Recently, I was in to see Dr. Marlan, an ENT doctor, about my left ear which wouldn’t “clear.” No pain, no ringing – just this sense that I couldn’t get it to fully open up. Ordinarily I would have ignored something like this – why take up the doctor’s valuable time with something that isn’t really causing me any discomfort – translate, it’s not making me crabby! Nonetheless, with a scuba diving trip looming in a few weeks, I wanted to make sure that I was on top of this problem before dropping to the ocean floor.
A surprise part of this appointment was a very thorough exam by an audiologist. He placed me in a small room with headphones on while from another room, he spoke a series of words – first single syllable and then multi-syllabic - which I repeated if I heard the word. “Cat. Rain. Coat. Baseball. Doormat. Coat rack.” His voice became increasingly quieter until I wasn’t sure if I was “hearing things” or not. The word recognition test was followed by what I will call the “bird song” test. With a set of earphones on, all sound was blocked in one ear while a tone or note was transmitted to the other ear. These sounds began in the middle range and then moved up and down the scale. After both ears were tested in this fashion, “white noise” was played into the non tested ear, and the tone test repeated.
I am a pretty competitive person so you may know I tried my darndest to hear every word and note. This facet of my personality merits mentioning because I think it fair to say I put more effort into this “test” than I normally might do when someone is talking to me about something I am only mildly interested in. Not long after the hearing test is completed I am ushered into an office to meet with Dr. Marlan. Admittedly, I am far more interested in the results of this recent test than I am in the matter I came in for. And, the doctor didn’t disappoint me.
“You have amazing hearing! Don’t let anyone sell you hearing aids! You’ll never need them!” I drive home from the appointment in a self-satisfied fog, remembering one of the “family jokes” of my childhood that didn’t make much sense to me at the time. Mother had “suggested” that our father get his hearing checked. At the time, I didn't know why she might have thought this was necessary but now, from the vantage point of being married to a man approaching seventy, her motivation is crystal clear.
“The doctor says I can hear around corners.” was the report dad delivered, following this appointment. Everyone laughed, including me, but like other family jokes, I laughed because I realized that it must be funny, even though I “didn’t get it.” In reflection, there are a lot of family jokes I didn’t get – literal children rarely do. Surely everyone can hear around corners. Maybe the doctor said dad could “see around corners”; now that would be something worth bragging about. I could easily accept that my dad could see through walls – after all, I had pretty credible evidence that my mother had eyes in the back of her head.
My husband Fred now wears aids in both ears, after fully utilizing the “seven years of denial” that apparently is typical for men with hearing loss. Once more, it is fun visit with him over dinner or in the car. For several years, I just quit telling him things as it was way too tedious to repeat all of the salient aspects of the conversation.
Of course, no hearing aid has yet been invented to cure SSD - selective spousal deafness. “Who did you say was coming for dinner? Where did you say my sunglasses were? We are going to what concert tonight? Why didn’t you tell me? You never asked me to clean out the litter box!” The list goes on. Still and all, on most other matters, normal conversation has pretty much been restored and we are both grateful for that. True, I don’t try to talk to him when he is in another room because, well, it wouldn’t be fair. Even with hearing aids, he can’t “hear around corners!”
Well, evidently I can and, you know what? I think I finally “get it!”