The Wash of Shame

It began with an ear infection and an early return from choir practice. My director sent me home after noticing that my energy levels were cut in half. Usually, I was center stage, singing at the top of my lungs and making a complete fool of myself—a change in pace from my self-conscious 12-year-old peers. When she saw me slink to the back, my director knew something was wrong. Upon revealing that I was sick, she wanted me to stay in bed.

“We can’t have you missing the concert in two weeks!”

pants in washer
Photo credit Petras Gagilas

Right before coming home, I took my hearing aids out of my ears. My audiologist warned me that fluid could damage the hearing aid itself or, at bare minimum, be difficult to clean out of the tubes. With yellow slime pouring out of ears, I did what I could to protect my hearing aids from damage. By the time I got home, however, they were the furthest things from my mind. I had started to run a fever—something that I never did unless I was seriously ill. The infection was becoming incredibly painful, and all I wanted was to go to bed. I changed into my pajamas and crawled under the sheets, glancing at that day’s clothes before falling asleep.

To this day, I still remember the clothes I had discarded—a red shirt with a black cat and jeans with deep pockets sealed off by zippers.

After my return from choir practice, I did not go to school for a week. Most of my time was spent sleeping, watching The Simpsons, or playing Vet Emergency on the computer. Occasionally, I was pulled out of the house for a trip to the doctor, or to pick up Augmentin from the pharmacy. Three days of drugs started pulling me out of fever delirium, back into consciousness. For better or worse, however, my fever broke right before disaster struck the house.

I remember everything perfectly about that day. It was 2:00 in the afternoon, two days shy of the calendar changing to June. My pajamas were a soft purple, and I sat at the computer obsessively looking for pictures of Draco Malfoy while “examining” a sick dog. The washing machine and dryer were humming in the adjacent room, and the smell of Tide tickled my draining nose. Slowly, the dryer’s hum began to fade, and was replaced by my mother’s footsteps. I thought nothing of my mother getting the laundry out of the dryer until I heard The Infernal Scream of Doom.


Now, it’s not unusual for my mother to yell at me about something. To this day, everybody in my family makes fun of her for losing her temper and screaming at everything. On that day, however, even I was frightened by my mother’s screams. I could feel each syllable vibrating my skin and Mom’s anger cutting through my bones. I knew that I had done something horribly wrong, but what? At the time, I couldn’t come up with anything painfully obvious. A week of slug-like behavior rarely gets anyone into trouble.

I spun my rolling chair away from the computer desk, and turned towards my mother. Hesitantly, I asked what was wrong. Mom held two rubbery magenta objects in her hands. Immediately, I was gripped with horror and understood why she had been screaming so violently. All I could bring myself to say was, “oops.”

Turns out my attempt to protect my hearing aids backfired and bit me right in the butt—literally, as it turned out, because I left my hearing aids in my pockets. Feverish delirium made me forget where I put my hearing aids after choir practice. Mom never checked our pockets, seeing as the only thing I kept in them was money, and that always made it through the wash safely. The combination resulted in my hearing aids going through a full laundry cycle. Neither Mom nor I had a clue until she removed my jeans from the dryer. The Infernal Scream of Doom erupted when Mom discovered the odd lumpy things in my pockets were $3000 hearing aids.

We hoped that the dryer might have removed enough water for effective function. That idea, however, was quickly dashed as we went through several batteries and got nothing but silence. Quickly, we notified Medicaid to see if I was eligible for state-funded replacements. Under normal circumstances, I would have been out of luck and paid for a new pair out of pocket (if you’ll pardon the pun). Once they heard I was a twelve-year-old who was incident-free until she got sick, they agreed to replace them on one condition.

“If you wash your hearing aids again, we’re not paying for another set of replacements.”

Duly noted, Pennsylvania. My hearing aids have not seen the washing machine since.

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