We don’t mean to be mean. Sure, there was a time when we may have hated our hearing aids because they were too loud, too big, too ugly – and we didn’t really need them in the first place, right, but the family was nagging so much. 

And those cochlear implant sound processors! The bland color, the size, the way they guzzled battery power!

But we’re all over that now, aren’t we? If so, why don’t we always treat them with the necessary attention?

I’ve been wearing hearing aids for 40 years and a cochlear implant sound processor for one year. I should know all the right things to do, but on occasion I’m a little sloppy and don’t show these helpful and expensive techno-babies the TLC they deserve.

Last year, I lost my hearing aid, one of two that I have for my left ear. I was stumped at how this could happen. I searched everywhere – I even went to the lost and found of the ferry I’d taken from Vancouver to my home in Victoria a couple of days before.

“You’re looking for what, ma’am?”

“My hearing aid. It’s about this small, a sort of silvery color?”

“And on what sailing did you lose it?”

“I’m not 100% sure. I know it was the 9am from Vancouver, but it could have been three days ago, or a week ago Tuesday.”

She gave me a look. “Didn’t you notice at the time that things seemed, uh, a little quieter?  But I’m sorry, there’s nothing in our log book about a lost silvery hearing aid.”

Sure by now that the cat had got it, I made an appointment with my audiologist. Just before I left to see her, I did one more search, this time in the it-couldn’t-possibly-be-there places and voila! It was under my bedside table, which you can only get at by moving it – when vacuuming, for example, which I clearly don’t do often enough. But I was still confused – how in blazes did it get there? 

The other day, I asked myself another question when, walking about our camper, Flag, I stepped on something. What was that?”

Oh, great. My hearing aid.

Lucky for me – although I’m not sure I deserve such luck – I stepped on the ear mold, not the actual technology and the footy thing that helps keep the aid in the ear broke off. It works fine, except for a little difficulty extricating it from my ear, and the broken-off end scratches it a bit. I finally figured out what happened but the details are too embarrassing and complicated to explain. All I know is that when my audiologist reads this and sees the picture, she’s going to be disappointed in me. Or maybe she’ll laugh. (If anyone has any advice on repairing this so I can avoid seeing her face when I slink back into her office, I would greatly appreciate it.)

Any time hearing aid and cochlear implant users gather together, they share horrifying stories of disasters and near-misses.

One friend went snorkeling with his new hearing aids and one of them floated away to become fish food.

Many sound processors and hearing aids have been tragically drowned in the shower. (Didn’t they notice that the water sounded louder than normal?)

A rascally dog ate my hearing aid and had the nerve to smile at me with bits of my hearing aid hanging from the doggy hairs around his mouth.

I’ve learned that jumping up and down on a windy beach may cause my Kanso processor to fly off. (Who tells you this stuff?)

My minister’s mother baked hers in an apple pie for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Perfect pie, dead hearing aid.

Accidents happen. But sometimes, especially after wearing them for a long time, we can get a little careless and that’s when the lightning strikes.

To keep your technology safe, anytime it’s not in your ear or on your head, put it in its cradle. I use the night time drying-aid as a receptacle during the day if I take my technology out for any reason. Well, I do most of the time. Even though they feel like air when you’re wearing them, always remember to keep your aids and processors safe.

Show your hearing technology the love – otherwise it will cause you a lot of grief and a lot of money.

I never met another person with hearing loss until I was 40.

Well, there was my great-grandmother who had a voice like a foghorn because of her age-related hearing loss. And through the years I certainly saw people wearing hearing aids – large, beige kidney beans behind their ears, similar to my own. But I never interacted with anyone to discuss our mutual hearing challenges.

What’s worse, I never had a hearing loss hero when I was a child, or in my teens, or even in my early adulthood.There were few, if any, celebrities who were ‘out’ about the fact they didn’t hear well. There were two or three TV personalities such as Rose Marie, Norm Crosby, and Lou Ferrigno who were not afraid to admit their hearing loss, but I never saw them on TV saying, hey, if you have hearing loss, don’t worry, you’re not alone, here’s what you need to do!

This was before the internet – before baby boomers hit their hearing loss years and made it a public issue to deal with. Hearing aids had been in their Jurassic Park era, but now suddenly the technical, digital revolution hit the hearing aid and assistive devices industries.

But even with lovely, new and coincidentally smaller hearing aids that helped me hear better, I was still alone in my hearing loss journey. Heck, I didn’t even know I was on a journey. My communication and ‘coping’ strategies were those my parents tried to help with and which I learned through trial and error. No doctor, audiologist or hearing aid dispenser made any suggestions. There were no special supports in school for what was then a mild to moderate loss. 

I muddled through.

But when I turned 40 and reached out to the hearing loss community – wow! Life changed immediately, fully, fabulously. That weight on my back – the one that I didn’t even know was there – disappeared in a puff of freedom. I met people from all over the world who inspired me and taught me tricks of communication that I’d never learned in my lifetime of progressive hearing loss.

But were these people heroes to me? Sometimes I think we use the term too loosely. A dictionary describes a hero as ‘a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’.

I like all of this except for the ‘idealized’ part. One of my first hearing loss inspirations was Bev Biderman, a woman who wrote a ground-breaking book on hearing loss and cochlear implants (Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing). She was a leader in local hearing loss groups, an advocate, and a wonderful public speaker. She propelled me into my own speaking and writing career. I admire her greatly, but I don’t idealize her or any of the people who have ignited passion in me to communicate and share with others what I’ve learned. They are people, with all the quirks that go along with being human. Yet, I’ve heard stories of struggles with hearing loss so desperate, only the powerful inspiration of a certain person or persons helped them carry on.  

So yes, I guess we all need a hero or two in our lives, and whether we call them heroes, inspirations, or champions, it doesn’t matter.

Call them whatever you want – just be open to inspiration, because they’re doing what they do for a reason.


Featured Image: Art by Christopher Uminga