Archive for Sunday, March 4, 2007

Hearing loss a blessing and a curse for boomer

March 4, 2007


I am absorbed in cocktail party conversation with two married friends when I suddenly realize I can't hear a word they're saying.

Well, that's not exactly true. Sometimes I can hear every other word, or several words in a row. Occasionally, I catch a whole sentence. Other times, I lock on to chatter from across the room and lose my own conversation completely. Then, inevitably, in the din of the crowded kitchen, it all turns to indecipherable mush.

The man is talking about boomerang kids and the havoc they're wreaking on his life. I am interested and can totally relate, but all I'm getting are short clips: "... leaves the light on all night ...," "... went downstairs and stepped in her dog's poo ...," " ... get a job and move out ..."

I lean in, closer and closer - so close, I suspect his wife thinks I'm trying to kiss him. Of course, if that were true, I'd have a "come hither" look of passion on my face. Instead, I'm taking on that scary, screwy look of intense concentration - the one older people get when they're trying to hear, or comprehend something beyond their ken, like Medicare Part D or how to download a podcast. It's that brow-crinkled, crazy-eyed, grimaced expression that happens just before they cry, "HEH?" at three times normal volume.

Not a sexy look for anyone.

Years ago, after my ears inexplicably started ringing somewhere in the stratosphere above High C, I had my hearing tested. An hour later, diagnosed with tinnitus and a mild low-frequency hearing loss, I left the audiologist's office and drove straight home to the Isle of Denial.

A hearing loss? Excuse me? (Not "excuse me?" as in "please repeat yourself" but "excuse me?" as in "as if!") I am WAY too young! My stereo was never THAT loud in college. Not like the girl down the hall in the dorm. (Now, THAT was a stereo.) Mine was a small, tinny-sounding affair. No woofers OR tweeters for me. How can I have a hearing loss?

I didn't go to THAT many concerts. And it's not like I was a headbanger or anything. We're talking Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. Emmylou Harris. James Taylor. And, OK, the Rolling Stones, but that was in a huge outdoor football stadium. How loud could it have been?

For years, I refused to believe. Even as the TV and car radio got progressively louder. Even when I'd humiliate myself in meetings by laughing aloud at what I thought was a joke, only to find out the comment was a serious analysis of the company's "bottom line."

Boomer girl

And because mine is a LOW frequency loss, the sounds I have the most trouble hearing are men's voices, like my husband's soft baritone or the boss' bass timbre. You might argue this could be more blessing than curse, but sometimes it actually pays to hear what your boss is saying.

As for communication at home, that's getting muffled, too. Daily dialogue between me and my spouse (whose turbo-powered stereo in college was played at deafening levels) is peppered with phrases like "What'd you say?" "Huh?" "Did you say something?" or "Are you talking to ME?"

Nightly TV viewing has become a back-and-forth volley of remote control volume adjustment. He says, "Can you turn it up a little?" (I click four notches up for the news.) I say, "Turn it down, it's hurting my ears!" (He clicks five notches down during noisy car chases.) He says, "I can't understand a word they're saying." (I click six notches up for anyone with a British accent.) Finally, one of us pitches the remote across the room at the other's recliner. "Here. You keep it!"

Back at the party, my nose-to-nose conversation is coming to an end. I have tried to laugh and nod at all the appropriate times, but I suspect I have failed miserably. I feel like I'm trying to play a game of Gossip under water.

I think, maybe it's time to get off the Isle of Denial, face the music and get a hearing aid.

Just then, a man approaches from across the kitchen. He is notoriously long-winded, an insufferable braggart: "I was just telling Bob over there about the new Jag I bought for the old ball and chain."

Maybe I'll put the hearing aid off just a little longer.

Some things are better left unheard.

- Cathy Hamilton is editor of and a 51-year-old empty-nester. Events recounted here may be embellished, exaggerated or completely made up because she can't remember squat anymore.


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