The Sounds of Silence…

…are only golden when you have a choice. For those of us who for one reason or another have managed to have our hearing damaged, silence is a bittersweet concept.

My loss began when I started hearing “crickets” when there probably were no crickets around. It was made real when my wife mentioned how cheerful the birds were singing. I was laying with my left ear pressed into a pillow and I said “What birds?” I then lifted my head and heard the birds…this confirmed that my right ear had hearing loss. Visiting hearing specialists resulted in the knowledge I had lost the higher frequency sound in my right ear (as a side note I was also told men lose high frequency in right ear and women lose low frequency in left ear…I will let you draw your own conclusions).

Getting my first hearing aid was an adventure in frustration. Too loud, too soft, too many programs to figure out, not enough high frequency, too much wind noise, of no use in restaurants or in simultaneous conversations – these were and are some of the foibles of hearing assistance devices. To top it off, I found I also had recoupment (sensitivity to noise) and tinnitus (constant variable frequency hissing) in both ears.

Since that first visit, I have gone through multiple hearing aids in an attempt to hear better…and I now wear them in both ears. I also find I use lip reading to “hear” better, a fact made clear every time someone turns their head away from me.

So why write this post? I am not here to complain or whine to the world because whether some behavior on my part, medications (yes, there are ototoxic side effects of some meds), loud music, or loud factory noises caused the hearing loss, it is something I am stuck with. I am writing so YOU can appreciate what you have before it is gone or muted.

Here’s what I have discovered:

  • Silence is golden: I never, repeat, never have a moment of silence. I can block out all external noises but tinnitus is still there warbling in my ears. My only wish would be that both ears would warble at the same frequency or to the same tune.
  • Lip movement: no matter the environment I am in, I need to see people’s lips to clearly understand what is said. Nothing makes this need so apparent as someone talking with their back to me. I have learned to use the phrases “What?,” “Can you repeat that?,” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you said” a great deal. If I am frustrated, my response is less politic; if they become frustrated, I stop asking.
  • Closed Captioning: Love it. Not sure why I never used it before my hearing loss and am grateful to all of the media channels for providing it. For those who have full hearing, turn it on and you will be amazed at the background conversations in shows and movies that you never pay attention to when focusing on the main characters.
  • Loud Music: hate it and love it. I used to love the beat you can feel down into your bones and how it can move your soul to take flight but I hate it because it actually hurts (recoupment and age). Knowing that anything above 85 decibels played for any length of time potentially causes hearing loss, I am no longer patient with it. Whether at a concert, event or church service, if the music is too loud I will either walk away until it is over or make sure to carry hearing protection. It is stupid for me (and everyone) to give up any more hearing frequencies by subjecting myself to loud noises and music.
  • Restaurants: I am amazed and depressed to see televisions blaring everywhere…restaurants, waiting rooms, gas stations…everywhere. We have become afraid of silence and dependent on continuous interruptions and distractions. Some of us with hearing loss avoid these places as much as possible – I actually will seek or move a chair in waiting rooms so that I am far away from the blare of the idiot box…and we wonder why the newer generations have so little focus.
  • Nature: I used to miss the sounds of nature. My new hearing aids have upped the sensitivity to high frequencies and during the recent storms and interludes between storms, I noticed a couple of things. First, the morning sounds of birds are almost overwhelming…each bird giving off its sweet cacophony of tweets and chirps. I am thankful I can hear them again. Second, the noise of the wind rushing through the leaves of the tallest trees is amazing. If you can hear well, take a moment, be still and listen to the wind whipping the leaves back and forth – a truly riotous sound which I had taken for granted for so long.
  • Grabbing Attention: When someone just starts talking to me, I invariably have to ask him or her to repeat. Due to hearing loss and tinnitus, I need a moment to focus on the sound of a person’s voice. It’s best to say “Hey Pete” before asking a question so I can turn my attention to what is being said or asked.
  • Paying Attention: whether on a phone call, video chat, seminar or other areas where multiple people gather, with hearing loss extra energy must be exerted to focus on and pay attention to what is being said. If two or more people are talking it becomes extremely difficult to separate conversations and after 30-40 minutes, I am exhausted. I used to participate in 4-5 hours video calls and eventually gave up because my head and ears hurt from the tense concentration of my attention so I didn’t miss anything…I no longer do that and find a 1-hour call to be more than enough.

Bottom line? Enjoy your hearing. Stop every once in a while and just listen; see how many different and varying sounds you can hear. Imagine life without those sounds. And on the other hand, imagine never ever getting a moment of true silence. Do your ears a favor and don’t allow yourself to be subjected to loud music or noise.

  • For those with hearing loss: 1) admit it; 2) quit fighting against technology that may make life easier and sounds clearer – get hearing aids and have them tuned frequently; 3) try to understand that people are not intentionally speaking clearly; 4) have patience when asking people to repeat what was said (there is a point where you may just give up on understanding what they are saying…people only have the patience to repeat something so many times); and 5) be yourself (if a joke slips by you let it; if the restaurant or place is to raucous understand, accept you may be left out of conversations; if the sound is too loud, excuse yourself and leave…they are YOUR ears).
  • And for those who have people around them with hearing loss: try to understand it is not their wish to misunderstand or not hear what you are saying…it cannot be helped. Assist their listening skills by 1) getting their attention first, pause, then speak; 2) showing your face to them (lip reading); 3) sitting in quiet restaurants and rooms for meaningful conversations; 4) holding one conversation at a time; and 5) using closed captioning whenever it is available.