Hearing, Listening, and The Polar Express

“You must have hated The Polar Express when you were a kid,” my friend Stacy said to me.

The two of us were sitting in our class, Writing for Children, talking about picture books. As the semester came to a close, we were finishing our unit on illustrated stories, and meandered to The Polar Express. Being a Caldecott-winning story adapted into a movie, it was an ideal book for class discussion. Most of my classmates heard it at least once, and had their own stories about hearing it for the first time. Mine was not particularly memorable, seeing as I was nine and the elementary school librarian read it to my class.

At least…I did not think it was memorable until Stacy pointed out a central theme to the story.

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The Day I Heard Santa Claus

It was 6 A.M. on Christmas morning. My brother, Doug, and I had woken up much earlier, but our parents said, “Don’t wake us up before six.” Each minute seemed to drag before, finally, we could spring into our parents’ bed shouting, “WAKE UP! IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

Both of them rolled under the covers, in hopes of grabbing a few more seconds of sleep. My dad cried, “Spirit! Haunt me no more!”, before letting my brother and me climb into bed. It was very easy to fit two parents, a four-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl, and a two-year-old cat under the same sheets. We were all warm, snug, and full of Christmas cheer. Inevitably, my Dad would always ask the same question, and it would always break my heart.

“Did you hear Santa last night?” My dad asked.

“Sure did!” Doug replied.

“Oh…yeah…me too…” I stammered, faking a smile.

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About Being Confused

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been trying out a variety of hearing aids as part of my newly-found “guinea pig” position at Phonak. As a geek, I love playing with new technology and trying things out. As a person with hearing loss, I’m curious about how good things can get for me.

One of the challenges I’ve come upon trying out hearing aid solutions is confusion. You know what happens when you’re shopping for perfumes, and after a (short) while you can’t distinguish smells anymore? That’s a bit what it feels like with sound. Maybe it has to do with the rather strong “habituation” component there is in the way we process sound.

Some situations are clear-cut: for example, after trying out the Bolero Q90 hearing aids for a few weeks, I switched back to my Widex Clear 330 ones to see if I could spot a “reverse difference”. One situation where there was no debate was at the vet’s: I’d been going there regularly throughout my Bolero trial, and when I went back with my Widex aids in, I really struggled to understand what my vet was saying. The room is a bit echoey and she speaks quite fast. To make extra sure I wore the Boleros next time around.

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The Inadequacy of Grateful Journals

Thanksgiving just went by in the United States, and Christmas is arriving exactly 28 days after. With the arrival of a season revolving around thankfulness and generosity, I have thought a lot about how people show their gratitude. A common method promoted by inspiration sites and figureheads like Oprah is the “Grateful Journal.” One is expected to write a list, ranging from three to ten items, of things for which they are thankful and explain why. Grateful journals are often suggested to individuals going through difficult transitions to maintain a positive outlook on life.

Roasted Turkey

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What a Sound Difference!

I have been wearing hearing aids all my life, I was born deaf.

I grew up learning to adapt to new sounds and listening from the hearing aids.

But as we all know, hearing aids don’t last forever which means new upgrade, new sound quality, new everything. I have been wearing behind the ear hearing aids since I was a baby. I have had these particular old hearing aids for 10 years.

New hearing aids for Abby.

Ten-year-old hearing aids plus lifestyle changing equals different sound quality and environment. I can say for sure it’s a huge difference and improvement when switching from these old hearing aids to these new ones.

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But Your Hearing is Perfect

We’ve all talked on this blog about how different the perception is between viewing aids (better known as glasses) and hearing aids (better known as “my ears” by people wearing them, and as “prosthetics” by people seeing them). A few months ago we were on holiday at the beach — don’t let me get me started on Corsica, one of the finest places in the world. We spent two weeks there; every day we’d go to the beach and dive among schools of fish.

Blue Corsica

Without my hearing aids, discussions on the beach were some approximate gibberish mixed with outcries from happy children playing around, the buzz from some distant sea scooters, the splashes, the regular pounding of waves. In fact I heard less than half the conversations. But you know how beach conversations go: most of the time it’s more chit-chat than life-changing decisions, so I didn’t really mind and decided to let go. I love reading books on the beach anyway.

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Hearing Things and Horror Movies

When I was thirteen years old, I loved horror movies. The scarier, the better. Bring on the bloodbath, and the ghosts and the ghouls. The louder you could scream, the harder I would laugh. Nothing in a horror movie could scare me, and I wanted to see the most shocking, frightening things possible. Sadly, my brother was terrified of horror movies, so I could not get the R-Rated ones into the house. No matter how hard I tried, he’d tell Mom and Dad, and I’d be forced to put them back. With a little bit of quick thinking and the line, “it’s only PG-13”, however, I managed to see The Grudge in the summer of 2005.

That summer was a series of firsts. Along with my first time succeeding in getting a horror movie back home, it was also my first summer with a functional eardrum and working two different jobs.

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Imagining the Future of Audiology and Fitting

Writing software is great!

You get to tell a computer, a machine, anything that holds some kind of electronic intelligence, what it should do. Isn’t that great and liberating?…

That is, until you start feeling selfish for repeatedly executing this demonstration of power. Then bringing your semiconductor pal into submission ceases to be funny.

Well, unless you do write code for a greater good.

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Now and Then: 10 Years with an Eardrum

If you had asked me how I envisioned my life on August 24th, 2004, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Heck, I wouldn’t have been able to say anything because of the intubation scrapes on my throat and the tight bandaging around my head. On that date, I had undergone my first tympanoplasty to repair my left eardrum and restore my hearing. With the optimistic outcome my surgeon had promised, I knew my life would drastically improve once I had “perfect hearing” in at least one ear. 10 years later, I looked in a mirror and realized the greatest changes, though made possible by my surgery, were more important than restored hearing.

When I had the surgery, I was twelve years old, trying to find new direction and scared out of my mind of the future. After getting rid of my punk rock spikes and (most of) my clothes from Hot Topic, my wardrobe was in recovery from being my rage outlet at my hearing loss. Underneath my bandages, my hair was short from chopping it off after a decade of ear infections. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a singer or veterinarian­­—two careers that demanded normal hearing for very different reasons. My “only hope” of romance was writing obsessively to Tom Felton because middle school boys brutally teased me for having hearing aids. Worst of all, I was plunged into a sea of agony, packing gel, and tinnitus with no guarantee of restoring my eardrum.

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Which Will it Be? Dementia, or Hearing Better Than a Normal-Hearing Person

In my work, I keep track of technology developments across a variety of fields to try to better anticipate what the future might be like (especially for media and news). Since getting hearing aids about a year and a half ago, and becoming a contributor to this blog, I’ve (of course) included advancements in hearing technology as well as hearing medicine and research to my scanning routine.

Lately, there’s been a lot of activity in the “hearing” space, both positive and worrying. (Since I am, for the most part, a technology optimist, I believe — and hope — that a positive hearing future is more likely.)

JANUS  (from Vatican Collection)
Photo credit: Jim Gardner

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