I've become an evangelist for the ever-improving hearing aid

The Reverend Thomas C. Willadsen

I have worn hearing aids since I was 20. Sometimes people ask why I wear them. Think about that. It's hard to say, "Because I have a hearing loss," without saying, "Duh." Even when I don't say it, "duh" sort of hangs there, implicit.

I am happy to show my hearing aids to anyone who asks. Usually people realize they need hearing aids because their family keeps telling them exactly that, LOUDLY. I find I am an evangelist for wearing hearing aids. It strikes me as very selfish when people make everyone in their lives accommodate their stubbornness or vanity.

I had a good role model for living with a hearing loss. My mother has worn hearing aids since I was a child. I have often seen her make the international time-out sign and say, "Wait, my battery died. Hold that thought." Then, after replacing her battery, the conversation would return to normal.
Once, when I was in grade school, I came to the breakfast table and hearing a trivia question on the radio, answered, "I'll say 1970."
My mother looked at me and said, "Really? You should stay home from school today." At first I thought this was my reward for knowing the answer to the question. Then I realized Mom had misunderstood me, maybe her battery had died. I went to school that day.

Almost every day I hear something that just cannot be right. Sometimes these misunderstood messages have wisdom all their own. No matter what anyone says, "Don't take any wooden nipples," is good advice.

Once my Rotary club was discussing naming an assistant greeter. I was horrified. Then puzzled, then I collapsed in giggles. I had heard, "assistant breeder," which prompted me to ask if we were still taking applications for the top spot. I suppose this is one way to address membership decline, but really!

Hearing aids have improved enormously in the last 20 years. My first set of hearing aids amplified everything. I never got used to hearing sounds like my arm going down the sleeve of my coat or a folding newspaper with that set of aids. Now, early in the 21st century, my current set is adjusted by a computer and targeted to amplify only the pitches and sounds that my ears miss. They even sound a tone when the batteries are dying. When the battery finally dies they play "Taps."

I understand that it is hard to adjust to hearing aids. This is especially true for people whose hearing has been declining slowly for years. To suddenly hear the world at normal volume is nerve-wracking. And putting a small device into one's ear takes some getting used to. It is worth these inconveniences and adjustments. I find I am much more outgoing, even confident, when I wear my hearing aids. And, sometimes the relief of turning them off, and retreating to my own cone of silence is worth the aggravation of wearing them.

Once on a car trip one of my sons, a toddler at the time, had a screaming meltdown. I reached behind each ear and flipped a switch, and a smile slowly crawled across my face. My wife looked at me and said, "That's not fair!"

I'm pretty sure that's what she said - at that point I was reading lips.

This column first appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern, December 4, 2008.