If I didn’t already have enough reasons to love the telecoils in my hearing aid and cochlear implant – I recently discovered another one. 

Telecoil and loop systems let me hear myself!  

As a public speaker and performer, I use the amplification system provided by the venue. Often, hearing my voice as it goes out to the room, there’s an echo, environmental or audience noise that interferes with how well I hear. At hearing loss events, however, the room is usually ‘looped’ to allow people with hearing loss to hear. This audio induction loop system provides a wireless signal that is picked up by the telecoil-enabled hearing aid or cochlear implant. I can’t explain it any better than that, because I really don’t understand how it works. But it just does, OK?

Recently, I had the honor of performing my show, “Huh? Life with a Cranky Cochlea”, renamed “I’m Hearing as Hard as I Can” in Canada, at two major hearing loss conferences – the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association national event in Victoria, BC and the Hearing Loss Association of America annual convention in Salt Lake City.

For the first time, I had included piano players in my show; I mean, who wants to listen to one person blah-blah-blah-ing for an hour? Music adds emotional spirit to performances and telecoils let people enjoy, once again, what had diminished with their hearing loss.  Two fabulous musicians joined me: Patrick Godfrey in Victoria and Stu Nunnery in Salt Lake City. (Because at least 99.99999% of North Americans have never heard of me, I don’t have the star power to draw large crowds and travel with my own piano man!)

 

At both events, a coalition of hearing loop installers led by the amazing Richard McKinley of Contacta, looped every single meeting room, banquet and performance space. This involved hundreds of person-hours and many thousands of feet of wire and tape to create effective hearing access. When you stand or sit inside the pink or blue tape, and flick to telecoil, you’re hearing pure, quality sound in your technology. This moment of connection never fails to delight telecoil users because the strain of listening is immediately and drastically reduced. 

All performances should have a “tech run”– where the technicians make sure the sound and lighting systems are working, I try to remember my words, and the piano man makes sure the piano is in tune. With this show, Piano Guys and I also had to be able to hear ourselves and each other on stage. Professional musicians and singers rely on monitors so that they can hear themselves. Stage monitors sit on the stage facing to the performers, and singers also wear IEMs, in-ear monitors, so that they can stay on musical track, because if they can’t hear themselves, they can’t sing properly.  If you have hearing loss, you can relate to this – the better you hear yourself, the better your speech and less chance of speaking too loudly or leaving out important speech bits like the ‘s’ sounds or ends of words.

At the technical run-through in Victoria, Richard taped the headset to my face. This device was new to me; I had always worn a mike clipped to my clothing, which had the unfortunate effect of cutting out my voice whenever I turned my head while speaking. I didn’t mind the headset this time, because I no longer wear a hearing aid on that side, so the two wires weren’t competing for space, and the beige color blended in with my skin, kind of. But I did have an issue with the piece of band aid he used to secure it to my face. How can a guy who had just done a very large, detail-oriented job such as looping an entire building, be out of sticky tape? (Alas, there is no pride in this business; you go with what works.)

Then Richard said, “OK, now turn on your telecoils.”  Excuse me?! Why turn on my telecoils – I was the one doing the talking? But, a miracle!  I heard my voice clearly in my own ears, just as the audience would hear it. The stage had been separately looped and as long as I didn’t fall off the stage, my active telecoils turned my hearing technology into IEMs, freeing me up to focus on my performance rather than my voice.  

Patrick Godfrey is ‘hearing’, so he could hear me well, and a stage monitor helped him hear his own music. But in Salt Lake City, there was a different challenge: Stu Nunnery also has severe hearing loss. This is what he said on his Facebook page (edited):

Two performers with significant hearing challenges get up on a stage. There is a long script that is to be presented and followed by the musician who must hit exact cues.

At rehearsal, thing go poorly; the sound on stage does not provide enough volume or clarity for the performers to hear each other. Cues are missed and there is real concern about the evening’s show.

In the intervening hours, Contacta reset the stage with a better hearing loop configuration.

Gael and I take the stage not at all sure how we will compensate – only to discover that every word of Gael’s presentation and my responses are clear and full.

Gael is on fire. I hit the musical cues on time. The performance is a great success technically and artistically. 

 

Telecoils and loops keep saving the day for people with hearing loss. It just gets better and better all the time.

Today, I met with a new audiologist for the first time.  Well, she’s not a new audiologist…she’s been practicing for a while.  But she was new to me, and as I took the ferry to Vancouver from Victoria, I was nervous because there was a lot riding on this visit. 

“Breaking in” a new hearing health professional can be as stressful as switching hairdressers. You wonder, what if she’s not really that good, what if I can’t properly explain what I need (want), what if this is just a job to her and she really doesn’t care if I never come back.

Your expectations are high and rightfully so. You want to look good – and you want to hear well. After a visit to a less-than-stellar hairdresser, you remind yourself, after you stop crying, that the buzz cut and crooked bangs will grow out in a week and you can try your luck elsewhere. But it’s not so easy to jump from audie to audie. Unlike dropping a hairdresser at a bad clip of the scissors, I can’t try out a hearing professional every few months because I don’t buy new hearing aids that often. I usually switch providers only when one of us moves away. Or, as has happened twice in the last 10 years, when my audiologist selfishly decides to have a child and takes a full maternity leave. While I’ve never been to a truly inadequate audiologist, I have had to train a couple of mumblers who skipped the university lecture on the importance of client eye contact. Just as with certain people, you ‘click’ with certain professionals and communication is better. You respect their expertise and they respect your wisdom about your hearing loss or tinnitus.

But now I’ve moved across the country and while there are many talented audiologists in my area, I need someone who has a unique skill set; I have a cochlear implant (CI, for short) and both tinnitus and hyperacusis (hell, for short). And lucky for me, there’s an audie who specializes in both ‘issues’, working in Vancouver which is just a ferry ride away. (When you live on an island, everything’s a ferry ride away.)

This audie and I are at the very beginning of our client-professional relationship, and it was a great start. 

She knew her stuff.

She was patient.

She spent three hours with me.

She asked me questions.

She listened to my answers. 

She spoke clearly, facing me.

She said, “Hmm, you’re right. Your tinnicusis (my word) is complicated.” (How different from the ENT who wasn’t interested in my description of how even my cat jumping on the bed could cause a hyperacusis flare-up.)

She is referring me to other specialists; a physiotherapist trained in temporomandibular joint disorders and someone who teaches mindfulness meditation.

She made adjustments to my CI settings saying, let’s go back a few steps and work our way forward again.

She said let’s work on ways to decrease the stress that’s making this worse.

She gave me hope that this can get better.

So, as I write this after a long day of travel and hearing testing, I’m sipping a glass of rosé and feeling hopeful. Because having options and a good hearing care professional is exactly what someone like me – with a hearing aid and a CI and tinnicusis – needs.

Like I said, it was a great start.