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Prompted By Surprise!

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All of us were surprised at some point during this experience. It started about seven years ago when I went to a business conference in southern California with colleagues I knew well. As I listened to the keynote speech, I had some difficulty understanding the person. Maybe it was his accent? Later, at dinner seated at a large, round table, I couldn’t hear conversations at all. For a while I read lips, then gave up and remained silent.

Could the one Rolling Stones concert I attended have done that much damage?

When I returned home I went to my ENT and said I thought I wasn’t hearing well. “I’d be surprised if there was a problem,” she said, but sent me to an audiologist for a hearing test.

“Wow, I’m surprised,” said the audiologist after the test. “You have a significant hearing loss in your right ear, with an unusual dip in the voice frequencies. No wonder you couldn’t hear people at dinner.”

Sandra, my wonderful audiologist, didn’t know what had caused the loss. Could the one Rolling Stones concert I attended have done that much damage? Maybe, but more likely it was the terribly high fever I had with the measles (pre-vaccine) as a child that started the damage, which got worse with age. Sandra fitted me with tiny hearing aids (I didn’t want them to be obvious at work), and set them to work at 80% so that my brain could get used to the change. “What change?” I thought.

As I stepped outside afterward, I heard a “tweet, tweet,” then a trill and a song coming from a nearby tree. “What a surprise,” I thought. I hadn’t heard a thing on my way into the office. I heard the crinkle of my pant legs as I got into the car, and the sound the pages of a book made as I moved it.

My brain quickly adjusted within a week to the 100% setting, and for the next six years, my hearing aids worked very well, although occasionally they couldn’t figure out which voice to listen to, and picked up conversations going on behind me. About six months ago, my sweetheart Dick bought a new, very inexpensive  kitchen timer. The first time I used it, I complained. “Dick, I had to hold this thing to my ear to hear it go off. The beep is super high pitched and faint!”

At this time I began to notice I was lip reading occasionally, and thought “Maybe it’s time for another hearing test.” Sure enough, Sandra said that I losing more of the high-frequency range, and my left ear was impacted as well. Time for new hearing aids.

The evening after I got them, Dick and I cooked dinner and I set the timer. Dick moved it to the other side of the kitchen while I wasn’t paying attention. Suddenly, from across the room, I heard “beep, beep, beep,” perfectly. “Dick, I’m totally surprised, it wasn’t the timer, it was my hearing.”

My new hearing aids are larger and more noticeable than my first ones, but I don’t care–I’d rather hear well. Ever since I discovered that I had a hearing loss, I’ve been an informal advocate for hearing health. Whatever your opinion of Medicare for All, it’s time that all public and private insurance cover hearing aids. The impact of hearing loss on dementia and social isolation in particular should no longer be a surprise to anyone. The FDA is approving less expensive devices, and technology is improving almost daily.

Check out a new book, Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World, by David Owen. Its a fascinating and beautifully written read.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Marian, as a fellow hearing aid user, I totally get this. I’m also on my second pair, which are much better than the first ones. I could tell when I left my audiologist’s office with them and could hear birds tweeting and people having a conversation behind me. I can hear the kitchen timer and understand most of what my grandkids say when they talk to me on the phone. You are so right about the importance of getting Medicare to cover these because they have a huge impact on the quality of life.

  2. Suzy says:

    Marian, this is a great story! I love the way you use the word “surprise” in many different contexts throughout the story. Perfect for this prompt. And the message is wonderful too. My husband just got hearing aids, and he is amazed at all the sounds he is hearing now that he didn’t even realize he was missing.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I figured there would be many folks writing about surprise parties, and everyone involved in my “hearing journey” really was surprised at some point. You are right, you don’t realize what you are not hearing until you hear the sounds again. That’s why I recommend, if people can afford it, that they go to an audiologist for their first hearing aids. After that, people have a better understanding of how they should be hearing and, if appropriate, can do more on their own in the purchase of hearing aids.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Surprise! I just saw an audiologist on Thursday and was SHOCKED to learn that I have lost the upper range of hearing. Not significantly, but enough so that if my husband isn’t looking at me while we watch the TV, I have to say, “What did you say?” I also miss some of what is on the TV and of course, in a noisy restaurant, I can’t hear anything. I’ve had a sort of buzzing sound in my ears for maybe 8 months, which the audiologist thinks is related. She recommended hearing aids, but I still have to see the doctor (in two weeks), and will consider them. My goodness, they are expensive.

    So reading your story, and Laurie’s response is actually quite reassuring, as I thought I was very young (and I was told this wasn’t due to the loud volume of music at my gym, just my natural aging process). Thank you SO much for your story. It has really helped me deal with an issue in my life that just surfaced two days ago.

    • Marian says:

      Glad the story helped, Betsy. Welcome to the club. Your type of hearing loss is typical and age appropriate, if that’s any consolation. In this type, you have difficulty distinguishing consonants. Yes, I was in shock at the price, which is why groups such as AARP are lobbying Medicare. Most hearing aids give you 5 to 7 years of use, so that helps.

  4. Marian, thanx for the eye-opener, as we age who knows what new challenges we’ll face!
    And now may you go thru life smelling the flowers AND hearing the birdsong!

  5. Thank you for this story, Marian. I love how you describe the details of hearing a bird’s trill and the sound of pages being turned in a book, such small, sweet details that add texture to our lives yet are typically taken for granted, or not consciously heard at all.

    I’m hoping Medicare will also expand to include dental and periodontal coverage since those types of procedures are now as expensive as many medical procedures.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Barbara. Couldn’t agree more about the dental coverage. So many people are forced to do without treatments that could really affect their health. Time to cover the whole person, body and mind.

  6. John Zussman says:

    Great story and, as others have observed, very instructive. I’m writing this after attending a weekend wedding in which every event was held at a crowded venue without any acoustic dampening at all! There were times when someone would speak directly into my ear and I could not understand them. Then last night at the post-ceremony party they had a that was fabulous but played at ear-splitting volume. I actually have an audiologist appointment next week, so I will soon find out whether I meant that literally.

    • Marian says:

      Good luck with the audiologist, John. I am now on a cruise around the Hawaiian islands and the ship has such loud music it’s painful. And this with an older crowd. Ah, well, we will rely on technology to help us.

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