“Hearing impaired” – ugh. I hate that label.
As a 28 year old woman with chronic bilateral conductive hearing loss, I have been fighting to gain and retain decibels for as long as I can remember. From failed “sure-fire” solutions to fingers-crossed experimental procedures, I have been in and out of the hospital for 2 decades in search of “normal hearing” (whatever that means). Although complicated and confusing, suffice it to say that my condition is rare and terribly inconvenient. When I was 12 years old, we found an ENT who actually recognized my symptoms and suggested a course of treatment that has required maintenance surgeries approximately every other year for more than 10 years. Dr. V – we will call him – explained that the maintenance surgeries would buy me 1-2 years of functional hearing in between procedures with the hope that, by my late-20’s, surgery would no longer be necessary (a theory based on age-specific hormonal and enzymatic changes in my body). Yet here I am, in my late-20’s getting ready for my second surgery in 6 months and still struggling to hear on a daily basis. Thus, I realized that I needed to consider Plan B: the world of auditory technology.
To be clear, I have adamantly rejected any hearing-aid related solutions in the past. Part vanity and part stubborn denial of both the severity of my hearing loss and the reality of my situation, I truly believed that I could become a card-carrying member of the hearing-abled society if only I had a little more patience. However, a recent ENT helped me see the importance of having a back-up plan, even if it’s only temporary until we have a better understanding of my condition. He is particularly enthused about new-ish technology for conductive hearing loss patients known as the BAHA Attract – a magnetic bone anchored hearing aide that allows sound to bypass the troublesome middle ear area by connecting directly to the skull behind the ear. We’re talking magnets, titanium, super computer processors, and bluetooth enabled accessories — like, real life bionic woman stuff! Needless to say, I was intrigued.
When I experienced the Bone Anchored Hearing Aide (BAHA) simulator 2 weeks ago, I knew my life would never be the same. I was hearing things that I didn’t realize possible – papers rustling in my bag, footsteps in the hallway, conversations happening in the adjacent room – and being told that’s what I should be hearing – that’s “normal.” Immediately afterwards, I experienced an overwhelming rush of emotions that is hard to explain. Although the experience should have resulted in unbridled joy and excitement, I was overcome with resentment and sadness as I thought about how much of my life I’ve been missing. I was angry at myself for not acting on this option sooner and angry at my doctors for not pushing me harder to consider alternatives to surgery. And I was mourning the loss of the unaided hearing-abled version of myself I had hoped was possible throughout 20 years of medical prodding, ENT specialists, and operating rooms. Suddenly, I was facing the reality that I was going to be the girl with the hearing aide. And you know what? I’m ok with it. For me, it’s better than being the girl who can’t hear.