Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

In full retreat

Cyndy Muscatel
Lake Sherwood, California, United States


Advertisement for the “Acousticon”, the first portable electric hearing aid, invented by Miller Reese Hutchison. circa 1902. From page 48 in “Surdus in search of his hearing: an exposure of aural quacks and a guide to genuine treatments and remedies electrical aids, lip-reading and employments for the deaf etc., etc.” published in 1906 by Evan Yellon.

I did not realize how far down the rabbit hole I had gone until I regained what I had lost. I thought it was only my hearing, but it was much more.

When I become overwhelmed, I start losing things. Last winter my plate was so full, I needed a platter. My husband had pneumonia, I had plantar fasciitis, our house was in the midst of a flood reconstruction, one of our dearest friends died, our dog was sick, and the world was going to hell.

Between doctor appointments, funerals, and meetings with insurance adjustors, I began to lose things daily. A major item was my right hearing aid. I had the left one, but not the right. I remembered taking it off in the car as my husband drove to Ventura to see his hematologist. I searched his car at least ten times, then broadened the search to include our house, our neighborhood, and the whole state of California — well, that may be an exaggeration. When I lay down at night, I would try to picture where it could be. Sometimes I got up at midnight to look.

My husband and I are in our early seventies. We bought the hearing aids originally because my cousin told us that poor hearing leads to dementia.

“It’s because you hear with your brain, not your ear. When your hearing starts to decline, your brain cells die off,” he told us.

Brain cells dying off did not sound good, so I went into action.

I had known I had some hearing loss for many years, stemming from a car crash when I was twenty-five. Sometimes I could not hear the phone ring even if it was close by.

“When your head hit the windshield, that’s when you first lost some of your hearing,” the audiologist told me on our first appointment. “But you were young enough that you could offset it.” He paused and gave me an uncomfortable look.

“And now I’m old so I can’t offset it,” I finished for him.

He smiled and nodded. Then he turned to my husband.

My husband’s case was different. He had blown out his eardrums by using headphones cranked up to infinity. When you watched TV with him, the volume was so high you had to shout to be heard.

So it was not surprising that we both left the office that day with hearing aids. That was three years before. All had gone well until I lost one. Finally, I gave up looking and called the audiologist’s office.

“How long has it been missing?” the receptionist asked.

“Three weeks,” I said. “I’ve looked everywhere.”

After grilling me some more, she agreed to make me an appointment.

When the day came, I was so relieved. It was something I could cross off my list before my husband went into surgery to have his left hip replaced. (It isn’t easy being a senior. It’s a constant repair or replacement of moving parts.)

“I’ve had these hearing aids for almost three years,” I said to the audiologist once I was seated in his office. “Is there anything more state-of-the-art now?”

“As a matter of fact, there is.” He picked up a box on his desk. “I thought you might be interested, so I’ve got these here for you to try. If you don’t like them, you can bring them back. Meanwhile, I’ll put in a claim on your lost one.”

I was skeptical, but I agreed to try the new ones. When I first got hearing aids, I thought they would be like eyeglasses, honed to my exact needs. But that had not been true. Sometimes in a restaurant I would have to take off the hearing aids because the surrounding noise was so loud. And I still had trouble hearing my teenage granddaughter. And, to be honest, people on the phone.

I put on the updated hearing aids — they were sleek and more fitted to my ear canal. The audiologist pointed to the monitor on the wall.

“I’m just linking them to your iPhone,” he said.

Well, that’s cool, I thought.

We did several tests then. He went into a room across the hall, and I could hear him speak to me. We called my daughter-in-law, and I could hear what she was saying on the phone.

“Wow, that was incredible,” I said, after disconnecting. “I could actually hear what she was saying. I’ll give these a try.”

“They also have an adapter you hook to the television,” he said. “It transmits the sound to your hearing aids. You can hear everything without having to raise the volume on the set.”

“Really? Even a British person talking?” I asked.

He nodded. “Even that.”

“Amazing!” I said. “I can’t wait to tell my husband. He’ll be here in a flash.”

And he was.

My hearing is now so much better. At first things were so loud, it was disconcerting. I had to move a clock away from my nightstand because I could hear it ticking. I could hear paper rustling, the pipes in the house running. But the brain began to even that out.

Even my frown line has lessened because I do not have to concentrate so hard on what a person is saying. I had not realized that was happening. In the previous six months, I had stopped taking part in conversations because it was so difficult. I was not sure, when I was in an encounter, if I would be able to hear what the other person was saying. And it was making me anxious. What if I can’t hear what people are saying? What if can’t hear what the receptionist says when I am making an appointment on the phone? What if I can’t hear what my grandkids are saying? I can’t keep asking them to repeat it again. So I started avoiding talking with them. And if I were in a loud restaurant, I would tell myself, “You can just sit back. You don’t really need to say anything.”

I had read that people losing their hearing started to retreat from the world. I did not think it would happen to me — I was too smart for that. Or so I thought. But there I was — in full retreat. I had not realized how much I was struggling to hear, or that I had lost my self-confidence and was blaming others for my inability to hear them. Why can’t businesses hire people who can enunciate better? I would think when I could not hear what the receptionist was saying over the phone. I accused my husband of mumbling and was annoyed with him for talking to me from another room.

Hearing loss often occurs over a long period of time. It can be so subtle that people do not realize what has happened. I also know a lot of people who cannot hear well but do not want to admit it. They are fine with glasses, but hearing aids are for old people. “Me, need hearing aids? No, not me,” they say.

They also start many sentences with the words, “Sorry, could you repeat that?” or “What?” or “Speak up, I can’t hear you.” Sometimes they give a vague response that has nothing to do with what was said. Those are the ones who get misdiagnosed with dementia when all they need is a good pair of hearing aids that work for them.

With my inferior hearing aids, I was losing who I was. With my new ones, I found myself again.

And the missing hearing aid? I found that, too. It appeared one day between the driver’s seat and the console. How lucky I was to lose it.



CYNDY MUSCATEL has written features and humor for The Desert Sun, Desert Magazine, 92260, LQ Magazine, and Healthy Living. She has also written for many other publications including The Seattle Times, The Mercer Island Reporter, The Desert Post Weekly, Palm Canyon Times, and Westlake Magazine. A former high school English teacher, she now teaches memoir writing in Kona, Hawaii. Her blogs, A Corner of My Mind and Writing Do’s and Don’ts, are available at cyndymuscatel.blog. Her short story collection “Radio Days” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Summer 2019   |  Sections  |  Personal Narratives

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