Tryin’ out my new toys

I have moderately severe hearing loss.

What that means is, if you were standing right in front of me and I weren’t wearing my hearing aids, I wouldn’t be able to hear a word you were saying.

I’ve worn hearing aids since I was eight years old. When I was younger, I got a new pair every couple of years. I’ve had my last pair since I was fifteen, which is eight years, in case you’re not sure how old I am.

If any of this is a surprise to you, it’s okay. As I’ve mentioned before, I have friends who didn’t find out about my hearing loss until a year or two after they first met me. I have friends who still don’t know. I have other friends who knew, and then forgot. It’s not a big deal.

For the friends who do know, the reactions vary. Actually, so far, most people are more of the “oh, okay” type, deftly continuing the conversation without any unduly embarrassing reactions. I like this type of indifferent response, to be honest. Then there’s people like my high school friend K, who was so charmingly intrigued by the concept of hearing aids that she couldn’t stop exclaiming, “That’s so cool!” and asking endless questions. That was actually the best response yet. She’s a pre-med mechanical engineering major, and every time we get together, she has a new idea for hearing aid inventions: Waterproof hearing aids! Hearing aids with built-in radio stations! Personally, I’d like my hearing aids to take notes for me while I nap in class. I’m talking pen and paper here, peoples.

A few weeks ago, I glanced over at my friend S‘s open textbook while he was studying for his final exams. Spotting something about auditory processes, I naturally stopped to read. When I got to the part where the passage mentioned lip-reading, I exclaimed, “Hey, people with hearing loss do that!”

“What?”

“Lip-reading,” I explained. “If you have hearing loss, like I do, it’s kinda like you need to see what you’re hearing. So lip-reading is important, as you watch people while they’re talking.”

“Wait, I didn’t even know you have hearing loss.” S was kind of dazed, I think. Me, I’m the nonchalant, flippant kind: “Dude, why else do you think I have such issues with you and your damn mumbling?”

He laughed, but still looked astonished, so I felt the need to elaborate a bit: “Yeah, I’ve worn hearing aids since I was eight.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

I laughed. “Why are you sorry? I’m not.” He shrugged sheepishly.

I’m just as normal as you are. Oh, wait, just kidding. I’m not sure just how normal you are. And this weblog contains ample proof that I’m not normal. So scratch that.

Levity aside though, hearing loss is really not that big of a deal. I’m a complex girl with a complex set of identities, but I’ve never even thought of identifying as hearing-impaired. I don’t know sign language, although my lip-reading skills rock das Haus. [You know all those silent scenes in films or television shows where the characters are conversing with one another but you as the audience have no idea what they're saying because the sound is muted? I could tell you.] I’m lucky enough to so easily be a part of the hearing world that most people I interact with can’t even tell I wear hearing aids. Hearing loss impacts my life on a daily basis, but it doesn’t define who I am. And that’s okay.

I’ve always worn behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. My last pair looked sort of like this, although not as up-to-date. A few years ago, I told my audiologist I wanted to switch to in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids. While he was sympathetic to my request, he replied that my hearing loss was far too severe to be compatible with ITE hearing aids. My response was basically, Oh, hell no; fergitchu. So I visited a few more audiologists in rapid succession, and, guess what, they all told me the same thing. So I came home and sulked. And because I’m a silly girl with a notoriously stubborn bent, I decided I didn’t want new hearing aids unless I could get in-the-ear ones, and if I couldn’t get in-the-ear ones, then I didn’t want new ones at all. This reminds me of the eight-year-old Yasmine who resentfully refused to wear her hearing aids in an effort to prove she could hear perfectly fine without them. You see the logic?

A couple of months ago, after a visit to my ear specialist for my annual hearing exam, I went in to see my audiologist for a routine check-up. “So how old are your hearing aids again?” he asked, inspecting them.

I shrugged. “I’ve had them for about…oh, eight years, I think.”

“They’re ancient!” he said, horrified. “They belong in a museum!” I laughed.

Two days later, one of my hearing aids died. As in, completely. As in, this was not a battery issue. I took it as a sign to stop being so damn stubborn. I went back to my audiologist and laid out my case for wanting ITE hearing aids: I’ve never had a pair. I need a change. I realize they may not be compatible with severe hearing loss, but my next pair of hearing aids is going to last me for another 6-8 years and I don’t want to wonder, “What if I had tried the ITE ones when I had the chance?” ITE means more comfort: Sunglasses would be easier to slip on, headwraps wouldn’t scrape my ears as much.

The case worked. The ITE hearing aids were ordered, received, miraculously adjusted to fit my needs, and in beautiful working order. They look like this, and I’ve been wearing them since Wednesday.

It should be noted that while the new hearing aids are hella exciting, it doesn’t mean life is amazingly different. I’m hearing the same things, with the same clarity, so there’s nothing new there. Shopping for cell phones is forever going to be the same pain in the ass. I’m still going to have to go to sleep wearing at least one hearing aid if I want to hear my alarm in the morning. Although, most of the time, I don’t want to hear my alarm in the morning, which means I just rely on my mother to shake me awake.

But the new hearing aids are digital! Hi-tech! They have directional microphones! And multiple, personalized settings! I can tune out background noise! They’re small! And did I mention they’re in-the-ear? As in, for the first time in fifteen years, I can walk around hearing everything perfectly clearly without having something behind my ear. I never even realized I had so much free space behind my ears. Slick! LIKE OH MY GOD, BECKY, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.

I feel like Bionic Woman. Except I’m way cooler, because I’m Yasmine, and let’s face it, that means I’m just extraordinarily cool by default. Why, just the other day, Z said, “Yasmine, you’re so cool. I wish I had gotten to know you earlier, because maybe you could have taught me how to be cool, too.” Honest. Pinky swear.

There are many, many more exciting things about the new hearing aids (see above) than there are drawbacks, but unfortunately the drawbacks are major ones. I’m still not completely sure that these hearing aids are perfectly compatible with my cell phone-toting, headwrap-wearing lifestyle. And because I like my cell phone and headwraps, as well as efficiency, convenience, and, yes, optimal hearing when I’m making use of cell phones and headwraps, the jury has (sadly) pretty much come to a consensus that these machines ain’t here to stay. Next up, I’ve got my eye on these. Did you know you can pick your own colors? Slick!

But I’ve got ’til Wednesday to enjoy these ones, and meanwhile, I’m in love. With the new hearing aids, I mean.

As L would say: Whoop, whoop.

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