I’m delighted to have Joe Molinari, a police detective with hearing loss, as my guest writer this week.
by Joe Molinari
In the spring of 2001 I had just completed my seventh year as a police officer in a southern New Hampshire City, when I began noticing the signs of my hearing loss.
I experienced unexplained bubbling in my ears, the non-stop (and still going) constant post-concert “shhhh” coupled with the sound of an active pond on a summer night – all of which were later diagnosed as tinnitus – as well as difficulty hearing high pitched sounds. A million fears and thoughts ran through my head: am I going deaf, am I sick, will I lose my job?
After many years of frustration, I came across an article in Rolling Stone magazine whose author was suffering the same symptoms as me! He spoke about behind the ear hearing aids and how they helped him. I sought more information and eventually purchased my first pair. The impact on my hearing was immediate, as my head was flooded with sounds I had not heard in years. Although not a cure, my hearing was significantly better than it had been without the hearing aids. Obstacle one hurdled!
Being a police officer, in and of itself, is stressful at times, but coupling that with wearing hearing aids, I was terrified on the first day I wore them to work. I had never seen or heard of a police officer wearing hearing aids on the job. Although the aids are behind the ear and virtually invisible, I felt like they were protruding from my head like an 8-point buck! My co-workers were incredibly supportive, inquisitive and joked that it was about time. Guess I wasn’t as good at hiding it as I thought I was. Obstacle two hurdled!
Now comfortable with my hearing aids and wearing them regularly at work, I felt more comfortable with my hearing. This was tested several months later after I was alerted by a passing motorist that a car had gone off the road a short distance behind us. Without my hearing aids I would have had to ask the person to repeat themselves, as they were yelling over traffic. Retrieving the needed information, I immediately responded to the area and came upon a vehicle that was well off the road with several people standing around the driver side. I ran to the vehicle observing the male driver still within and, together with the several people on scene, we removed the driver and laid him on the ground. He was clearly in the midst of a cardiac episode and not breathing. I performed CPR and he began to respond. He was ultimately stabilized by EMT’s and transported to the hospital where he recovered from a heart attack. My hearing aids had helped a second person, the first being me.
The journey for me and my hearing aids continued; in the spring of 2013 I was nominated for and won the Oticon Focus on People award, Adult Category. What a humbling experience, as I met the other three category award winners from around the country. I could only hope to help people and have as much of a positive impact the way they did.
As a result of my Oticon award, I received publicity in the hearing loss community and was contacted by two different Hearing Loss Association of America groups to speak. There I met people who, again, inspired me to help others with similar issues.
Several weeks ago, I read Gael Hannan’s article on LinkedIn that asked, “Do we Need Heroes in the Hearing Loss Community?” Heroes is an overused word today; perhaps what we need in the hearing loss community are more positive examples of what we can do, in spite of our hearing loss. While writing this and looking back on my hearing loss journey, I recalled an incident that happened during the summer of 2013.
While working an overtime detail at a baseball game I met two young children, approximately seven and nine years old. I noticed they were wearing multi colored hearing aids (funny how I look at ears more these days) and commented to them on the cool colors. I showed them that I was wearing hearing aids too. They stared at me and their mother became interested and then told her kids, “See, you can be whatever you want to be”. She thanked me for showing her children that I, a police officer, also wore hearing aids. It’s clear that people with hearing loss, including children, need more examples of how hearing loss affects everyone and, equally importantly, that there’s no shame in wearing hearing aids.
I’m still a police officer and now teach as an online adjunct at a Boston area university and a southern New Hampshire-area university – fulfilling my dream of teaching in college without having to be concerned about my hearing! I have also become a certified peer support counselor for a critical incident stress management team for first responders. I refuse to allow my hearing loss to keep me from helping others.
As I have come to grips with the fact my hearing will never be the same and the tinnitus is here to stay (meaning I’ll never know true silence again), I remain positive and upbeat. I want to be a resource for those who are experiencing the fear of hearing loss and a positive example that we can be whatever we put out minds to.
Each of us in the hearing loss community can lead by example and jump in when an opportunity comes our way to help others.
Joe Molinari is a father, police officer, college teacher, and a certified peer support for first responders. Joe lives in southern New Hampshire.