When I was in kindergarten, my teacher told my mother that it seemed like I seemed like I wasn’t paying attention in class, and that I sometimes seemed to have trouble understanding oral directions. My mother decided to take me in for a hearing test.
The audiologist was very nice. I got to wear huge headphones and raise my hand whenever I heard a noise. I had a lot of fun because it was the first hearing test I remember having!
At the end, she brought my mother into the room and announced the test results – I had hearing loss. The doctor said that because my loss was mild to moderate, hearing aids would be the key to a normal life. No one knows HOW I’d lost my hearing – I could’ve been born with it or it could’ve been the result of multiple viruses I’d gotten as an infant.
I wasn’t fazed – at that time, I was old enough to have a general idea of what was going on, but too young to worry about what the kids in my class would say. A few days later we were back to see the audiologist. She put this turquoise molding material my ears, and I couldn’t hear a thing. I was confused because I thought that stuff was my hearing aids. I waited for her to turn it on. Instead, she took it out of my ears several minutes later. It had hardened into an exact shape of my ear canal! I asked if that was my hearing aid. She said nope, this is just a mold that we’re going to send off to the company so they make your hearing aids the right size.
In about a week, they called to say my hearing aids were in. They turned out to be these little brown ugly things with tubes, very confusing to a 6-year-old. I didn’t know how to put them in, or how they worked. But once the audiologist put them in my ears for the first time and turned them on, I was amazed at how sharp everything sounded. Because I’d had no idea of what I was missing before, I didn’t have a real sense of having “lost” my hearing. This was like a reward! I did better in school. None of the other kids even seemed to care!
There was just one problem — I didn’t know how to put them in my ears! I knew how to take them out, but I told myself that putting them in was this super advanced thing. My mother put them in every morning and I took them out at night. This went on until I was 8 years old. One day at school, we did an activity that involved putting on headphones and following along with a book as it was narrated on tape. I could not hear the tape if I put the headphones on top of my hearing aids. My teacher had said I could just read the books without the headphones, but I wanted to experience the headphones like everyone else. So I removed my hearing aids, put on the headphones and I could hear the narrator, loud and clear. All was fine…until the activity was over. I couldn’t put my hearing aids back in…Neither could my teacher. We had to call my mother, and she came all the way to school just to put my hearing aids back in. Even at my young age, I knew that was ridiculous. This was a major life skill. After that, I was responsible for putting my hearing aids in. Putting them in turned out to be very easy once I made a real effort to learn.
Throughout school, I never suffered with extreme teasing.. The most I ever got was, “what are those things in your ears?” and I always told them that I had to wear them to help me hear better. End of story. Around middle school, having friends was the most important thing in my life. I wanted to appear perfect. During classes, I would sometimes look at my classmates’ empty ears and think, “she doesn’t need hearing aids. He doesn’t need hearing aids. But you do. Something is wrong with you. No one must ever find out. If people find out, they’ll think you’re crazy. You better hide your hearing aids behind your hair and only reveal them after you’ve gotten to know someone.” This mentality continued until right before college, when I finally realized what I’d known back in kindergarten – they are a part of who I am and therefore I don’t have to be ashamed. I am the only person who thinks I’m crazy. When I started college, I didn’t worry about hiding my hearing aids all time. And once again, something that I thought would be hard turned out to be easy…once I made a real effort. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it, not to mention empowering!