So, did my story and Matthew’s end happily? Well, yes, dear reader, it did. I got a set of hearing aids which I did get used to wearing, and in a surprisingly short space of time. When I saw Matthew for my three month check-up he asked my hearing aids how long they’d been turned on for (he didn’t tell me he could do that!) and advised me that they’d been on for eight hours a day, on average, which was very healthy. I can now wear them pretty much as long as I like. Some days, like today, when I’ve been at the Lido all day (hearing aids and water don’t mix) or else at home on my own, I haven’t worn them at all, but on a day when I go to work and then go out in the evening, I might wear them from 7am until midnight with no problems at all. And Matthew? Well, he got a suitcase-full of my money, which doubtless helped towards meeting his targets for that month, and he had a very lovely wedding, so I guess he’s pretty happy too.
And do the hearing aids help me to hear better? Well…..yes, on the whole. Do you remember that I said that you have to get used to “hearing-aid” hearing? Well, I have done. I particularly notice it if I put my hearing aids in at the Lido; when I put them in, the noise of the fountain immediately leaps into sharp relief and then fades into the background as my brain mutes it out. It’s quite a weird thing to experience, and a prime example of the process Matthew explained to me of acclimatising to the hearing aids.
They can’t solve all my problems – they know the difference between human voices and background noise, but they can’t work out who out of a group of people I want to talk to, so if I’m in a crowd talking to people in front of me while there are people talking behind me, or on either side, my hearing aids don’t know that it’s the people in front of me I want to talk so, so I still won’t hear them so well. This may explain why friends sometimes wonder if they’re working (a question to which the answer is always “Yes”; I can tell the difference between a working and a non-working hearing aid, as the latter sounds as if someone has turned my ear down. And Matthew and I still meet up regularly so that he can check my hearing, service my hearing aids and make sure they’re perfectly adjusted. Oooh, the glamour!)
Strangely enough, the main difference since I got my hearing aids has been in me. It can be hugely annoying to be with someone who doesn’t hear well – the constant What?s and Pardon?s drive you bonkers. Before my relationship with Matthew, if someone asked “Do you think you should get your hearing checked?”, it sounded to me like a personal criticism: “Oy, Deafo! Getcher ears sorted, it’s annoying!”. But now, no more! Armed with the trusty sword of righteousness and the shield of Matthew’s finest hearing aids, I no longer feel apologetic. No, I don’t hear well, and you know what? IT’S NOT MY FAULT. No-one knows why my ears don’t operate properly but if it is due to the fact that I was premature, THAT’S NOT MY FAULT. I have a pair of the finest hearing-aids that money can buy, and if they don’t operate perfectly in all circumstances, THAT’S NOT MY FAULT. If I can’t hear you properly, I can’t do anything more about it. You’ll just have to speak more loudly, or more clearly, and if you find my saying “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. You’ll have to speak louder” annoying, well, tough. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.
You may have noticed that in that last paragraph, when quoting myself, I did not say “What?” or “Pardon?”. No, no. With the lack of self-blame has come a new clarity and assertiveness. “What?” and “Pardon?” are confusing to people. A common problem for the hard-of-hearing is that people naturally drop their voices towards the end of a sentence or statement. It’s a sort of social signal to the other person that you’re done; you fade your broadcast out so that they can have a go. But for the deaf, it’s fatal. Somebody chats away, you nod and listen, and you hear all of it, except the last few words, which often contain the sense. So you ask the other person to repeat themselves, and they do, exactly, dropping their voices on exactly the same words. Which you do not hear. It’s very frustrating.
The solution, which I am now confident enough to use, is to be very specific about what you want the other person to repeat. Now I just say “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the last few words, can you repeat them?” If I tell someone I didn’t hear them and they don’t raise their voice, I say “You’ll have to speak up or I won’t hear you.” Sometimes I just say “Say that again.” On the whole it all works a lot better than “What?” and “Pardon?” I no longer feel ashamed about asking for what I need. After all, I don’t hear well, and that’s not my fault.
And what, dear reader, can you do for me, if you know me IRL? Well, nothing particularly specific. Speaking up helps. Facing me if you’re talking to me is good, but there are a lot of times when that’s not possible, and if it leads to me asking you to repeat stuff, be patient. If we’re somewhere with a lot of other people around us, offer me the spot with my back to the wall; it’ll help me to hear you better. Above all, just be kind and don’t get testy if I have to ask you to repeat stuff. After all, I am a bit a deaf. Have I mentioned that I wear hearing aids?