Laughing in the face of hearing loss

Over the past year, I’ve had an unusually high concentration of columns related to the fact that I’m “no spring chicken,” as my mom used to say.

Since each day is a personal record for most days lived, I’ve noticed a parallel number of side effects I never before experienced.

Take my latest.

In 26 years of wedded bliss, my bride and I have disagreed on a number of things ranging from timeliness of honey-do projects and being on time to my inability to hear her when she reminds me about them.   

I’ve always believed I wasn’t a very good listener. Undoubtedly, there would be a long line of my elementary school teachers who would back up my claim, also.  

The “Ken can’t hear” conversation with my wife usually begins after I acknowledge that she spoke, but haven’t the foggiest idea about what she said. To me, her words sound a lot like someone speaking around a mouthful of marbles.  There are sounds, but not much more.

After I reply, “What?” I rarely have trouble hearing her, however.  The crescendo in her voice provides that much needed enunciation of syllables, which allows me to fully absorb the gist of her words.

She concluded several months ago during the pandemic when everyone wore masks in public that I watched people’s lips move to understand what they were saying rather than actually hearing each word.

I laughed it off like I do most things that make me uncomfortable.

“I can hear fine,” I told her. “I’m just not a very good listener.”

To that she couldn’t help but agree, which provided me false hope that I had weathered her medical opinion.

But in an effort to humor her, I decided to take a hearing exam in a little windowed box where you wear headphones and raise your hand each time you hear a beep.  

I didn’t hear a lot of the beeps, but I was able to recite most of the words that were spoken to me, which made me feel pretty good until the doctor shared the results.  In one ear, I heard the upper range of sounds and in the other, the lower range.  The problem was I should have heard upper and lower ranges in both ears.

There was a chance the discrepancy was caused by a fairly common benign tumor called acoustic neuroma.  I hoped that was it, even though it meant surgery.  However, an MRI proved otherwise…I was simply hard of hearing, probably caused by natural aging and all those years when I was a dee jay and listened to music turned up to jet engine levels. 

“How do you feel about hearing aids?” the doctor asked.  “Because you need them.”

I chuckled, but I think he could read my thoughts, which were barely masked by a forced smile and the way I kept nodding “no.”

Months and several repeated conversations with my wife forced me to accept fate, so I went to a hearing aid store to pick out new devices – ones that would jam so deep into my ear canals that aside from tiny plastic retrievers, they would be virtually invisible.  

I tried them on vacation until one stopped working and simply became an earplug.  I put them away, but quickly understood that as your brain adjusts to wearing hearing aids, you immediately hear even less without them.  

So, as I await a repair, I’ve found that I ask my wife, “huh?” more than ever before.

Lucky for me, she seems to understand and just repeats things over and over again, each time a little louder than the last. Then, she asks when I will be picking up my new devices.  

I shrug, chuckle, and remain thankful that she doesn’t wear a mask in the house…

Ken, who begins most days by asking his wife if she can see his hearing aids before jamming them a little deeper into his ear canals, can be reached at ken.knepper@gmail.com.