Saturday, January 24, 2015

My first day with a hearing aid

After my audiologist's visit I was ecstatic, grinning from ear to ear and not even flinching when I handed over the Discover for a $350 deposit. I would be able to hear again! It wouldn't be perfect and there would be external hardware but I've never been accused of vanity.

A cast was made by filling my ear with what felt like whipped cream dispensed from a caulking tube. They would ask for the aid to be rushed - it could be there by the next Friday!

Well it wasn't there the next Friday so we rescheduled for yesterday at 12:30. At 11:30 I was shopping when my cell rang. It was the receptionist, informing me Fed Ex had not arrived yet but my aid was due. They would call back when he arrived, regardless of how late it was so I could pick it up. I milled around and she called back twenty minutes later - it was in the office and our original 12:30 appointment was still on.

I'd overly milled, anticipating not having to be somewhere at 12:30 so I ended up being five minutes late. It was ok, he was just finishing up with another patient.

The audiologist was beaming when he greeted me. I walked in, my stomach suddenly feeling famished, as if I hadn't eaten in days rather than hours. I heard a small amount of static coming from the desk and assumed it was the computer setting up the new hearing aid.

That's when I realized - the sounds were coming from the aid itself and would always be there unless it was turned off or inside my ear.

My excitement vanished and I felt numb. He fit the aid in my ear and showed me how to insert and remove it myself. He held up a mirror and I smiled but all I could think was how could I live with something so LOUD inside my head?

We did various tests to see what channels I preferred and what levels I could tolerate.

I experimented with my voice, at first reciting the alphabet and when that took too long stating random facts, "My name is Anny and my birthday is November 14."

The audiologist beamed and smiled and was thrilled when I said I could, indeed hear from the left ear. I suppose my reaction was less than he expected because at some point he exclaimed "You're hearing!"

Then he showed me how to clean and care for the device and offered pointers based on his own experience. I hadn't noticed he wore a hearing aid the first time we met.

Almost an hour passed and he set me up for a follow-up appointment the next Friday. "If you feel completely comfortable you don't even need to come in," he gushed. I was slightly more skeptical.

At the receptionist desk we made small talk about the impending snowfall and her sons while my payment went through, she inserted paperwork on warranties and care into my manila folder carefully labelled "Hearing Aid." I'd been wearing the aid for about an hour with some brief stops while I experimented with its care and learned how to swap batteries. My ear already felt tired, as if I'd been to an action movie and not in a carpeted office with only two other people.

I left worried. My car door closing startled me. The turn signal's clicking made me wince. I was driving the same car I've driven for over eight years but suddenly it felt like I drove a garbage truck. I had errands to run so I spent the next hour at Office Depot and Staples. At Staples the loudspeaker and constantly ringing phones reverberated through my head.

Remembering the high statistics of people who left thousands of dollars in hearing aids lay around inside drawers I was determined to get through this. The audiologist had said it would take me about four days to get acclimated and for my brain to accept the new signals but at this point I couldn't believe him. My right ear was fine and the left had functioned spectacularly for 36 years and had  been out of commission for less than four months. How could my brain have forgotten to hear?

Not a good red

I came home and pulled out the hearing aid. My ear was red and the entire side of my face ached from the reverberations.

"Something is wrong," I thought "the volume is too high. Maybe my loss was too high for an aid."

I left the hearing aid off for about an hour and everything returned to normal. I couldn't hear but I was safely home, with its predictable steady routine. My face stopped hurting. I googled hearing aids and pain. A few sites suggested new users only keep their aid in for 4-5 hours at a time in order to become acclimated. I left a voicemail for the chatty secretary who's recorded voice told me offices were closed on weekends. "Something is wrong, "I said into the void "I'm in pain and taking the hearing aid out until Monday when I can see the audiologist again."

I set my new aid inside its shiny black case and contemplated for a while. That small box cost more than my first few cars combined.

I had my meeting at 7 so at 6:30 I braced myself and turned my aid back on. It immediately started sending out tinny sounds of feedback. I steeled myself and put it in my ear. I zipped my coat, prepared to be overwhelmed by the sound but this time it didn't happen. I closed my car door and marvelled at how "door-like" it sounded. I sat in the driveway and tinkered. My turn signal sounded normal!

HUZZAH! I thought, regretting my voicemail, everything is normal!

Except it wasn't and honestly still isn't. I left the aid in for another 4-5 hours last night and put it back in this afternoon. My ear canal feels very tired and the letter "I" makes my ear shake. The "S" sound feels like a gentle massage. I made it for about a minute while driving earlier, massaging my ear as I would rub a sore muscle after exercise.

I'm worried the ache in my ear from the aid won't go away. I'm worried such loud vibrations will damage something else in my head. I'm worried because after all the uncertainty this is what's left - me alone sitting at a computer listening to my hearing aid and waiting for this to become normal.