Now more than ever, public media is essential. Donate Now.

Written by: Byron Edgington
Date: January 28, 2016

Hand up at ear, trying to hear It’s official: I’m a deaf guy. Or ‘deef’ as I used to joke when I was trying everything I could conjure to avoid the reality of my (rather substantial) hearing loss. I spent a great deal of my time, energy, wasted effort and my phenomenally even-tempered wife’s patience attempting to make it otherwise. No dice. The ears don’t work anymore like they ought to, and I’ve been forced to deal with it. It was such a gradual process, you see.

I first noticed the loss when, some years ago, I realized I’d taken to cupping my right ear from habit and without thought, doing my imitation of the cartoon grampa with his conch shell earpiece upon hearing (what I thought was) my name. I’ve had to give it up. My once young, critically tuned and hyper-capable auditory ability is gone. When I was twenty I could hear a mouse. Now I’m luck to hear the trumpeting of an elephant.

The majority of my working life involved helicopters. I flew those rattling, thrashing decibel-rich machines first in a war zone. Vietnam was more than a swampy, chaotic, tropically challenging war. With its keening aviation component, thudding artillery, crackling weaponry and disregard for hearing protection of any kind, it was a noisy one as well. My Huey, for example, was built for efficient tactical transport, not comfort. Mr. Bell’s engineers did not, as a rule, consider noise suppression in the design phase of the UH-1, or any other helicopter. So the loss started there.

The commercial aircraft I flew may have incorporated rudimentary noise cancellation/attenuation items, but those were extras as well, like those after market chrome side strips on your deluxe Chrysler Imperial. During my commercial aviation career I continued serving in the National Guard, flying tactical aircraft.

In addition to all this exposure to aviation noise, my genetic profile donated a deaf gene. My father, dear man, was profoundly ‘deef’ for the last several years of his life. Sadly, one of the prominent memories I have of my dear departed father is my wasted effort to carry on a simple conversation with him, as he cupped an ear and strained forward in his La-Z-Boy trying to hear me. There are so many things I wish I could have asked my dad, so many topics that simply went unaddressed and lost forever.

Thus the topic at hand. In our third third, do we owe it to our friends/relatives/family/spouse to address physical deficiencies that detract from our time with them? I believe we do. In my case, my loss of hearing ability diminished my relationship with my wife for the simple reason that she finally gave up trying to share a conversation with me.

When the dishwasher sussed its wishy-washy rhythm, forget talking to Byron. He’s in his own silent little world. Driving was an exercise in withholding conversation, till the engine and road noise ceased. In a restaurant, forget it. At a concert, ditto. On a windy beach, cup that ear and hope for the best. I found myself advising my wife that she needn’t whisper, because ‘no one can hear you, dear.’ The reality was that she wasn’t whispering. Everyone could hear—except dear old me! It was very frustrating for her.

It became irritating to me as well. All change is, so I resisted the obvious therapy, hearing aids. Finally, after a visit with my friends at the VA, I acquired the latest in hearing assistive technology. The hearing aids have reopened the world to me, and to my spouse. I can hear again, and the change isn’t nearly as disruptive or tedious as I’d anticipated. I kinda like the silly things. Heck, there’s even an app I use to regulate them. Downloaded to my iPhone, the application allows me to turn the volume up and down, alter reception to any of three different modes—all around, restaurant and outside.

I receive TV signals through them as well, allowing my wife to listen at her own comfort level, or not at all. One of the best features of my new bionic ears is one I never anticipated: In a crowded, noisy environment I can shut them off. Those of you who are not hearing challenged are forced to listen to that screeching child in the snack food aisle, the jack hammer at the corner of walk and don’t walk, roar of city traffic, the neighbor kid’s clanging garage band. Not me. I turn it all off. Very cool.

And even cooler, I can once again hold an easy, comfortable conversation with my dear wife, without whispering, without cupping either ear or straining to hear what she has to say. This goes for any physical (or emotional) deficiency we might have, of course.

In our third third, things tend to fall apart. Our senses diminish, and our awareness of this loss ebbs along with it. It’s okay; accept it. Sometimes it takes us thirty years to realize we’re not thirty anymore. Don’t be afraid to seek out assistive devices and systems, helpful aids (and aides) just to get through the day. Investigate bionic new parts—hips, knees, corneas and assorted other replacement parts. It’s good to know those medical marvels are available, and many are within insurance parameters. Dylan Thomas poetized about ‘not going gentle into that good night.’ I’d suggest not going after a long, frustrating struggle with a diminished capacity either. It’s not fair to us, or to the people who want to enjoy what we offer.