I remember Dad joking about his hearing impairment around fifteen or twenty years ago. “I used to tell folks I was hard of hearing,” he’d quip with a wry grin, “Now, I’m just plain deaf.” From the vantage point I’ve gained, I’m not sure he was actually joking.
Whether from simple genetics or nearly sixty years of combined exposure to farm equipment, teaching shop classes and remodeling, I noticed my own loss of hearing several years ago. It moved from annoyance of myself to annoying others with my frequent “I’m sorry; say again, please?” to frustration to isolation.
I gave up on conversations in moving vehicles, especially with people who were sitting behind me. The combination of road noise and female voice frequencies made it impossible for me to catch all of what was said. I’d learned years earlier to combine partial hearing with amateur lip-reading. It’s quite challenging to read lips of someone who is sitting directly behind you.
And so, I began pretending not to hear or notice. I’d read or just stare vacantly out the window while those around me carried on their discussions. I rarely had to pretend to be preoccupied; I’ve had a natural tendency in that direction since childhood. The pretending came into play when I’d hide my frustration.
Each burst of laughter drove home the isolation and sense of exclusion. Obviously everyone else heard the punch line and thought it quite clever. I might have some idea of the general topic but that rarely moves one into appropriately timed outbursts of glee and amusement. Feeling left out in a large room with a few hundred other people who clearly are sharing something of significant entertainment value brings a very special sense of exclusion.
The solution seems simple: go buy hearing aids. Like a lot of the solutions that seem evident to ourselves and others, addressing hearing loss proves more complex than the casual observer might imagine. And in continued similarity to some of those other complications of mortality and humanity, putting it off doesn’t make it any easier.