I have just acquired my first pair of hearing aids!
I had been warned that they might take some getting used to, as all circumambient noise would come in for magnification quite as much as the sounds I actually wanted to hear. And that I would need to learn how to reprogram my brain to take account of this. What they didn’t tell me was that it would be like stuffing my ears with crumpled cellophane, so that every high-pitched microscopic movement in the vicinity would be amplified beyond belief.
Why is this?
Well, for these magical aids to be programmed to my individual hearing profile – and they cleverly were, on a little screen with adjustable graph lines bringing the curve of my new aids to parallel as closely as possible the outline curve of my own hearing – it was the higher frequencies that needed amplifying – and amplified they soon were!
The minute my new aids were in, and turned on, my lovely practitioner asked me what he sounded like. Did I think he was shouting? Well, no, it didn’t sound as if he was shouting, but it was as if his voice was coming from a box, in several dimensions, with more than one frequency at a time. ‘Ah, that’s because you’re now aware of the higher frequencies that you have been missing all this while’, he reassured me, and passed me my cagoule.
This was the first real revelation – taking over and putting on my cagoule. An ordinary, common or garden cagoule, made of proprietary polyurethane-coated nylon. But suddenly it had taken on a life of its own. It made a noise. It made a noise just by existing, just by parts of itself moving against other parts of itself – and wearing it meant that each minute motion of the head or limbs set fabric sliding on fabric with a rasping rustling like rubbing sheets of tinfoil against the wire cage of a high fidelity microphone.
I left his surgery and walked down the corridor. Revelation number two: with every step I took, as the jeans of one inner thigh chafed against its partner, this hitherto silent caress registered in my brain as the raucous scraping it must have secretly been all this while. Outside the hospital, traffic noise sounded pretty much as usual, really – after all, the lower frequencies hadn’t needed much remedial attention – but on reaching my car, feeling in my pocket for the key (rustle scrapy rustle), and inserting it in the lock (high-pitched squeech) each strident scratch reminded me that life would be different from now on. And once driving along, below the familiar engine noise and the mechanical sounds I had grown used to, were strange new rattles and creaks just outside the window. Were they outside, or inside? Were they in the structure of the window itself? Was the car falling apart?
Once back in the relative silence of my home, I discovered that simply ‘breathing in’ could now be registered on the Richter scale, as I told my daughter in a mixture of excitement and consternation. “Don’t do it, then,” was her helpful response.
And then I found that casually brushing my hand past my hair – not even touching the little curvy coffee-coloured monsters behind my ears themselves, but just the hair above them – yes, the merest trace of fingertip to follicle – was transmitted to the brain as acid susurration.
Acid, yes – that reminds me. The acid test. One of the main reasons for signing up for these things in the first place was to enable me to operate more easily in group situations – at dinner parties, in lectures, at my tango class… How would everything seem in my tango class?
Well, I went to the first post-aids class two days later – and yes, perhaps I could hear the instructions more clearly, but as latecomers scrabbled with their coats and bags, stashing away their sandwiches, fishing for their shoes, each whisper dominated the soundscape of my head, and well-nigh drowned out the voice of the teacher.
No point in getting angry with them, I told myself; they don’t know the effect they’re having on my battered ear-drums. I’ll just have to get used to it…