We know about the two most painful words in the hearing loss dictionary—never mind. But how about that SIX-word question that plagues every hearing aid or cochlear implant user: “Have you got your thing in?” This can set off a bad-hearing moment faster than you can say dead battery.
Now, if you are a hearing person reading this, you might think how nice that someone cares enough to make sure we’re connected with our devices. And it would be nice, IF that were the reason for asking. More often than not, they’re frustrated that we’re not getting it fast enough, in real time. Clearly there must be some technical problem—perhaps our hearing aid or CI batteries have died? Or maybe we deliberately aren’t using our things in order to irritate whomever we’re talking to? The question is supposed to tell us maybe we should do something about the situation?
It also shows a lack of understanding of what a hearing aid or cochlear implant can actually do. People with stellar hearing can be forgiven for believing that, with our CI or hearing aid, we should be able to hear without problem. I mean, technology fixes stuff, doesn’t it?
Hearing aid users quickly learn that devices don’t return us to perfect hearing—they neither completely correct nor cure hearing loss. They are called aids for a reason: they help us hear better through a system of technical processes. They are assistive, not corrective, devices. (What would we call devices that gave us 20/20 hearing, that reversed our hearing loss, restoring our missing frequencies and decibels so that we wouldn’t need to read lips and our brain could correctly locate sound and let us function in background noise? What would we call this miracle? Perhaps a hearing switch—you put it in, turn it on, and ta da! You operate like a hearing person. Or perhaps a hearing adaptor, like the piece that connects a phone to a power source. While the hearing adaptor is in your ear, there is no trace of deafness. I can dream….)
We all forget, from time to time, bits of our personal dress code or an accessory crucial to getting through the day. The Hearing Husband once arrived at the office in his slippers. At meetings I realize, “Damn, I forgot my reading glasses.” At a social event, “Gahh, my lipstick’s in my other purse!” But I never ever arrive anywhere or do anything without my hearing aids in—except sleep and swim. They are not an option that I choose to wear at certain times.
My parents were likely overjoyed when I finally got a hearing aid at age 21. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I could imagine their parental concern over the lack of resources and help for my progressive loss. All they could do, beyond taking me for the (dreaded) annual hearing test and physical examination, was to help me develop other communication strategies and to always self-identify my hearing loss. For the entire span of my formative years, my pediatric ENT said a hearing aid would not help. On my first visit to an adult ENT, he reversed that position and I had a hearing aid within a month. It was life-changing, but I quickly learned what my hearing aid could and could not do. What I didn’t realize is that others, the hearing people, didn’t have the same perspective that only comes with personal experience.
Through the years my father would occasionally ask, when I said pardon more than twice in a conversation, “Do you have your thing in?” It hurt my feelings every time and I would snap back, “Of course I have it in.” That probably irritated him. But now, my 87 year-old dad also has hearing aids, and through the same learning curve, he discovered they don’t cure his hearing loss either. At first, he thought he would no longer have to depend on the TV captioning. It had taken me years to convince him to use it, and I now had to tell him he would still need it.
At one time, the Hearing Husband might have asked the 6-word question at the wrong time, but now he asks only in the early mornings when I’m just up or before/after a shower. And he simply points to his ears and raises his eyebrows, and I either shake my head or answer with voice. That’s good communication that comes from years of living together—and learning the hard way.
My friend Myrtle was at the shore with her six-year-old niece. She showed the child how to skip rocks and after a few minutes, the girl asked, “Aunt Myrtle, have you got your thing in?”
“I do, m’love, why?”
“The stones hitting the water sound so pretty, I wanted to make sure you can hear them.”