Those of you who have already come into one of our clinics and had an appointment with me will probably have discovered that I wear hearing aids. People are often surprised by this and even more so when they discover that the hearing aids I wear are those ‘horrible things that go over your ears’. They then look really closely and see that mine are in fact quite discrete, even with my hair back in a pony tail. My hearing loss or hearing aid use is no secret and I would never want it to be that way. With this is mind, I thought I would talk about my hearing loss story.
I was already studying at the University of Western Australia to become an Audiologist when my hearing loss was first confirmed, but it had been a long running joke with my friends since I was about 15 years old. Looking back, there were so many obvious signs that were ignored. I was born at a time when there was no neonatal hospital hearing screening, and hearing screening before entering primary school was unheard of. So the exact onset of my hearing loss remains a mystery – perhaps forever that way. The first signs probably should have been picked up when I would jump in the car with my Mum and there would be a constant battle between us for how loud the car radio should be. I wanted it loud enough so I could sing along, and my Mother thought I was just being a difficult child. In the end we decided that Mum was sensitive to sound– no thought was ever given to my hearing.
At school, I just got on with things. Looking back though I was so tired coming home from school each day. Knowing what I do now, a hearing loss will absolutely make a child tired from all that extra effort they have to put in to hear what the teacher is saying. I disliked attention from my teacher and school peers, so I simply got on with my work. I always wonder whether my hearing loss might have been detected sooner had I been a naughty child.
At the age of 15 I went to Sweden for 12 months as an exchange student. There my closest friends were exchange students from other countries. They all had accents and English for the most part was their second (or even third or fourth) language. They started making jokes about how they could always understand each other when we spoke in English, but I couldn’t – my native tongue! As for Swedish – for the first time in my life I found something really hard to learn. Some of the words just sounded the same and I was always getting corrected on my pronunciation.
On my return to Australia, I started at a new high school and after several months, I confided to two of my new school friends that I thought I had a hearing loss. To my surprise this was not news to them. They had already noticed. A few weeks later all three of us were sitting in physics class and while we were doing our work, our teacher was up the front playing with a microphone and some speakers. Next thing, everyone in the classroom was covering their ears complaining of the awful feedback noise he was creating. I just sat there looking confused as to why everyone was so upset. I heard none of it.
Later at Sydney University studying my Bachelors of Science in hearing and speech, again my new friends picked up on it quite quickly. They suggested that we try and arrange a hearing test to be done at the campus. Like most things, I just never quite got around to it. By this point, I had suspected a hearing loss for over six years and the amount of miscommunication I was having was becoming quite a joke between myself and my friends.
Years later, working as an Audiologist and surrounded by new hearing aids that were capable of such amazing things, I bit the bullet and got my first pair. They were great, my friends loved them too, the television was quieter and my confidence was improved. There were hiccups along the way, a bit of feedback here and some repairs there. Five years later, I got my next set of hearing aids – a pair of Widex Unique 440 Passions, and this is when things really changed. I thought I’d coped well enough before without aids, but now I know that I didn’t. Without them, it feels like trying to communicate underwater with sounds muffled making hearing hard work. But now I come home from work ready to continue listening. My new aids are more comfortable and they don’t whistle like my first pair. I know now that technology doesn’t replace what the human body at its best can do, but it sure is great to be able to hear well. I wouldn’t be without my hearing aids.