Is it poor taste to take your hearing aids out in public to change the battery or scratch your ear?
Who decides whether an activity is ‘acceptable’, anyway? Society? The Law? Individual people? Some women would love to run bare-chested, as men do, through the park on Sunday mornings. It would draw stares, frowns and comments. Possibly a ticket for indecent exposure. Also, sunburn on skin that has seldom breathed the fresh outdoors.
And there was a time when our mothers thought nothing of going to the grocery story with curlers in their hair! Even as a young girl, this just seemed wrong to me, and today, public curlers are the height of tacky. We’re still working through the public breastfeeding issue, but wearing blue jeans to the theater is now standard and tattoos have moved way down on the List of Shocking Things.
But how acceptable is public hearing aid battery changing? There’s no law against it. Hearing aids are commonplace and pose no public health risk unless, of course, swallowed. The only off-putting aspect is the sight of ear molds that have collected a small but noticeable mass of cerumen (the charming medical term for earwax). The sight of someone else’s cerumen on a weird-looking ear mold might make people recoil with an inner “pee-yew!”
But, even when I’m around other people with hearing loss, I seldom see a public battery change. Perhaps it belongs on the list of procedures that are carried out privately or as discretely as possible—such as picking your nose or scratching yourself. Most of us even prefer that nose-blowing be done out of our line of sight. Perhaps scratching the inner ear falls in the same category. It’s mesmerizing to see how some people go at it, their fingers moving like jackhammers. (And since we’re talking about gross things—must they look at their finger afterwards? Could we at least be spared that?)
Most hearing aid users get itchy ears occasionally and use a swift-but-subtle removal of the hearing aid followed by a satisfying scratch (disguised as a head scratch which, for some reason, is more acceptable). The real problem lies in that nano-second before the owner can turn off the hearing aid by opening the battery cage—when we hear the high screeching of the hearing aid, like a prisoner escaping from its cell. I can turn off my behind-the-ear hearing aids before removing them, but in most in-the-ear models, the battery cage can’t easily be opened until the aids are out of the ears, and that doesn’t happen fast enough avoid the hearing aid’s brief cry of freedom: “BOO-YAH, out at last!”
After scratching the itch—with hearing aid hidden in your lap or purse—the procedure is reversed, quickly pushing in the battery cage and popping in the aid to forestall another freedom cry. The longer you wear hearing aids, the better and faster you get at this operation.
Now, if your battery goes dead, there’s no screeching—but there’s the social dilemma of changing the battery in public. The process looks simple, but requires some finesse. Hearing aids are precision-designed wonders of technology (that’s why they cost so much) and you can’t simply jam the battery in any old way. If you’re nervous or not focused, the battery might slip through your fingers onto the floor, perhaps under the movie theater seat in front of you. Don’t bother trying to find a small metal disc in the dark; just pull out another battery.
I’ve given up trying to hide the battery-changing process when my batteries inconveniently sputter out in public. If I were super-organized, I would guesstimate when a battery’s time is up and change it before leaving the house. But as one who generally flings herself from one moment to the next, I’ve learned to change batteries under very trying conditions: while driving a car (although doing it one-handed is neither recommended nor safe) and in the dark of the movie theater. Last week, I changed them on the airplane—where the squealing probably didn’t turn too many heads over the airline noise. In a restaurant, though, I do try to spare people the sight of my cerumen-tipped hearing aids. Why sabotage someone’s appetite by having them look at someone else’s brown guck?