Thursday, July 13, 2017

Five Years is a Long Time

I answered a survey about hearing loss today. It was sent to my email inbox by a hearing loss association. I'm pretty sure it was in response to the bill proposed in Washington that will make over-the-counter hearing aids available to anyone who wants them -- those without a doctor's prescription, diagnosis, audiogram, or exam.

While I know there are a great many people in the world with undiagnosed hearing loss -- and many with diagnosed hearing loss who simply cannot afford a hearing aid -- who could benefit from the expected lower cost of over-the-counter hearing aids, I have mixed feelings as to whether this policy is a good idea or not. Selecting, wearing, and benefitting from a hearing aid is complex. Much different than purchasing reading glasses -- a simplistic analogy of the impetus behind the OTC hearing aid movement.

In the five years since I lost my hearing, I've learned a great deal about hearing loss and hearing aids. They can be really great. And they can be really awful, too. Working through an audiologist is surely more beneficial than walking into a Walgreens and selecting a factory pre-programmed hearing aid that may or may not fit comfortably, amplify sounds appropriately, or achieve desirable results.

Five years is a long time to learn about optimizing programs and settings, choosing generic canal tips or custom ear molds, selecting a receiver-in-the-ear vs. behind-the-ear model, consideration of T-coils and Bluetooth, finding and using compatible assistive listening devices, learning to care for and maintain your devices, seeking adjustments and reprogramming to meet ongoing hearing changes and needs...

Five years is a long time to learn that you get what you pay for. I've upgraded my hearing aids twice to improve the quality of hearing. My first "basic" pair was terrible, at best. Hardly worth using. I worry that these mass-produced hearing aids will be of such poor quality that people's experiences with them will discourage them from seeking audiological evaluations and more advanced devices when and if their hearing warrants it. And with the availability of these "cheaper" hearing aids, will insurance companies like mine discontinue coverage of more sophisticated devices necessary for those of us who have more profound hearing loss and send us to the corner drugstore for help, too?

Five years is a long time to work with an audiologist to maximize my hearing success through initial diagnosis, routine monitoring and adjustments, counseling, and guidance towards success. My audiologist can be credited with the majority of my success with my hearing devices. I am dependent on her expertise. I don't think a drugstore clerk could hold a candle to her.

It's far more complex than selecting a cute red or blue one to help you hear better. And like myself, I seriously doubt most people will have any idea about what hearing aids would be best for their unique hearing needs or how to use them properly without an exam and diagnosis.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thank You, Thank You, A Thousand Times Thank You

Some days, I go without my cochlear implant processor, especially on days when I'm staying around the house and there's no real need for me to hear anything. Days like today. It gives my skin a chance to rest from being pulled by the magnet and gives me a semblance of peace and quiet for a little while.

I'd planned on working in the house, cleaning and de-cluttering years of neglect (and a little bit of laziness) after exhausting days of teaching little ones. So the CI remained in the dry and store box this morning.

I thought of retrieving it for a quick run to the store to get more vinegar for the window cleaning solution, but decided it probably wasn't necessary for such a quick errand -- in and out. Get the vinegar and go. You know, just a few minutes in the store. And I had my hearing aid in, so I wasn't completely deaf.

What I failed to take into consideration was that this particular store was a Target. And there is no such thing as a quick run to Target. (You know I'm right!)

The first problem I encountered was being unable to locate the vinegar. Though I'd walked up the condiments aisle a couple of times, my eyes seemed locked at eye-level, and I didn't see the vinegar nestled on the bottom shelf. I had to ask a young man who was stocking shelves.

Now, I 'm only a fair lip reader, and after the second (maybe third), "Where?", the young man proceeded to walk me to the same aisle from whence I'd come and helped me find the vinegar. I politely thanked him for helping and he went back to work.

But I wasn't done yet. I decided to get a new microfiber cloth.

I headed to the automotive aisle and found the cloths among the car washing supplies. But as each cloth has a specific purpose, I had to read several labels to determine which one was a general purpose cloth for my purpose. I must have dallied in the aisle a little too long. I was greeted by not one or two, but THREE salespeople. I've no idea what they said, but I replied with a generic, "Thank you, I'm fine" to each one. I'm pretty certain that stupid "doofus smile" crossed my face at least once.

And since I was in the area, I browsed the towels. I was thinking of getting another hand towel for my powder room. I was greeted by a young lady restocking the aisle and just as another "Thank you" was rolling across my lips, I turned to see she was actually helping another customer. So I picked up my towel and hurried away before she could talk to me, too.

At the checkout, the young lady engaged me in some kind of conversation, smiling and pleasantly talking as she rang my items -- mostly looking away at the register. She may or may not have asked if I wanted to apply for a red card, as they always do. I decided against speaking and just smiled pleasantly back. I think I thanked her several times, too.

Then on my way out, of course, I had to have a Starbucks. I ordered my drink and could hear the cheerful barista talking as she prepared my frappuccino -- blender and all. I busied myself with counting enough quarters to pay for my drink. It seemed she didn't need a response from me, but I thanked her, anyway.

It seemed appropriate.

Today's excursion was a glaring reminder that no matter what I wish, my hearing aid alone is grossly inefficient. I need to have both of my hearing devices to navigate the hearing world successfully. And without embarrassment. One is not as good as both.

I am extremely fortunate to have a cochlear implant and my decision to be implanted was a good one. Together with my hearing aid, the CI helps me to live a relatively "normal" life. And I am reminded today to be grateful, even when I struggle. And that, friends, is worth a thousand "Thanks".

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I'm Mad, too, Eddie!

Today I am straying from my deaf life and posting about a different concern.

Three weeks ago, I began to have significant chest pain and shortness of breath. It began suddenly in the night and continued to worsen the next morning. I didn't feel like it was a major concern and went to work the next day. However, by mid-morning, my breathing worsened and I began to feel faint and dizzy. Since both my primary care physician and my cardiologist offices were closed, I had no other option but to go to the ER where I was admitted for observation and tests.

Having a history of dysrhythmia and pulmonary embolism, I was given the standard course of tests -- x-ray, echogram, and stress test, all of which came back normal. It wasn't my heart. Yet the chest pain and shortness of breath continued. At the end of the 2nd day, I was conferring with the hospitalist's PA about my orders to follow up with my primary care physician.

"So, what should I do about the pain and breathlessness until then?" I asked.
"I can give you something for anxiety," she said.
"Why anxiety?" I asked. "Do you think this a panic attack or something?"
"Well, it can relieve your stress and make you feel better," she said.
"I'm stressed because I can't breathe, and you want to give me a pill for anxiety?"
"No. That's not what I'm saying. But maybe it will make you feel better," she went on.
"Because it will...?" I was leading...
"Let me talk to the doctor about what we should do," she said and left my room.

As I lay there in the bed, waiting for someone -- anyone -- to give me answers and relieve my symptoms, I tried to quell the anger that was rising in me. And I remembered.

A gastrointerologist once suggested I see a psychiatrist after I'd been vomiting for 35 days and he deemed there was nothing physically wrong with me. It must be in my head. My private doctor looked at my test results and found that my gallbladder was infected and full of sludge and stones. He overrode the GI's orders and sent a surgeon to my hospital room. Surgery was performed the next morning and I haven't vomited since. The delay in treatment, however, left me with a resulting hiatal hernia from the vomiting and subsequent gastrointestinal problems that will plague me for the rest of my life.

The ire. The gall. The incompetence. The insinuation. I am not a crazy, hysterical, hypochondriac woman. Sometimes I have pain. And when I seek medical attention for it, it's because it's real. It is not in my head.

Yep. You know what? My name is Bonnie, and I'm mad as hell.

I'm mad because too many doctors' go-to diagnosis for women is "anxiety". I'm mad because it's not just me. I'm mad because I hear the same story from other women. Often. I'm mad because we are not hysterical. We are not crazy. I'm mad because anxiety and hysterics still play into the medical treatment for women in this day and age. I'm mad because women deserve better than "I can give you a pill for anxiety."

Would this have happened to a man, I wonder?

"Sir, maybe you should take this pill for anxiety and calm down. This pain is in your head."

 I think not. This is the archaic misogyny that is still present in medical practice today. And that makes me mad, too, Eddie.

The conclusion to this drama is that I refused to be told that the pain was in my head. I continued to press my own doctor until I got an answer. Pleurisy and resulting costochondritis. He's now treating me for both the pleurisy and the arthritic pain in the joints connecting the rib cage to the sternum caused by the pleurisy. I thanked him for treating me with respect and dignity. For persisting until he found the correct cause of my pain. For not insinuating that I am just a hysterical woman.

I feel a little better now that I have a treatment plan for my symptoms. Symptoms that can be treated and relieved. Symptoms that are real.

But I'm still mad. Oh yeah. Is there a pill for that?

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Satisfaction. That warm, comfy feeling of contentment and fulfillment that engulfs you when you see the results of your effort. Your endeavor. Your determination.

It's the realization that you've attained the outcome you desired. It's fruition.

And it's good.

Here is a link to the article recently published in the Oklahoma Education Association's member magazine that tells my story. My article commanded an impressive 3-page spread found on pages 8-10. I hope it reaches many people who will then look at their students a little differently from now on. And maybe a few more kids with hearing loss can be helped. How wonderful would that be?!

But then, you realize this is only the beginning. And your satisfaction turns to yearning again. There are still many things to do before your vision will come to full fruition... that day when every student is screened for hearing as readily as they are screened for vision. Or learning disabilities. Or behavioral and social issues. And teachers and parents begin to change mindsets and habits that ignore or perpetuate hearing loss in their students and children. And themselves.

Now that would be satisfaction.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Whistling and Waning

This morning I sauntered downstairs as usual to make a cup of tea and oatmeal. Being a Sunday, it's a bit more leisurely than weekdays. My husband is on a backpacking trip and my college-aged daughter will be sleeping well into the afternoon. The dogs went outside readily after their morning treat -- given for waking me each morning since I don't hear the alarm any more. I have a vibrating alarm now, but the dogs still feel it's their duty to rouse me when it sounds. This morning, there was no alarm, but there were still treats to be had --grateful for jobs well done in the past and in the future. It's a ritual here every morning.

It's just me this morning, so I didn't put on my hearing aid. It's normally the first thing I do when I wake. But this morning was different. No need if there is no one to hear. And the silence is good during mornings like this, even if at one time it gave me dread.

I had tried to update the software on my phone during the night, but for reasons unknown, the update failed. So I sat down on the couch in the den to retry the download. The distraction made me forget that I had turned on the fire under the tea kettle. It was several minutes before I remembered. When I turned to look at the kettle, it was steaming away, but I couldn't hear the whistle.

My first thought was that the kettle's whistle was broken. But I knew better.

As I walked up to the stove, it was whistling away. I've no idea for how long.

I expect that one day, the hearing in this ear will be gone, too... slowly slipping away as I notice all the little things I can no longer hear without the aid of technology. It's an inevitable fact that I have grown to accept, though unwilling and complaining all the way to the end.

What's changed for me is my fear. Though hearing loss presents many challenges, and some impossibilities, I have found that I can still do most of the things I did before, differently, at times, but pretty much everything. I've learned to be resilient and resourceful and adaptive. And I've learned that technology can fill the gaps quite well where I cannot. It's not so scary anymore.

So I cannot hear the whistling tea kettle any longer. I will have to watch it instead.

There are many things that could be worse.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Close call

This morning was wash day. I stripped the bed and washed three loads of king-sized sheets, blankets, and quilts. And I folded a couple of loads of clothes that had been piled in the dreaded "laundry chair" in the upstairs TV room. I turned on the dishwasher and hand-washed the remaining items in the sink. I swept the floor and spread out a new rug in the kitchen.

I'd been meaning to get area rugs to cover the laminate flooring in my family room and kitchen for several weeks. I'd thrown out the old ones after deciding that they'd seen better days and the effort to try and clean them would barely make a difference. They needed replacing. And I needed something to help absorb the sound better. After living with the echoing in the room for a few weeks, I broke down yesterday and purchased two rugs on clearance at the local home improvement store.

After spending a couple of hours on household chores, I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea. I was the only one home, and the peace and quiet was nice. It was only after turning on the television that I became aware that I'd not put my hearing devices on this morning. They're a necessary burden when my hearing husband and daughter are home. But not today. There was no one to hear. And I welcomed the noiselessness like an old friend.

Sauntering upstairs, I opened my handy-dandy Zephyr dryer to retrieve my hearing aid and CI processor. I noticed the dingy ear mold on my hearing aid. I should clean that thing, I thought to myself. I'm not able to remove it from my hearing aid without a special tool that only my audiologist possesses and I've had to depend on regular visits to her to have it cleaned and shined. But this morning I decided to try to take it off and clean it myself. It was wash day after all. To my surprise, the mold came off the receiver tip rather easily with one gentle tug. Per the instructions that had come with it when it was new, I would wash it with antibacterial soap. I thought briefly to myself that I should put a washcloth over the open drain in case it slipped from my hand and fell into the drain.

Nah, I was several steps from the sink. I'd be fine, I thought.

But alas, ZIP! BANG! and the slippery booger was on its way to the sink before I could say 'Boo!" Luckily, I am blessed with superhero reflexes and I lunged for that deep, dark abyss -- flailing my soapy hand over it with seconds to spare -- the mold swirled around the sink and came to rest beside my thumb.

It was a close call.

Next time it needs cleaned, I'll just take it to my audi like I'm supposed to.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's Happening, Part Two

Recognizing hearing loss in students is only one part of the equation for helping students in the classroom. The other part is creating and maintaining hearing-friendly environments for them to learn in.

It's no easy task.

The architects of public school buildings rarely took sound into consideration when designing them - poor insulation, poor windows, noisy HVAC systems, noisy appliances, too much reverberation, poor acoustic design to support the teacher's voice, and poor acoustical design, such as high ceilings or open school design  --- all create an exasperating amount of noise pollution that students must be able to filter in order to hear and focus on what is being taught.

Research on student learning has found that, on average, students miss approximately 25-30% of what is being said by the teacher in the classroom. For children with hearing loss, it is much higher. Those missing parts in the instructional day can lead to academic and behavioral problems.

There have been many studies conducted about the benefits of a quiet classroom and school. Many of the things I've learned will take changing the mindset that "a noisy classroom is a busy, learning classroom". It also takes changing common practices in schools -- unchecked loud talking in common areas such as cafeterias, hallways, and gyms. Then there's my least favorite practice of encouraging students to scream at the top of their lungs in assemblies. "I can't heeeeeeeeeear you!" I've watched too many times as students grimace, cover their ears, yet continue to be called on by assembly leaders to make as much noise as they possibly can.  Practices like these can actually harm our students' and our own hearing.

Other suggestions are easier. I've incorporated many of these in my own classroom -- mostly out of need to reduce noise clutter for my own benefit. Noise is a contraindication to hearing well with hearing aids. But it can be harmful to your students as well. Here are some things teachers can do to make their classroom more hearing friendly:
  1. Maintain a quiet classroom. Teach students to speak and interact with each other in an appropriate volume. A classroom of 25 students talking all at once can reach more than 90 dB. Exposure to that volume for very long can damage their ears. And that old practice of playing background music in your classroom while you teach? It only adds to the noise. Make music listening purposeful and give it its own time. Or just stop it altogether.
  2. Reduce sound reverberation. Drape, drape, drape your hard surfaces whenever possible. Sound reverberation from hard surfaces can affect hearing and comprehension. I use fabric remnants to cover bulletin boards, filing cabinets, my desk, and bookcases. I use a tension rod and valances across the shelves of some of my bookcases to absorb sound. (The added benefit is that it also covers some clutter!) Stuff some stuffed toys in between books and materials to help absorb even more. Put curtains over windows. And bring in area rugs if your room isn't carpeted. My district also provided me with some acoustic tiles from an old band room to place above cabinets in my classroom. Just ask!
  3. Limit students' use of headphones. Headphones are a necessary evil for students to work independently at computers and listening stations. But be certain to set the volume at an appropriate level and check it often. Students tend to turn it up too loud. Then limit how long students are required to use them. The concentrated sound delivered to the ears from headphones is the number one cause of environmentally-induced hearing loss among our young people. Don't contribute to that statistic!
  4. Work to encourage quiet halls during instructional time. Encourage staff members to teach students to respect the learning going on in classrooms they pass by keeping their voices off. Staff should also be aware that their voices often carry into classrooms from hallways as well, and they should take their conversations into spaces where they will not be interfering with hearing and listening themselves.
  5. Speak to your principal about abandoning the practice of having students scream at the top of their lungs in assemblies. That's just no good.
  6. Be aware of noise and how it affects your students. Make it a priority to reduce the noise clutter. Invest in a decibel reader or download one from the internet. I downloaded an app to my phone and place it under my document camera during student work time. Students can see it and use it to monitor their own noise level, and I can see it at a glance to remind them if they've exceeded safe levels.
There are many other things that could be done. A quick search on Google can help you find more. The thing is this --- schools should be a place of learning and we, as educators, should be doing whatever is necessary to make that learning "hearing safe". From one who knows how devastating hearing loss can be, protect the hearing of the little ones in your charge. And protect yours, too.

Hear well, my friends.