Last week, writing about all the good reasons to wear hearing aids and my affection for Billy-Bob, my current set of aids, I thought back to the day when I got The First One.
It was rush hour on St. Clair Avenue, one of Toronto’s noisiest streets, asI left the office of Miss Rowena Fothergill, my hearing aid dispenser, to walk the few city blocks towards my father’s office.
Almost immediately, the pavement started rumbling and the air started roaring. I clutched my ears, overwhelmed by the metallic screech of the streetcar as it stopped for passengers. Cars were honking, people were yelling. I ran the rest of the way and lurched into my father’s office.
“So, how is it?” my father greeted me with excitement. “How’s the new hearing aid?” I collapsed onto his desk, a mess of tears and sobs.
That morning, I was up early, too excited to sleep. At twenty-one, I was finally getting a hearing aid! Who cared what it looked like, it was gonna help me hear better. Boys whispering in my ear, my mother calling me from another room, song lyrics on the radio. I would hear cats meowing, birds singing, and would keep up in conversations. If something made a noise, I was going to hear it.
I had been waiting my whole life for this day. Diagnosed at age three with hearing loss, I had waited 18 years for an ENT who would “let” me try a hearing aid, and it was like a thousand Christmases rolled into one.
But instead, here it was, my first day, my first hour, with my new BTE, and I was sobbing in my daddy’s office. “It sounds awful! I can hear people breathing in China! I HATE IT!”
The rest of the day was torture and I went to bed with a sore ear, swollen eyes and a headache. After a mandatory stint in the drawer for a week or so, the hearing aid and my brain started to connect, and my ear carried it like a second earlobe. Sounds became more tolerable. I heard birdsong that was candy to my ears. Footsteps didn’t sound like elephants and cutlery didn’t sound like the brass section of an orchestra. Hearing loss still presented challenges, but my communication improved with time.
That BTE changed my life. It was a beige (skintone, they called it), plastic thing that I wore for seven years, which is a long time, like 90 human years! It met an unfortunate end as a midnight snack for Digby, an enormous sheepdog puppy. He woke me up, tail thumping for joy – did I want to come play with the new toy he’d found beside my bed? Did I, huh, huh? Behind him, scattered from bed to door, were springs, screws and plastic casing. And caught in the doggy-hair curls of his big goofy grin, was the beige battery cage – and the battery still in it.
At my scream, he bolted out the door and hid from me for two days. Hilarious story now, not so funny then.
And that’s the story of my first love, my first hearing aid.