June 29, 2007
Oh, say, can you hear
It's a decade year for yours truly, which also means it's time for the 10-year servicing courtesy of the medical profession. One appointment to the GP for a yearly look-see has spun off a bunch of additional appointments. Partly my own fault. Example. He asked whether I had any complaints about getting older, and I said yeah, I can't ever seem to hear anything if there's the slightest ambient noise, and he said when was the last time you had your hearing checked, and I'm, like, never? and he said ok, go see this guy. So I made an appointment to go see that guy.
The two symptoms that have convinced me that my hearing is southbound are that I can't hear a frickin' thing when I'm in a noisy restaurant, or driving with the window open, or even talking to someone while running the faucet. I see people's mouths move, but I can't make out any words. When we go out as a group, I always try to sit in the middle, because if I'm at the end, I might as well be there by myself. It really is incredibly annoying (and exhausting). I hate talking on the cell phone, because it feels like I can barely make out what people are saying. The other symptom is that loud noises hurt. If I drop a hammer, I'll shriek louder if it clangs on the floor than if I drop it on my foot. These days, when I mow the lawn I put in those little foam earplugs and then I clamp on the headphone-sound-reducy things. (Yeah, it looks dorky, but I don't mow in front of a mirror, so.) Oh, yeah, I also figured that my ability to perceive high frequencies was shot.
Anyway. I had my hearing checked this week. It was interesting. First they do some sort of pressure check -- she said they were checking "the hair cells," which I took to mean they were looking for obvious organic damage. The next tests were aural. I put on some very expensive-feeling headphones. She then went into the control booth or whatever it was and said (very quietly) a series of two-syllable words, and I was supposed to repeat what she said, or what I thought she said. Hotdog ... ice cream ... I forget what most of them were, but I noted at the time that many of them involved sibilants or aspirated sounds. For the next test, they played (again, very quietly) a series of synthesized beeps at different frequencies, and I was to press the button when I heard them and wait patiently during the gaps while they played, I guess, sounds I wasn't hearing.
She came back out of her little enclave and said "Well ... your hearing is amazing." Excuse me?!? She showed me the chart she'd filled out and said "This is average, this is you." Huh, lookit that. What about problems with hearing ... ? Not your ears, she said. Was I the kind of person who always had to study in complete silence, she asked? No. Or, uh, let's just say that I didn't do that. Perhaps this is reflected in my GPA. Sometimes people have really good hearing, she said, and when it gets to be "normal," they perceive it as hearing loss. Which it is, just not as measured against the norm.
Please to sit in this office. Wait, wait. Wait, wait. Eventually Dr. Ears shows up, we chat. "You have better hearing than a baby," he said, which is patently untrue. What about problems with hearing ... ? There's a lot more to hearing than just the ears, he said. Lots of brain processing going on. What I seem to have, he suggested, is more trouble filtering -- distinguishing between what I want to listen to and everything else. What about not being to hear cell phones? Remember the old phones had big cups and bigger diaphrams to make the sound, and anyway, you weren't usually talking on the phone while driving or with some other noisy activity in the background. True. And let's face it, there's just a lot of noise in the environment, he pointed out. Also true.
He didn't have anything to offer as a cure, so to speak. For loud sounds, he recommends some "musician earplugs," which reduce amplitude evenly across all frequencies. What about loud bars and restaurants? Nothing to do there except avoid them, pretty much.
I reported all this back home. Sarah observed that she, too, has trouble hearing in restaurants and the like. "I just don't get as frustrated as you do," she concluded. Also also true, I guess.
I guess it's good to know that I'm not 60% deaf or whatever. I guess. Now I can't blame encroaching age for my difficulties in understanding people, dang. Oh, well. On the plus side, my vision is still going to hell at a rapid clip. So whew for that, anyway.