20121202-162932.jpg“HUH?”

Mary and I had our hearing tested last week. Lately we’ve been relying more and more on closed captions to follow the dialogue on episodes of Law and Order. The diagnosis was that I have some hearing deficit at high frequencies. Mary, the lucky stiff, has normal hearing.

This was not my first run-in with an audiologist. When I was in fifth grade a tractor-trailer pulled up outside our classroom one day. In groups of eight or ten we (the students) were led into the interior of the trailer where each of us was seated in a small, sound-proof cubicle containing a chair, a set of headphones, and a box with a button on top. We were instructed to push the button whenever we heard a sound through the headphones. The door then shut and I was engulfed in silence.

I sat and waited. Nothing much happened. After what seemed a long and boring wait, a pretty woman opened the door to my cubicle, knelt down in front of me, took my two hands in hers and asked me in a voice dripping with compassion:

“Oh you poor dear, didn’t you hear anything in the headphones?”

I told her I hadn’t. What I didn’t tell her about was the shiver of delight I was experiencing at that moment, the cause of which was her physical proximity. Treating me as if I were not only deaf but blind too, she led me by the hand to the school nurse’s office where a man in a white coat looked into my ears and asked me several questions.

As it turned out, I was neither blind nor deaf. I had been expecting to hear something akin to the sound of our car’s radio blasting out tunes through the headphones. Anyone who has ever had a hearing test knows that only faint tones at the threshold of hearing are used and I simply was unprepared for such feeble sounds. More than likely, all this had been explained to the class ahead of time but I hadn’t been paying attention.

The incident probably would have been long forgotten except for the delicious physical contact with that nice lady. I wanted her to take me home with her.

My hearing was at the root of a somewhat different encounter when I was in my early twenties. I was working at my station in an electronics lab when the student next to me asked, with considerable irritation in his voice

“Could you turn that thing off?”

The “thing” he was referring to was a device that produced tones of specified frequencies. Apparently, the device was producing a sound of a high frequency that I couldn’t hear but he could. I hadn’t known any sound was coming from it.

Despite this concrete evidence that I had high-frequency hearing loss by my early twenties (and perhaps all my life), those high-frequency sounds seem not to be crucial because my deficit hasn’t caused me any inconvenience (this is where Mary says “Maybe not for you but what about for other people?).

I still converse more or less normally in most situations, so when Kevin, the guy who tested my hearing, suggested I would benefit from a hearing aid, I was less than enthusiastic. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t have any problem with wearing a hearing aid. Where’s the shame in being deaf, eh? My reluctance springs mainly from paying for one. These things aren’t cheap. We’re talking thousands of dollars. However, when Kevin informed me that I could return the hearing aid any time within the first ninety days for a full refund, I suddenly got more interested. If, during the trial period, I notice a distinct improvement in my hearing, I’ll pay for that.

Kevin explained to me that hearing aids have improved a lot since my grandmother’s day. Current models selectively amplify only those frequencies that the wearer hears poorly. Whereupon my devious mind wondered if my hearing aid could be adjusted to make me hear in the range where only a dog normally hears; that way I would go from being a guy who says “Huh?” a lot to having super powers. Kevin didn’t dismiss the idea but he didn’t make any promises either.

I went on: “While you’re at it, Kevin, tune that thing to give me x-ray vision too – har, har, har.”

Mary chimed in “And make the hair on his head grow” (which I took rather well because she could have suggested another, even less flattering, anatomical candidate for growth.)

When the actual devices were delivered and fitted to my ears, I didn’t notice any difference in my hearing – that is, until I put the key in my car’s ignition.

“WHAT IS THAT!” I yelled. Mary had to explain that what sounded like a submarine’s “dive” klaxon was nothing more than the seat belt alarm which apparently is composed of at least one of the frequencies I haven’t been hearing for years.

I am currently in the process of subjecting my hearing aids to rigorous testing to see if they provide $2000 worth of hearing improvement although Kevin could probably seal this deal if he were to throw in one of those “HANDICAPPED” placards you hang on your mirror – you know, the kind that get you those coveted VIP parking spaces. Handicapped people; they have all the luck!

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