[George's Pond]

Pardon Me?

They say that hearing is the last sense to fail as we pass through the door to the great beyond. But for many, a slow decline in audition begins decades before that final exit. The funny thing about hearing loss is how it sneaks up on us and is often detected by family and friends long before the afflicted party clues in.

The denial can go on for years as we blame everybody and everything but ourselves. Eventually, though, when family piles on, we’re forced to consider the possibility that maybe we’re the problem. After years of rejecting the pleas of my dearly beloveds, cracks eventually surfaced in my Berlin Wall of resistance until I finally caved in and agreed to get my hearing tested.

Let’s be honest. There’s nothing cool about hearing aids. Unlike eyeglasses, which have become fashion accessories, hearing aids will never be sexy. They may be more discreet than Beethoven’s ear trumpet was, but almost invisible is the most we can hope for. Less is more when it comes to hearing aids.

Oh yes, my test result? No surprise. Get out your wallet, George. Those things are not cheap. To Joy’s great relief, my new ears did their job. It must have been annoying to constantly have to remind me of chores I’d neglected. And having the TV cranked up to double the volume she found comfortable just so I could hear it, bordered on physically painful. But that was years ago, and like everything else, hearing aids don’t last forever. There’s no best-before date, but you can expect to get roughly three to six years from a pair.

So I should not have been surprised a couple of years back that my hearing entered another period of decline, and when repeated testing revealed no further hearing loss, the accusatory finger was pointed squarely at my aging aids. Time to start shopping again. And as an obsessive researcher of all purchases great and small, this would be no mean feat for me.

It doesn’t help that hearing aids come with a variety of different features. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and the more bells and whistles you choose to incorporate into those tiny electronic marvels, the bigger the hit to your wallet.

A decision was finally reached and the order placed. I returned to the clinic a couple of weeks later to collect my new ears. I was excited to get home and put them to the test, but my little high evaporated shortly after firing up the old Hyundai for the drive home.

“What the hell is that strange ticking sound? On again, off again. Now what? Solve one problem, and sure enough, another rears its ugly head.”

Enter my calming inner angel. “Settle down, George. It’s just the signal light clicker. Haven’t heard it for years, have you?”

Back home, Joy was eager to hear how things went and peppered me with questions about my experience.

“For Pete’s sake, Joy, don’t shout,” I pleaded.

Old habits can be hard to break.

The big test remained. Television. Joy and I like to relax each evening in front of the tube for an hour or so until sleep prevails. But relaxation often morphs into a squabble over volume. I hoped that my new ears would be a panacea, but they weren’t. Greater volume does not equal greater clarity.

So TV remained a problem until the belated arrival of a gizmo that turns hearing aids into a wireless headset that connects with the television and allows me to remotely adjust what I’m hearing without messing with the built-in TV speakers. It’s like Joy and I are in two different worlds of sound – each precisely tailored to our individual preferences. And the clarity? I suddenly had the ears of a teenager.

But there’s irony in this brave new world of improved hearing. It’s great to be able to participate in things that may once have been a bit of a chore. Sadly, though, not every sound that’s floating around out there is welcome to my world. Noisy cars, barking dogs, screaming leaf blowers and rumbling trains are but a few of the sounds I could live without. Now they’re all coming through loud and clear. I guess there’s an upside to diminished hearing.

In the final analysis, wouldn’t it be marvellous if the clever people who design these things could come up with a hearing aid capable of enhancing desirable sounds, while blocking those you deem obnoxious? Hello Boston Pops. Goodbye leaf blower. Maybe, just maybe, hearing aids would then become, well, borderline sexy.

Story by:
George Smith

Illustration by:
Charles Bongers

[Fall 2022 departments]