Editor’s Note: If this blog seems familiar, thank you – it means you’re reading weekly! This post ran last week – but it was incomplete due to technical problems on my part. I hope you will read it again, or for the first time.
Service, as defined by online dictionaries, with my additions in italics:
A valuable action, deed, or effort performed by a hearing care professional to satisfy a need or fulfill a demand by a person with hearing loss.
To perform routine maintenance or repair work by assistive hearing technology geniuses on something like a hearing aid, cochlear implant (CI), and other assistive devices.
There it is in a nutshell—what we, the people with hearing loss, need to move us from exclusion to inclusion: competent and caring assessment, support, reduction or elimination of negative emotions, assistive technology and improved communication skills.
The heaven of good service is in the additional details: the technology type, style, cost, and ease of use, along with training on assertiveness, speechreading, and emerging tech stuff, etc.
Family and friends are our communication partners and allies but they aren’t at our service. That’s the role of the hearing specialists and technical geniuses—the professionals, many of whom go far beyond what they’re paid to do. In return, I help them out by being a person on which to practice their trade, showing up for appointments, usually on time, and being honest about my needs so that we can mutually decide the course of action going forward.
I’ve been receiving services and ‘treatments’ for hearing loss since I was two years old. Doctors examined, prodded, scoped, diagnosed, and prescribed (or not). Various hearing professionals put me in the torture chamber…oops, I always get this one wrong…I mean the sound booth…to test my hearing and then make recommendations for hearing aids which they then sell to me.
My need for hearing services is lifelong: my various technical devices need to be coddled, cleaned and kept in good working order. I need batteries, good ones that work, so I’ve learned to buy them from a reputable distributor. Also, chargers in every corner of the house and suitcase I own (because they never seem to be where I need them and when). I also need to re-enter the torture/sound booth every once in a while because hearing changes (usually for the worse) or technology changes (usually for the better) and then we start the technical service cycle all over again.
But that’s only part of the service, and that’s just the start of the service I require.
The person, me, also need services to deal with the emotional clouds of hearing loss. Family and friends play a dual role; they help us with the adjustments we have to make, but they’re also part of our communication frustrations. For good hearing/mental health, hearing professionals must help us with our attitudes and emotions, or the fabulous technology won’t work the way it’s supposed to. How can it, if it’s in the drawer or we’ve never learned to use the telecoil or Bluetooth. This client-centred model of service is only now becoming a recognized standard.
For decades, I received hearing care that was a mix of mediocre, better, good and fabulous. As a hearing aid user, I can call in for an appointment as needed, but with my cochlear implant, I’m experiencing a different type and level of service. When I finally received the good news of the surgery date, I also received a schedule of appointments for a full year—wow!—including pre- and post-surgery, switch-on, technical adjustments and aural rehabilitation.
The appointments involve the audiological staff of Sunnybrook (the hospital where I had the implant) and the products of the CI organization, Cochlear. Each session lasts at least an hour, enough time to address both technical and human needs. Rushed appointments increase the stress when the hearing tests set your head ringing, or you’re struggling to answer the audiologist’s questions, “How does this sound? How about this? This?” (There have to be more words in the CI vocabulary besides robotic, hissy, tinny and echo-y. Also: loud, really loud and OMG THAT’S LOUD.)
Through the Cochlear Kanso Sound Processor and Cochlear’s True Wireless accessories, I’m connected to the phone, tablet, TV and most importantly, to other people in conversations. If anything is faulty or not quite right, Cochlear sends a replacement to my house and a return package provided. All the CI components come with what seemed, at first, to be a thousand little manuals but is really more-or-less the same information in different formats: detailed for the technically-minded, a small version for non-techies like myself, and a little foldout version for your purse. How thoughtful is that? Or the fact that the staff from the hospital, Cochlear and ReSound (from whom I got a hearing aid that technically complements my CI) check in with me by email to make sure everything’s going OK?
But the best service lies in the aural rehabilitation that helps my brain interpret what the Kanso Sound Processor and internal implant send to it. I use internet-based programs, everyday exercises such as audio books, watching Netflix with captioning (but covering up the actors’ faces so that words are read, heard and connected) and simply following the command of my CI surgeon to practice, practice, practice.
But what happens what you encounter problems on the weekend, or at night, or at any time when you know your CI professional isn’t going to respond to you within 2 minutes?! Cochlear offers a troubleshooting website that is tailored to your implant – not just the brand of implant, but your own. I started hyperventilating when I first had to change my microphone covers: what if I did it the wrong way and mikes got jammed! What else was I supposed to do at the 3-month mark? What if I need new batteries, like yesterday? And then there’s that “family” thing; with a CI, you also become a member of an exclusive sub-group of people with hearing loss. At first I smiled at the Cochlear Family concept that offers information on products (both technical and aural rehab) and events. But I quickly realizes this is a perfect fit to my philosophy of using all tools available to me. What may initially seem like an “infomercial” is actually a level of service I don’t get anywhere else.
Why are these services not provided for hearing aid users, who far outnumber CI users? Regardless of the technology we use, all people with hearing loss need ongoing, affordable professional and self-support service to help us communicate better.
We all say, service us!