About Me: My New Ears

Some of my earliest memories as a child is going to the doctors for regular hearing tests. Sitting in an isolation booth wearing a set of headphones where I’m instructed to raise my hands, push buttons, or look at lights when certain noises are heard through the headphones. For a long time I just accepted that these were routine appointments that many kids sat through. 

It wasn’t until I got older and started having my own kids that I began to realize that such tests were not routine. At that point, I began to suspect that rather than routine tests that these tests were somehow related to the multiple tubes I had surgically placed in my ears as a child. To a degree it would turn out that I was right but the full truth of the matter would only be revealed to me in recent days.

But before we get into what was revealed, let’s take a moment to discuss what led to this recent revelation…

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always struggled to hear people in certain situations. Hearing plays in a huddle when I played football comes to mind. I might hear bits and pieces of the play that required my knowledge of the playbook to make certain assumptions about which play it was or I would have to ask someone as the huddle broke up to repeat the play to me. When people try to be discreet and whisper things to me, I usually don’t hear most of what is said (or whispered as it were). Just like when I played football, I have to rely on context clues from what I did hear to try and figure out what the rest of the comment was or I just nod completely clueless to what I was told.

Then starting a few years ago I began hearing the telltale signs of tinnitus, the constant ringing in my ears. I don’t know how long the noise has been there but when I was sick with COVID in 2021 and forced to sleep in my office to avoid getting my wife sick, I really started to notice it. In the nearly 3 years since the noise has not really gotten worse but its constant presence has severely started to wear on my state of mind. 

But the icing on the cake was during Labor Day weekend. I had been dealing with a migraine for several days due to an issue with my blood pressure. The migraine was so bad that I could not stand to have any sound or even light on around me. This absence of all other influences meant that I was forced to live with nothing but the annoying sound of my tinnitus for multiple days. 

I could not stand the noise any longer!

When I was able to meet with my doctor to discuss my blood pressure I also mentioned the incessant ringing. My doctor addressed both of my needs, understanding that if the tinnitus had gotten that bad that it was influencing my blood pressure and anxiety. By addressing both issues, my doctor was solving way more than two problems for me. To say I was grateful would be an understatement.

Now, fast forward a few days to the day of my hearing appointment at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders in Dallas (yes, I live in Texas in case you haven’t been paying attention). As I sat at my desk reviewing the paperwork that I had been asked to complete prior to my appointment, I started to reflect on my medical history as it related to my ears and hearing. Having since realized that my childhood hearing tests were anything but routine but not knowing the exact reason behind them or their findings left something of a gap in my knowledge of my medical history that seemed VERY relevant considering where I was about to go and the tests I was about to undergo.

This meant making a call to the only person I knew who would have this historical information, my mother.

As it turns out, as a child, I had difficulty learning to talk. According to my mother, some words I could repeat and say without issue but others came out all wrong. She described some of it as “gibberish” in our conversation. Concerned about my early development, my mother took me to the doctor to figure out why. Well, I suffered from constant ear infections as a toddler. These unstoppable infections was a large reason for the multiple set of tubes my mother and doctor both felt compelled to insert into my ears.

There was concern at the time that the repetitive nature and severity of my ear infections may have impacted my hearing. My childhood memories of hearing tests were not routine but my pediatrician trying to make sure that I wasn’t going deaf because of all the issues my ears experienced in those early years of my life.  This coupled with my mother’s description of my early speech issues was something of a shock to me being in my 40’s but never knowing these details of my own life.

Of course, my first question after learning all of this was “what did the tests reveal?” My mother’s response was “nothing significant” but that leaves a lot of potential for other things that they either never mentioned or was simply forgotten over time. Plus, these tests were done in the late 70s and early 80s where the technology was vastly different than today which also begs the question, “what were they not able to detect given the limitations of the technology combined with my extreme young age?”

While I may never know what, if anything, those childhood tests discovered, my mother’s revelations helped to make so much sense about so many things from my youth. All those years where I thought my issues were just normal turned out to be anything but. Every time I got frustrated by not being able to hear someone or misunderstanding what was being told me makes more sense now. I’ve long been accused of not being able to pick up on social cues very well and perhaps part of the reason might be because I don’t always hear the same vocal inflections as everyone else. My wife and I have argued for years over things she swears she told me but I claim to have no knowledge of but maybe some of those arguments were because we were both right because she told me only I couldn’t hear it because she was in another room or trying to tell me in an area where there were other sounds that made it difficult for me to hear or understand what was being said.

All of this made me much more eager for the day’s appointment with a hearing specialist.

I spent about 2 hours at my appointment. The doctor put me through rigorous testing. She checked my ear drums. She checked my inner ear. She check my ear canals. She checked my hearing range. She checked the intensity of my tinnitus. She checked practically everything hearing related that I could have imagined and then some.

When it was all said and done, the audiologist gave me a stunning report about my hearing. I passed one test with surprisingly good results. The doctor said that most patients and students that come in with so-called perfect hearing don’t score as well as I did, which seemed odd considering the results of every other test. Aside from that one surprising outcome, everything else showed that my hearing was borderline across most areas between acceptable and hearing loss. What I took away from that was that while I can hear most things, when I already knew, my hearing was teetering on the line of fading away, which I didn’t know. There was one spot though that was clearly in the deficit range. Again, not something I didn’t already suspect.

At the end of the appointment, the doctor recommended that I come back for another visit to test out hearing aids. She spent several minutes explaining what tinnitus really is, what causes it, how to deal with it, and how my lifestyle and childhood might have contributed to it. Not only would getting hearing aids now help me to hear better and restore what has been lost to me for so long, the hearing aids she recommended would be able to help manage my tinnitus. 

For many, the idea of getting hearing aids at my age (46) might be something of a blow to their masculinity or concept of youth or beauty but this is something that I had come to terms with a long time ago. Hearing loss is something others in my family experienced later in life and recognizing some time ago that I likely had some type of hearing deficiency meant that I figured out long before that day’s appointment that at some point I would get hearing aids. I didn’t think I would get them at 46 years old but it was a truth and reality that I had largely already accepted so the doctor’s recommendation was not a great shock to me.

But it was when I returned to the Callier Center a few days later to test different hearing aids that I really understood what it meant to get these devices. The doctor and I chatted casually for a few minutes while she finished setting up a couple of different devices for me to try configured for my specific needs. And then she helped me to get the first pair put in.

It was like whoever has been operating the soundboard in my brain finally noticed that one of the volume sliders was never moved off 0 until that second when they frantically pushed the slider bar forward while also increasing the volume on the other channels to match. Within seconds I started noticed a plethora of sounds that I have NEVER experienced before. When I spoke, I heard myself like never before. It was eye opening but for my ears (so I guess ear opening…)! I have never been so excited by sounds like I was in that instant.

Sadly, I didn’t get to leave with anything that day. That appointment was just for me to test out different models to see which ones of the doctor’s recommendations I preferred. Now that I know which ones I want, I have to put in a purchase order for them, an order will be sent to the manufacturer, the manufacturer will send the devices of my choice to the audiologist’s office within about 2 weeks of receiving the order, and then I’ll go back to my doctor’s office where she will have them configured and ready for me to use after a “proper” fitting and some training on how to use them. 

I’m anxious to get my hearing aids. Having glimpsed a world of sound that has been closed off to me for so long, I am eager to return to it. I went in hoping to find relief from my tinnitus. And while these devices will aid in that relief, what I am looking forward to the most now is discovering 40+ years of noises that I’ve missed out on because of my childhood issues. 

My mother did all she could to help me hear, to protect what hearing I had, and to be proactive in ensuring that my illnesses had not significantly impacted my abilities. The doctors of my childhood used what was at their disposal to do what they could. And who knows, my hearing may have been fine when I was 5 years old but years of loud guns, music, and cars throughout my youth may have impacted my hearing more than others because of my history, all of which led to now.

All I know is that at 46 years old I have detectable hearing loss along with tinnitus. And now, thanks to Doctor Harris at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders, I know that there is a world of sound waiting for me to discover all while the stress and anxiety caused by my tinnitus will be dramatically reduced. I am beyond excited and ecstatic about what that future holds for me, acoustically speaking.

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