Friday, May 10, 2013

My Hearing Loss Story

Guest post from Center Volunteer, Sarah Young

Sarah is currently a nursing student at St. Louis University and a regular Center volunteer in our Audiology department.  Graduating high school and preparing to leave for college is a big transition period, and for Sarah, it especially was one, since she learned for the first time that she had hearing loss. Here is her story from learning she had a hearing loss, accepting it and receiving her first pair of hearing aids a semester later while she was home for winter break.  

I first found I had hearing loss as a senior in high school.  I had gone to my doctor for a physical and he tested my hearing, the first time since third grade.  At first I thought  I had “failed miserably” (his words, not mine) because of his heavy accent.  I must have had trouble understanding his instructions and so hadn’t reacted the way I was supposed to.  After visiting an audiologist, though, I learned that he was right, I had mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.  I can’t hear certain tones above a certain decibel (unit of measuring how loud sound is) in both of my ears because the hairs used to transmit those sounds are dead.  There’s no cure for sensorineural hearing loss but using hearing aids and hearing protection can reduce my chances of damaging my hearing further.

            Finding out I had hearing loss was simultaneously frightening and relieving.  My audiologist explained that having hearing loss can make you tired very easily because your ears are trying really hard to hear what’s going on.  I’ve never been a morning person, but hearing that explained why I legitimately sometimes didn’t hear my alarm clock go off  and would find myself getting tired in classes that shouldn’t have made me tired, especially because I had gotten a good amount of sleep the night before.  It gave a possible reason for my speech impediment that required 6+ years of therapy in elementary school.  However, despite giving some answers, it left me with a lot of questions.  Would I lose more of my hearing?  Would I still be able to be a nurse as I intended?  Would I need hearing aids? 

            I went off to college a few months later and noticed that in some classes, specifically those that were large, lecture style, I had trouble understanding the material because I couldn’t hear what was being said. When I came home for Christmas that year, my audiologist found out I had lost a little more of my hearing and after hearing of my troubles understanding some of the professors she suggested we try hearing aids for me. At first I didn’t really know if I actually wanted to get them.  Hearing aids were for people who had worse hearing loss than I had.  You only saw kids my age with hearing aids if they had had them since they were little.  I was afraid people would judge me for them. However, most of these fears went away the day I got my hearing aids.  My audiologist ordered a set that would meet my needs but were small enough so that even with my hair up you could barely tell I was wearing them.  My thoughts that I really didn’t NEED those hearing aids changed after she put them in and turned them on.  The best way to describe that moment is like when someone with a really loud voice is talking to a crowd and you can hear them but it’s still sort of muffled and then they get a microphone.

            Five days after I got my hearing aids I had to go back to school.  It was a huge adjustment, too.  When you wear hearing aids, they help, but they still have a lot of imperfections.  Often times I can hear the people whispering behind me in class clearer than the professor lecturing in front.  Anytime there’s any sort of loud noise they amplify it, and often times feedback comes along for the ride, too.  They cause a lot of earwax and you constantly have to carry batteries with you.  Hearing aids cost a lot and batteries are expensive ($11 for an eight pack).  However, they’ve been a bigger help than not; my grades improved, I could pay attention easier in class, and when hanging out with friends I didn’t miss as much of the conversation as I used to.  I absolutely love having my hearing aids, despite the drawbacks sometimes.

            Nursing school with hearing aids is different.  I use a special stethoscope because I can’t hear some sounds with a normal one.  I had to go to each of my instructors and explain that I had hearing loss, so that when we did parts of the health assessment where you had to listen they would understand why it took me longer.  For clinicals, I struggled with the decision over whether or not I should tell my patient I had hearing loss.  I was worried they would judge my competence as a nurse based on the fact I wear hearing aids and needed some assistive equipment. The patient I did tell was super understanding and I’m glad I told.

            I still have concerns when it comes to my hearing loss.  I don’t let myself dwell on those, though.  All it does is make me worry about things I shouldn’t worry about.  Honestly, there are worse things than hearing loss to live with, and the only real difference it’s made to my life is that I have to remember to put my hearing aids on in the morning.  Otherwise, I’ve adjusted well and don’t even really notice them anymore.  In fact I’ve had to start making sure I take my hearing aids off before I do something like taking a shower because I forget I’m wearing them.  Most people can’t tell that I wear hearing aids or that I have hearing loss, and when they do, they think it’s really interesting because I’m 20 years old and most people associate hearing aids with old people.  Hearing loss has ended up being a good thing for me:  it’s made me become a harder worker; it’s allowed a different sort of bond to form between my dad and I (he has hearing loss too, from his time in the Air Force); and when I’m stuck in one of those ice breaker games where you have to share an interesting fact about yourself I don’t even have to think of anything.  That being said, though, I would still advise everyone to take care of their hearing because even a little bit of hearing loss can make things more challenging.

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