By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
We’ve been going through some conversations around our house that I suspect are not all that uncommon. They go something like this:
Me: Can you please turn up the TV so I can hear it. Him: (no response) Me again: I said, PLEASE TURN UP THE VOLUME! or
Him: Wodge bleit heog thu oebnog. Me: What? Him: I said, bleit heog thu oebnog! Me: I can’t understand you. Quit mumbling!
Obviously, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Or hear. He keeps the volume down so low on the TV that a rabbit couldn’t hear it. His mumbling is such that invariably waitresses always ask him to repeat his order. When they don’t, he usually ends up with the elk’s ear soufflé or stuffed frog gizzards and then he wonders what went wrong. It’s gotten to the point that the most frequently used words around here were “huh?”, “whaaaat?” and “For Heaven’s sake, speak up!”. Something had to be done before we were reduced to sign language.
It was a choice between a visit to an ENT doctor or marriage counseling. Since Medicare doesn’t pay for marital interventions we elected to go with hard science over navel-gazing. My husband had the first appointment but I tagged along on the theory that four ears are better than two. Especially when two of those ears don’t hear so well to begin with. We told the doctor that we had problems hearing each other and had a lunch bet on whose problem it is. The first step was a comprehensive hearing test to diagnose his hearing at different decibels and tones . It also tested how clearly he could distinguish similar words. Sounds simple enough. However, in order to obtain the total silence needed to conduct the test, they escorted him into what can only be described as an in-house diving bell. It is a thick, steel chamber with padded walls (not the first time we’ve seen those) with a small window in which to view the audiologist performing the test. Once he was seated and hooked up she heaved a huge lever to close the door tightly. I’ll stop right here and just say that if you are the least bit claustrophobic, do not get a hearing test. The test then proceeded with beeps and tones and upon hearing them, he had to squeeze a button. Kind of like when you need more morphine in the hospital only the result isn’t as much fun. The second part of the test consisted of computer-generated words that he had to repeat. Things like “deer” and then “fear” or “hang” and then “hand”. The volume is also modulated so that some words are said more loudly than others. In other words, it’s like listening in on a lively discussion in the hotel room next to yours – you hear about every other word.
The results for my husband were middling – he has good hearing at normal tones but severe hearing loss with high tones. The doctor explained that is very typical hearing loss as we age. He said it was borderline as to whether he needs a hearing aide and suggested waiting until it became a noticeable problem. Really? In my opinion we already have a noticeable problem when I practically have to do jumping jacks to get his attention about the TV volume. So I asked the doctor why my husband often doesn’t hear me. At which point he just smiled and said, “Perhaps he’s just not listening“. Perhaps? Perhaps?! I think they refer to that as “selective” hearing – always aware when being called to dinner but never quite hears the request to take out the garbage. At least now I had confirmation from a medical professional.
The next week it was my turn. I have had fairly severe ringing in my ears for the past five years so I explained to the audiologist that I might not hear high tones correctly. It was sort of like telling my golf group before a round that I hurt my wrist that morning. Always good to have an excuse at the ready beforehand. The audiologist just smiled – I guessed I’d just given her the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” and she wasn’t buying it. I was strapped into the
electric chair seat, and waited to hear the beeps. I was sailing along, feeling very good about things, until I sensed that the interval between beeps seemed to be increasing. Or was it? I began to push the button like a crack addict at an arcade – random but in the hope that I would “hit” once in a while. My heart began to pound. I was certain that she was going to find me profoundly deaf. I began to think about the display of hearing aides she had in the waiting area and which one might best blend in with my (current) hair color. Finally, she unlatched the door and printed out my results. We both walked into the doctor’s office where a nurse immediately took my blood pressure. I have never had a systolic reading over 110 in my adult life. My reading that day? 137! At last the doctor came in and said, “Well, I think your husband owes you lunch. You have perfect hearing”. As to why the sound is so low when he watches TV? The doctor explained that he probably just isn’t as interested as I am in hearing it. Well…it is an election year so, yeah, that’s plausible.
Now, two weeks later, I try to speak in louder, lower tones. He still mumbles. I’m looking in to getting him a “selective” hearing aide. And just to be safe, I’ve discovered that the local community college offers a course in American Sign Language.