In March 1969 I learned that I had a severe hearing loss when I applied for a job at International Nickel’s Sudbury mine in Northern Ontario, Canada. I was 20, apparently able-bodied and smart enough to dig ore. I failed to get the job when I failed the hearing test. Presumably my near-deafness was a safety hazard.
I was shocked but wiser. No wonder that over the years, so many voices had seemed muffled. But clever me had developed the hearing faker’s comprehending smile and easy head nod at parties or at school when I could not quite make out conversations.
INCO’s rejection inspired me to find a job in the mining industry. I spent the summer of 1969 working in the northern Canada bush around noisy De Havilland Beaver float planes and whiny Bell Jet Ranger 206B jet helicopters. The noise probably did not help my hearing since I was later told I had suffered some mechanical damage to my ears on top of the apparently genetic nerve damage. Although hearing loss runs in the family I was not told as a child or youth that my hearing was impaired or at threat. I may have paid some price for my love of the loud boogie, blues and rock played by the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd and other bands I danced to as a teenager.
It was probably November 1969 when I walked out of Eaton’s downtown store onto Yonge Street in Toronto, equipped with a new and powerful hearing aid. The kind Eaton’s salesman had insisted I wear the aid in my left year because I “had more to work with”, but I likely lost some hearing in the “worse ear” over the years because of that advice. I was unable to hear my good friend Gina talk because of the amplified clamor of the traffic. It took a long time to learn to hear comfortably aided. I had to resist cranking up the gain too loud – the insistent whistle of feedback, silent to me – would draw glares from the nearby offended.
Although I have lost some hearing, I have gained some listening skills. I have to look at people when they talk to me. I have to watch their faces and see their eyes. But my hearing loss is an invisible affliction. Folk normally cannot see my (now two) hearing aids because they are hidden in the generous bush of my still-abundant curly hair. So few people realize that it may be a struggle to hear them when they talk to me their backs turned to me; or, that it is a pain to decode mumbles buzzing through lip-shrouded beards and mustaches. Worst of all, are the professional dinners at loud, always so loud, restaurants. At such times it is a delicious temptation to withdraw from the madding crowd. I did just that a few moths ago, closing my eyes for a some tranquil respite during a very raucous banquet. But not for long – the table host urged me to wake up!
Hearing loss is common. Yet so many people fake hearing, folk who should be wearing hearing aids, but don’t. I know who you are -you need to see a speaker’s lips, or have your husband speak even louder, or puzzle over some misunderstood word, odd for not being in the context of the cocktail party chatter. Maybe if hearing aids were Calvin Klein statements they would be more popular. After all, so many people wear neon-flashing Bluetooth ear pieces, hearing aids are bland in comparison. Now there is an idea: make hearing aids larger (not smaller), garish and glittering; wear them as accessory bling and perhaps the horrible prices of hearing aids will tumble.
Stay for Public Service Announcement: For more information on your hearing loss, or that of your loved, exasperating ones: check out the the Hearing Loss Association of America® (formerly called Self Help for Hard of Hearing People).