I recently wrote about performing music again long after I had assumed that those days were over. But I was convinced to try again after learning about new hearing aid technology (my Phonak Audèo V), research about the brain, hearing rehab, vocal training and dedication for lots of practice.
When I first started preforming again I chose familiar venues – a friend’s home and a local establishment – and then enlisted my own audiences through an e-mail newsletter, social media postings, and personal referrals, not knowing what might come from my performance. Each concert was full – about 30 people – and the response was warm and positive.
The first two performances were less than precise and the feedback that I received, albeit encouraging, indicated that more work was needed.
At first blush, it appeared that I did not account for other variables that might have improved my performance and more closely met my standards. After the second performance, in fact, I considered ending the test runs until I could be more “sure.”
As a relatively new user of hearing aids (three years), and since I’m only mildly hard of hearing (without them, the spoken word is a bit blurry; with them it’s crisp), I don’t feel the need to wear my hearing aids all the time.
Oh, of course at the beginning my audiologist told me to get used to them by putting them on in the morning, not minding them all day long (pretending they’re not there and acting naturally), and taking them off in the evening. Beginners do as they’re told, don’t they? But my days are quite long (6:30 to midnight, I don’t sleep much) and my batteries ran out after 5 to 6 days.
When I got my first pair of hearing aids, I was hesitating between a smaller and slightly cheaper model, and a somewhat larger and more expensive one. I honestly wasn’t sure the sound quality was better in the more expensive one. I thought it was, but I wasn’t sure.
What tipped the balance was that the more expensive hearing aids had a button that I could use to switch between programmes. And I wanted that. I was frustrated by the lack of control I had as a user on the hearing aid settings, and so the idea of having programmes I could switch between gave me something to hang on to.
Imagine being at a movie where the sound track is turned to the highest volume. Actors’ voices are screaming at you. After five minutes, you leave holding your ears and cursing the theatre for its poor judgment. Turning newspaper pages, running water in the kitchen sink, your child placing dishes and silverware on the table — all are intolerable to your ears. A baby cries or a truck screeches its brakes to a halt and the sound is excruciating. What has happened to my ears?
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.
Since losing all my hearing in my left ear suddenly in 2011, I’ve suffered with bouts of sensitivity to sound. Ordinarily, I manage this by retreating to a quiet room or going to sit in the garden (if the weather’s decent). I read a book, write something, or distract myself with social media – or I sit quietly with our dog, Tilly, brushing or stroking her and generally trying to relax.
Sometimes, I take out my hearing aids for a bit, other times, I switch them to ‘Comfort in Sound’ or ‘Speech in Noise’ but, usually, I manage to ride it out without getting too distressed by it all.
An ambulance siren wails — and then another — it’s a piercing, high-pitched howl which cuts into my consciousness like a knife stabbing into my head. Slowly, the sound recedes but it is replaced by the peel of the bells of the cathedral, the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and the rattle of cartwheels over cobbles. I’m on a city break to Florence and the noise is deafening and, at this very moment, I couldn’t have regretted this trip more.
Every Vespa’s engine noise is like a slap around the head. Each time a bus’ air brakes sound, I feel like I’ve been punched. This constant noise pollution is an assault on the senses the likes of which I have never known. It’s exhausting and terrifying in equal measures.
From what I can gather, parks and quiet spaces are hard to come by in this city: it’s not like Paris (ah, Pa-ree!) where you can readily escape to the peace and tranquillity of a public jardin at any time. This is Florence and I’m finding it pretty ‘full on’.
As promised, here are my impressions of the Bolero hearing aids I’m currently trying out (hoping I don’t get any of the technical stuff wrong here, do tell me if I did!). They have open tips, like my Widex ones have, but are BTE (entirely behind-the-ear) rather than RIC (with the receiver, the part that produces sounds, directly in the ear canal — this would be the Phonak Audéo model, which I might try in future). My Phonak audiologist Jennifer tells me it doesn’t change much, acoustically: a RIC just moves some of the technology away from behind the ear, allowing the part that sits there to be smaller — important for those, who, like Steve, appreciate when their hearing aids are invisible.
There’s a brilliant book called ‘The Tent, the Bucket and Me’ by Emma Kennedy, which tells of her childhood camping experiences. Now, I don’t profess to have any of her talent or wit, but I did recently go camping and I thought I’d share the trials and tribulations of camping as a hearing aid user and I have to say that I foresaw none of these difficulties.
Given that I get on with my life without proactively thinking abut my hearing aids on a day-to-day basis (beyond making sure I have spare batteries in every handbag and every coat pocket), I was not prepared for how much harder camping would make communicating.
As I ride the train every morning, I am reminded of what quiet and/or silence really is. That brief moment when you can hear a pin drop in a packed train car, when someone rustling an umbrella or opening a bag catches your attention because it is a harsh invader in the heavy fog of silence. Everyone seems tired, there aren’t any jovial conversations being had — just the undeniable silence that leaves only the rhythmic steel wheels churning along the rails. When did silence become so thick?