.

“Nobody I know has them,” he replied.

This man is ten years my senior.  “Oh, come on,” I said, “I know you know people with hearing aids.”

“Nope. None of my friends wear them,” he insisted. “I’m glad I don’t need them.”

I zipped my lips before I could tell him the truth. Unless one stands directly in front of him, he can’t hear a word.

This afternoon I had lunch with friends. One wears hearing aids in both ears. So I mentioned Cousin Roger’s theory that hearing aid salesmen are recruited directly from used-car lots. “Nope, I love my hearing aids,” he said as he removed one from his ear to show me. “I have a twelve thousand dollar set of ears and I wear them all the time. I couldn’t hear you at all without them.”

I know that is what he said. I’m pretty good at reading lips.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
June 28, 2012

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