Friday, October 16, 2009

Quietly Thinking Out Loud

I've been thinking a lot lately about quiet and loud.  Piano and forte.  Sounds - pleasant or disturbing.

You see I am fairly deaf in my right ear.  Audiologists describe it as a "moderately severe" hearing loss.  But my left ear works perfectly, so I cope well.  I hear music, I hear the TV, I communicate with others.  But sometimes I need to turn my head, or swap places so I can hear every part of the conversation.  If someone speaks quietly on my right side then forget it.  So, at some times it's awkward.  It's difficult in the car if I'm on the left of Steve.  It's hard to hear the girls chattering after school under their school hats.  It's hard to pray in small groups at bible study when another group is nearby.  Sometimes I struggle.  On the other hand, it is bliss when I want to sleep in on a Saturday morning - I just roll over so my good ear is on the pillow and enjoy the silence!

My ear has been this way since I was pregnant with Emily, over 12 years ago now.  It's called otosclerosis.  I am incredibly thankful it has only affected one ear, so far.  As a music teacher I manage just fine with one good ear, although occasionally I have trouble understanding a student who speaks quietly on my "bad" side.  For twelve years I've been coping, probably with a bit of lip-reading and lowered expectations in some scenarios.

But this year my hearing started to really bother me. When I first had my condition diagnosed the possibility of surgery was discussed, and I was told to wait until I had finished my family.  For the last few years I've been meaning to go back to the surgeon and discuss surgery again. After a few months I finally psyched myself up for surgery and visited the doctor.  Only to be told of the many side effects and risks of the surgery, and the possible failure of the procedure.  Try a hearing aid first, he said.

I had an appointment with an audiologist and went home and agonised for a few days.  What to do?  A music teacher can't be seen wearing a hearing aid!  But hearing aids these days are so small and discreet.  But so expensive. I'm too young to have a hearing aid - eek - I turn 40 and I'm wearing a hearing aid already! Back and forth.  I decided to try it, and 3 weeks ago I collected my hearing aid and have been wearing it most of the time since.

And so to where I started.  Quiet and Loud.  Piano and forte.  Actually for the first few days nothing was piano.  As I walked out of the audiologist's rooms I was confronted with conversations happening twenty metres away (complete strangers talking inside my head!), the wind rustling by, the deafening crackle of a plastic bag.  At home I couldn't type on the computer for longer than about ten words, each touch of the keyboard sounding like a car crash.  My children were shouting.  A trickle of water sounded like a gushing waterfall.  But I gradually got used to these things, on the whole.  Conversation at home is easier, the TV volume can stay down rather than being turned up for me.  It's been a windy month, so outside is not silent, but I can hear the girls speak from across the garden, even over the sound of the wind.

I've gotten used to the feel of it in my ear, the nuisance of cleaning it, keeping it dry and remembering to put it on.

But I can't keep it.

When I play the piano I am assaulted with distortion, wavey sounds and just way too much volume.  When Laura plays the flute I hear a metallic scraping sound.  And don't even ask about Emily playing the saxophone, or me playing the fiddle or whistle.  When I go to the shops or church I hear too much noise.  More than I want to hear.  Air-conditioning, music, conversations, trolleys banging, people talking so loudly, it is all too much, and often distorted.  At school I dread the sounds of children running by, calling to their friends. 

Some of this is just my brain being overloaded, getting used to hearing on the right side again.  Something I would have to get used to if I ever had the surgery.  But some of it is just distortion and processing delay by the hearing aid, not my brain.

For the last few days I've been agonising again, weighing up the pros and cons, searching online forums for advice and stories on hearing aids and surgery.

I don't want a noisy life.  I want a quiet life, sometimes filled with music but often with peaceful silence.
I was interested to read Sallie' post  just now.  It sums up my feelings exactly.  And was the reason for this post.

So I think I'll be returning my hearing aid next week, within the 30 days trial.  And forgetting about the surgery, for now, while I have one good ear.

Unless I change my mind ...

1 comment:

Waterfall said...

The great thing about a hearing aid: You can always take it out. (Just be careful not to lose it, or let it fall on the floor where you can step on it!)

My hearing aid has changed my life for the better, but I do have to remove it (or turn it down) for certain things: when I play piano, when I'm at a music performance, when I'm at church where the audio system is REALLY LOUD, when I'm around small children who are apt to squeal suddenly, etc. It's a bit of an inconvenience, but it's a godsend when I'm in a conversation with a soft-spoken person, or if I want to hear the rustle of the breeze and the singing of the birds.

So, don't be too quick to give it up. When you need silence, you don't have to wear it. When you need to hear, just put it back in or turn it up.

Good luck! Thanks, BTW, for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! If you want to talk more about the whole deaf pianist thing, feel free to send me an e-mail (my address is on my blog).

Oh, and I think it's kind of cool to be a deaf piano player. People will admire my playing, and then ask me a question, at which time I'll pop the hearing aid back in so I can hear them. I always enjoy seeing their eyes get big with unbelief that a hard-of-hearing person could actually play an instrument well!

Take care!