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When Your Mind Thinks You Still Belong at the Kids’ Table, but Your Aging Body Tells You Otherwise

How I learned to accept that I needed to wear hearing aids.

Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman.  My new hero.

This is the story of how I became bionic.

Okay, I’m not actually bionic.

I decided that referring to myself as bionic is much cooler than saying that I recently found out I need to wear hearing aids in my early forties.

Until I received the audiogram results from my doctor, I didn’t believe I had a real hearing problem. Sure, I had noticed that many of my friends, family, and acquaintances had become low talkers and mumbled, especially when they turned their backs to me. 

I also noticed that some of the actors on television didn’t  enunciate clearly, which annoyingly compelled me to turn on the closed captions when I watched them act in my favorite shows. They really should have learned how to speak more clearly before going into this field, I thought to myself.

A few years prior, I received some feedback from a colleague that he felt he needed to repeat himself on several occasions because it seemed like I hadn’t listened to him the first time. We sat in cubicles and communicated back and forth to each other from our seats. Looking back, I remember I had some difficulty at times hearing what he and others said. I probably asked for additional clarification more frequently than the norm or guessed what was said and hoped for the best. Working from home these past few years, I would turn the volume up on calls and/or instant messenger which seemed to avoid these problems.

It wasn’t until my husband, daughter and I were sitting on our couch on the second floor of our three-level townhouse a couple of months ago, when I began to realize that I might have an actual issue.

“Mom,” my daughter said, “Are you going to turn that thing off?”

“What thing?” I replied.

My daughter and husband looked at me incredulously.

“Can’t you hear your clock radio alarm going off upstairs?” my husband asked.

The truth was I couldn’t. I thought they were joking. It took me until I was half way up the stairs until I heard the sweet sounds of Bruno Mars telling me he’d give me “gold jewelry shining so bright and strawberry champagne on ice.”

Okay, maybe I do have a slight problem, I thought to myself.

To appease my family, and convince them that I simply had an age-appropriate, minor hearing loss, I asked my doctor for a referral to get my hearing checked out at a local hearing center.

When I walked into the hearing center office, I expected to see elderly patients with canes and hairnets sitting in the waiting room with the receptionist yelling “Next!” through a megaphone. Instead, I was the only one there and was greeted by a woman speaking in a regular tone asking me to fill out some forms. 

Embarrassed by my ageist assumptions, I was then introduced to the doctor who asked me what brought me into see her. I told her the clock radio story and then she took me into a room that looked like a recording booth. Instead of laying down a phat track, I had to click buttons that I held in my hands as soon as I heard certain tones. I also needed to repeat multi-syllable words after the doctor spoke them to me through my headphones.

While in retrospect it seemed that the volume dropped greatly after the first few words, I still thought I “passed” with flying colors. I sat there smugly waiting to hear the doctor say that my results were in the normal range for my age. Instead, I learned that I had low to moderate hearing loss in both ears and that I would need hearing aids. I felt my cheeks burn and any ego I had remaining, deflate.

I thought back to the concerts I attended over the years. Sensing what I was about to ask, the doctor said that my hearing loss was the type that is most likely attributed to genetics. No one in my family (parents, brother, or grandparents) had ever been diagnosed with hearing problems, though my dad, who passed away in 2008, had been a loud talker. I always attributed this to his being from New York, but it’s possible he had undiagnosed hearing issues.

Still somewhat shell-shocked, the doctor began to give me her high pressure sales pitch. “For active lifestyles like yours,” she said, “you’ll want to order directly from us the top of the line hearing aid model, which costs about $7000.”

Visions of dollars falling from tree branches danced through my head. I told her that I’d need to take some time to think about next steps and asked to get a copy of my audiogram.

The doctor handed me a brochure and I walked out, humbled and dejected.

When I got home, I took some time to look at the brochure. Each model promised that I’d be able to hear religious services (Super, thought me, the girl who doesn’t attend religious services.) Only the top-of-the-line model promised that it would help me hear well during social activities like “cards and bingo.” I’m not sure why crocheting, scrap-booking, and jazzercise were left off the list, but after some bitter laughter, I began to get excited about being able to hear B6 shouted at me by a professional bingo caller.

This isn’t the first time I became acutely aware that the years were ticking by, though the other reminders were a little subtler. There was the first time I felt significant knee pain after a 5K run. Then the gray hairs on my head that had at one time been confined to an easy-to-cover location with just the right hairstyle, began to spread like weeds and display themselves in more obvious locations around my pate.

One of my favorite movie scenes about getting older which immediately came to mind after my hearing center excursion, is from the 2014 Ben Stiller/Naomi Watts movie, While We’re Young. Ben Stiller feels pain in his knees while riding his bike with his much younger new friend. He goes to see his doctor.

The dialogue goes like this:

Dr. Nagato: The more concerning thing here is your arthritis.

Josh: Arthritis.

Dr. Nagato: Yes, you have arthritis in your knee.

Josh: Is arthritis a catch-all for some kind of injury to the…

Dr. Nagato: No, arthritis is a degradation of the joints.

Josh: Yeah, I know what traditional arthritis is but…

Dr. Nagato: I’m not sure what you mean by traditional, but this is arthritis.

Josh: Arthritis arthritis.

Dr. Nagato: Yes, I usually just say it once.

As evidenced by the scene above and by my hearing loss denial, in our minds, many of us still feel like we did when we were 18. We think we are so much younger than previous generations looked and acted at our current age. Many of us listen to the latest music and stay up on pop culture, politics, and technology. We also work to stay in good physical shape by exercising and eating well. Our bodies, however, refuse to allow us to completely lie to ourselves like our minds do.

My dad wore a t-shirt that read “I’m a kid trapped in a 50-year-old body” into his sixties. I used to roll my eyes at him for doing so, but now I’m sadly able to relate.

I got my bionics (fine, hearing aids) last week. Instead of purchasing the aids through the hearing center, I found a great, reputable website that offered large discounts on the best brands.

Since then, the closed captions have been turned off, I’ve said “what?” much less frequently, and I’ve accepted that auditory assistance is a positive thing. The latest models are much more concealed than earlier versions, so it’s not obvious to the world that I’m wearing them. Plus, they are Bluetooth compatible with my iPhone.

Soon, I plan to go to my first local bingo hall. I can’t wait to get my hands on those cards and chips!

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