"Sometimes it feels as if [I'm] literally in the back seat of the car, auditing a fascinating conversation but unable to distinguish — over the noise of the traffic, the defogger, the wipers and R.E.M. on the radio — exactly what’s being said."
These are not my words, but they describe very well how I feel so much of the time.... I am aware of the general content of what people are saying but the exact words are up to my imagination and skills I've refined over the years. Cars are actually the worst spot and having a real conversation in one, forget it. Windy areas outside are a close second, and noisy dark places, well I may as well go sit by myself in the corner because I'm not going to hear what you say. If I can see you, I do okay because I'm sure I lip read to some extent.
What exactly do I not hear? Try 20% of everyday spoken language in an ideal (quiet, no background noise) setting. Of course I can lip read and 20% of words does not equal 20% of content. Sure if you randomly walk up to me and without me seeing your face say a word I only have an 80% of getting it correct. However, people don't talk in words, they communicate in sentences with body language and intonation so I end up getting by. And for those non-ideal times, I have hearing aids. I was only officially diagnosed and fitted with hearing aids shortly before medical school started. And I hate wearing my hearing aids (if you couldn't tell) but they do help in some situations and since I don't want to be the incompetent medical student I wear them in those situations.
It has only been a little of 2 years since the audiologist looked at me and asked "can you hear me?" as she raised her voice and sat down in front of me with my audiogram. I wasn't prepared for the label, for being told I had severe bilateral sensorineural high frequency hearing loss and that I needed to consult an ENT (in case it was progressive or part of some other pathology- its not.) I wasn't prepared to have someone tell me that I needed hearing aids. Of course now, with perspective it is not so bad but thinking back to that visit, I walked in hearing and walked out with a label. I wasn't emotionally prepared and nobody was with me. I remember calling my husband, he was at work so I left him a voice mail and then I just sat in my car and cried, I mean I "knew" I had high frequency trouble hearing because I didn't hear sounds like a tea kettle whistling or a pager peeping but I didn't think those high frequencies were actually involved with my day to day hearing of conversation, etc.
I'm still adjusting and I'm becoming more comfortable disclosing my hearing loss to my friends and classmates. I told every one of my 12 path group members and my CPD group of 5 at the start of last term and it made it easier for me to compensate or ask for someone to repeat something. The more people I tell the more comfortable I become with putting my hearing aids on in public or changing a battery when I need to, etc. During first term I completely protected who saw them, when I wore them and I've come to realize that it is just easier if I disclose. It is part of who I am at this point (I have no idea when my hearing stared to fade but my theory is the massive number of antibiotics I took during my childhood when I would get strep throat after strep throat. Beware of those aminoglycosides!)
So that explains why when you call my name walking around campus I walk right on by. I didn't see you, and while a normal person would hear you calling, I don't and so I keep right on walking. Also don't whisper to me in class, there is a 99% chance I won't hear what you are saying (hearing aids or not.) Sorry!
My latest audio report.
*Quote from David's Lipsky's totally unrelated book on David Wallace Foster, "ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF"