“Pride goeth…before a fall”
(Or something like that!)
It was one of those small restaurants that dot big city neighborhoods. Molly and I were visiting her brother in Philadelphia and wanted a quiet dinner with a little quality family time. The meal was delicious, and the waitress did a great job - we paid by credit card.
The young woman brought the receipt to the table and then leaned over to Michael and said with a smile, “I’m pregnant, but we’ll be open on Monday for business.”
What!! I mean, we didn’t even know this person. It seemed a little out of place for her to be confiding to total strangers something so personal.
I turned to Molly and said, “Did she say she was pregnant?”
“No! She said on President’s day, they would be open.” The three of us began giggling which quickly turned to howling laughter. Gathering ourselves, we headed for the door.
Our waitress was busing another table as we left. I said to her, “I didn’t have my hearing aids in this evening, and I thought you said you were pregnant, but that you would be open Monday." With that, she began laughing so hard she had to put the empty dishes down so she wouldn't drop them. It was one of those unexpected, unguarded moments that had us recounting the event for the rest of the evening.
The next night we attended the opera (Midsummer Night’s Dream). Michael is music administrator for Opera Philadelphia. In addition to having great seats, we got a post-performance backstage tour where we met some of the singers and the conductor. Michael reintroduced us to one of his colleagues whose first comment was, “By the way, I’m not pregnant.” I quickly replied, “But are you open on Monday?” Once again, we all burst out laughing. It was clear this story was going to have legs.
Paying the piper…
“I think you need to check with someone,” I said. “You’ve begun lisping, and sometimes I can't tell whether your words end in “-s” or “-th.”
“I don’t think it’s me,” she replied. “I think it’s your hearing.”
I, of course, knew there was nothing wrong with my hearing. The more I thought about it, though, there were certain people, mostly women who I had trouble understanding.
To ensure continued peace in the household and to pacify my wife, I got an appointment with a hearing specialist. I already knew the outcome. My hearing was just fine.
The audiologist led me into a small grey-walled soundproof room. After some brief instructions and questioning whether I was claustrophobic, she handed me a set of earphones and a thumb switch.
“Put on the headphones,” she said, showing me how to hold the thumb switch. “Every time you hear a sound, push the red button down.” With that, she was out the door.
This was going to be a breeze.
There were quite a few pings and lots of thumb clicking. Yes sir, no problem. I was thinking about how much fun it was going to be to let Molly know she was wrong.
When both ears had been tested, the audiologist came back into the room and sat down. “Let me show you how you did.” Hot dog, here it comes.
She turned on a small computer screen and up flashed a graph. It had a horizontal line that moved across the grid from left to right. About three-quarters of the way across, the line precipitously dropped and looked like the vertical edge of a cliff.
“The horizontal line indicates normal hearing,” she said. “These are frequencies you hear well. But you see where the line drops off? These are higher frequencies. You missed almost all of the pings once those frequencies were reached. You’re going to need hearing aids. I’ll get them ordered, and then you will need to come in and get them adjusted.”
Hearing aids! Hearing aids!! Are you kidding me? The data couldn’t be right. I mean, old people wear hearing aids! What a rude awakening!!
“Hearing loss,” she continued, “is not like vision changes. Hearing aids will not allow you to have better hearing, they will only enhance sounds, so they are clearer.”
She indicated that nowadays hearing aids were little computers that could make adjustments explicitly based on individual hearing deficits. She said a bunch more stuff, but I tuned her out. I got it, I was just another pair of ears to her. I mean, there’s a lot more to me than just a couple of ears!!
When I got home, humble pie in hand, Molly said, “If it’s any consolation, this is not a new thing. You’ve been hard of hearing as long as I have known you. I had been in denial. She had not been critical but just trying to help.
Everything begins somewhere…
I suppose it started in Vietnam where I was an air traffic controller and for a year was exposed to high-pitched airplane and helicopter engine sounds. A reality, but small consolation. The need for hearing aids was just another marker in the diminishing returns of getting older!
So, another small brick has appeared in the wall of my mortal journey. Another reflection that the once held belief I would live forever was fancifully adolescent.
I suppose the good news is that I am not pregnant and I will definitely be open for business on Monday!