The day I beat the audiologist

First published in the Hearing Times, October 2010

In terms of looking after my hearing aids, I’m a rebel. No matter what my audiologists tell me, I’ve never, ever, cleaned my ear moulds. It’s very silly – I get the odd ear infection as a result, which should be enough to make me change, but hasn’t so far. I’m stubborn. Why change the habit of a lifetime?

For the first two years of my life, everyone thought I was hearing. It was only when I neglected to start speaking that further investigation was carried out, and a hearing loss of around 70 decibels was discovered. After visiting an audiology clinic for the first time, I was soon fitted with hearing aids.

I don’t remember visiting the clinic, but I do remember hating my hearing aids from the word go. One day, Mum caught me just as I was about to flush them down the toilet. Being very little at the time, I didn’t quite have the strength to flush, and miraculously she managed to save them by drying them out on the radiator. Not that I was remotely thankful.

Through sheer perseverance, Mum got me used to having plastic things on my ears by stubbornly putting them back in every time I took them off. Nowadays I feel quite naked without my hearing aids on (though I have learned that only wearing them is not an acceptable way of leaving the house), and I have come to think of audiology clinics as a home from home.

I grew up in the Cotswolds, and visiting the local ENT (Ear Nose and Throat department) involved a trip to our nearest city – Oxford. It was a family day out, and a welcome day off school. The staff at the clinic would greet us like long-lost relatives (perhaps enjoying treating people without grey hair for once) and afterwards, we’d eat chips in the hospital canteen before going shopping in Oxford.

The bit that I secretly enjoyed most was when our new ear moulds were made. The audiologist would mix up some white putty with a miniscule dot of red paste. The mixture became pink and was soon piped into our ears in a massive syringe. That was my favourite bit. It sounded a bit like going underwater, and while I waited for the mixture to go firm, I made mini-statues from the off cuts.

After that, I’d take a hearing test – presumably to make sure my hearing hadn’t gone walkabout in the previous year. I’d be put in a sound proofed room with carpet covering the walls, listening for a series of high and low noises that started off loud, becoming gradually quieter and quieter until they were barely perceptible. Every time I heard a sound, I had to press a button and the results were marked on an audiogram.

I saw the hearing test as a challenge. I wanted to beat the test, and I desperately wanted to freak out the grumpy man who was the only member of staff there I didn’t like. One day, when I was 12, I managed it.

Through the window, I could see the man twiddling a series of dials in front of me, except he’d forgotten to hide his hands. Even when I couldn’t hear the sounds anymore, I simply continued pressing the button whenever he turned the biggest dial.

As I revealed a previously-hidden forensic level of hearing ability, a furrowed brow appeared on his forehead. Then a quizzical crease between his eyebrows. Then his face went pink, then a little red. Then he suddenly looked up at me, seeing in an instant just how much I was enjoying it. He angrily started to shout at me, which made me laugh even more, for I couldn’t hear a word. I lipread it though. Put it this way, he wasn’t happy. I finished the test and went home with a big smile on my face.

Recently, I got the best audiologist ever, when a friend of mine trained and got a job at my local clinic. It was great – we talked about football while configuring my digital hearing aids. He later managed to get me a very expensive pair of hearing aids on the NHS. Which just shows, making a friend of an audiologist can be a very useful thing indeed. What makes it even better is he’s never complained about my dirty earmoulds.

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