Grandpa Lynch, a retired railroad engineer, had big clunky hearing aids. Grandma Lynch needed a pair, though her family said she could hear perfectly well when she wanted to. There was definitely hearing loss on my mother’s side, but her parents couldn’t have afforded hearing aids if they’d wanted them, which they didn’t any more than Grandma Lynch did.
Shame was attached to the very idea of needing such devices. Do people reject hearing aids out of pride? Vanity? Was it the stigma of disability? Maybe back then the new-fangled things weren’t very effective. Probably they were uncomfortable.
I was excited when I got my hearing aids last month. I mean, thrilled, looking forward to, happily anticipating, tickled pink. For years I’d been having trouble distinguishing between consonants like b, t, v, d. I was never certain what a speaker said so it was difficult to respond. Of course, my native shyness played into those feelings, but that’s a whole other story.
This year, I looked forward to the lesbian Golden Crown Literary Conference (GCLS) because I’d be able to hear actual words spoken in panels, readings, speeches, and noisy restaurants. I’d hear words spoken on the dance floor. Maybe I’d reply sensibly to readers and other writers.
Shame? Heck, no. I got good at spotting the now near-invisible gadgets and honed in on folks in my neighborhood to get the scoop on brands, deals and comfort. They were not always chatty—that lingering shame. Is it shame of getting old? Bring it on, Mother Nature. If I don’t fight aging, I have more energy to work with it.
There are pitfalls, mainly monetary. My sweetheart and I like to support local businesses, so we went down the street to a Doctor of Audiology. She confirmed that I was a candidate for hearing aids. They were terribly expensive, though, so I dithered. Neighbors kept telling me to go to Costco, which they said was cheaper, but when you live on Social Security and what your wits as a gay writer can bring in, even Costco products can break the bank. I sat on the information for another eighteen months.
Until… Conversations with my sweetheart became peppered with the word “what?” It was driving us both nuts. As it happens, we’re from New York and New Jersey, which predisposes us to certain unintelligible quirks of speech. Understanding each other can be trying. Add low hearing and you have a formula for a cranky couple.
It was off to Dr. Ear again. The tech gave me a demo set of aids to wear around for a week. I almost cried when it was time to return them. The cost for a pair of my own? Six grand. We could plump up the GCLS scholarship fund with that much cash. Pay a few years of our taxes. Keep the animal shelter in food for a while. Help get an intelligent politician elected to office.
But… I never used the word “what” that whole week. How do you put a price on a happy lesbian household? Plus, the conference was coming up. We took a chunk of our life savings, got me fitted, and placed the order.
And then, out of nowhere, my sweetheart’s job was eliminated. We were stunned. She’s so good at anything she does, the employer should’ve created a new job for her, never mind Scrooging away the one she had.
We high-tailed it to Dr. Ear’s office and cancelled our order. But we weren’t about to relinquish the blessed tranquility afforded our marriage by these tiny doodads. My sweetheart plunged into umpteen hours of researching every fact known to woman about hearing gizmos. Turns out what we’d been told—that Costco sells instruments with older technology—was no longer true.
The nearest Costco is worth the three-hour roundtrip drive. Bottom line, with the already more palatable Costco prices and benefits from signing up for executive membership and Costco’s credit card, we saved four thousand dollars on the same exact same contraption. Our warranty is now longer and more comprehensive and we can still afford our cat’s veterinary bills.
When I first put in the hearing aids, I felt a giant exhalation of tension. Though I knew of my relatively modest hearing loss, I was unaware what a strain it put not just on my marriage and public life, but on my mind and body.
The New York Times (Sep 25, 2017): “When the brain struggles to make sense of the world it may be less able to perform other important tasks.” Research on this continues, linking hearing (and vision) loss to cognitive decline.
Now I seldom ask “What?” and even though GCLS was held at a casino hotel where music boomed and blared unbearably almost everywhere, I don’t think I missed one beautiful lesbian word.
Copyright Lee Lynch 2018 // August 2008