It was last week. I guess a two-year love story with my aids is not too bad, so it had to happen someday.
I was working in my office when a loud alarm-like sound went off. Now, in certain parts of the world this is habitual, but not in this quiet little part of Switzerland. We don’t have house and car alarms going off twenty times a day (we don’t have house or car alarms most of the time). Ambulances and police cars sometimes go by but they won’t use their sirens unless they need them.
We looked at each other in the office, and I hopped out of the ground-level window to investigate. Was this going to involve calling the police?
Since I started spending so much time thinking about hearing loss and hearing technology, one of the things I’ve obviously been thinking about it social stigma related to hearing loss. Stigma is immediately cited as the reason people wait so long to get fitted, and the reason for which “invisible” is a great quality for a hearing aid. (Not everybody agrees, though.)
In an attempt to wrap my head around some of these issues, I’ve been trying to make parallels between eyes and ears, glasses and hearing aids. Why is “not hearing well” considered so differently from “not seeing well”? Saying “there’s more stigma” is not really an answer. Social stigma comes from somewhere, right?
It’s been 8 months since I picked up my first pair of hearing aids from the audiologist’s office. Of course, as with many other men in middle age, my hearing had been on the decline for several years prior to the Big Day. I just suffered silently during those earlier years as my hearing declined — frankly, in the name of vanity (with plenty of denial thrown in). My wife and daughters suffered not so silently: “When are you going to get your ears checked? That’s way overdue!”
It really was a significant day in my life. I can best describe adding hearing aids to my daily personal accessories for the first time as similar to the day at 15 years old when I donned my first pair of prescription eyeglasses. Walking into my high school the next day, I expected every student and teacher in the building to gawk at me. … What a surprise when hardly anyone paid any notice. Even my friends barely joked about my change in appearance. (I wear eyeglasses to this day.)
It started in 1993, several months after my first birthday, with one simple word. Both of my parents were surprised to hear me talk because struggles with ear infections delayed my speech. All it took for me to speak was the daily visit from the neighbors’ cat. Tigger was sitting outside the kitchen door, expecting to be let in for snuggles, cuddles, and food. I took one look at him and exclaimed “cat!” After my first word, however, nobody could have predicted the battle I would fight to maintain my hearing.
Ear problems considered typical for infants transformed into a chronic illness, which disintegrated my eardrums over the course of 10 years. Delays in speech became social delays caused by hearing loss, and frequent absences related to illness. There were plenty of things that upset me about ear infections; not having a lot of friends; ice-cold eardrops that gave me migraines; teachers who did not understand my health problems. Nothing upset me as much, however, as not being able to hear a cat purr. I knew it existed because it vibrated in my fingertips, giving me a “thank-you” massage for stroking the cat’s back. No matter how close I put my ear though, I could never hear the cat’s wordless way of saying “thank you” and “I love you.”
By age 10, I worried that would never happen. Half of my left ear was eroded by ventilation tubes, and only one scrap of my right eardrum was left. I was told, if my health did not change, I would be stone deaf at sixteen. Would I lose my chance to hear the cat’s purr? Would I ever find a way to stop these infections?
With the early days of hearing aid wonder hearing behind me, I sometimes find myself forgetting them. The other day, it happened again. I left home and realised just in time that I didn’t have my ears with me.
I blame my morning shower. I have to wait until my ears are completely dry to put my hearing aids in. By that time I’m up and about and out of my “waking up and getting started” routine. What is the best solution to this? I definitely haven’t found it yet.
It’s been a year since I joined Phonak as Social Media Manager/Strategist. Previously I worked for a young, cool, and fun watch brand that was the perfect fit for social media. When I decided to change companies people asked me: “Why on earth would you leave your current job to work for the hearing aid industry?” My answer could be summed up in one word: engagement. The kind of engagement Brian Solis has so often written about.
To me, it was obvious that the hard-of-hearing community would bring a deeper level of engagement than the “Wow, cool & nice!” comments that appear whenever a “cool” brand shares something on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. This community would be willing to bond deeper through social channels with the brands manufacturing the devices that truly impact their daily life.