Few people outside my tight-knit circle of family and friends know that I have a hearing impairment. For better or worse, it has been a closely guarded secret ever since I first became aware of my problem around age 12. At that tender age I also realized that it’s one of the few handicaps that people still consider socially acceptable to make fun of. My problem is hereditary. My dad is hearing impaired, both his parents are, and so are several of my aunts, uncles and cousins on his side of the family. I am the oldest of five children, and four of us inherited this hearing loss. I am fortunate to have the mildest case.
When I needed to get glasses at age 8, my mom and my recently bespectacled cousin prepared me for the jeers I might receive at school. Fortunately “four-eyes” proved to be about as outdated as “groovy”, and glasses just weren’t something that people made fun of anymore. Quite a few other students in my class sported glasses, and one of my friends had the exact same frames. It was fine.
Hearing impairment was a different story. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Say “what?” one too many times, or remain oblivious to instructions that you didn’t hear, and you’re jokingly dubbed “deaf”, not only by fellow students, but also by teachers and other adults who aren’t aware of your problem. I wanted to disappear when some teachers who were aware of my disability singled me out in front of the whole class, spilling my secret and telling me that I would need to sit in the front. It’s not that hearing-impaired people like me are humorless, but it’s disheartening when people who can’t sympathize with the challenges treat it so flippantly. It’s not something I felt inclined to laugh along with. Once I was fortunate enough to have a hearing aid, I had to contend with people gawking at the flesh-colored wad of plastic in my ear—something that only elderly grandma’s and grandpa’s wore. If I forgot that I was wearing the aid and accidentally rested my ear against my hand, I’d broadcast the high-pitched whistle caused by feedback, eliciting more giggles.
Not even medical professionals were above cruelty. I remember my mother being deeply hurt, and even more infuriated, when my oldest brother’s ENT suggested that my young brother should never have children, in order to avoid sharing his hearing problem with another generation. Did he feel that the world would have been a better place had all five of us never been born? Should a condition so easily helped with ever-evolving and improving technology be sufficient reason for my brother never to experience the joys of a family of his own if he so chose?
My family never had much, and hearing aids for four children were prohibitively expensive. Fortunately there were county programs that covered the costs for us, though we weren’t able to take advantage of the latest technology or the smallest hearing aids. Looking back, I am ashamed that I didn’t appreciate the assistance and was so concerned about what my peers at school would think, that it wasn’t long before I stopped wearing my hearing aids at all. By the time I had matured enough not to care what people thought, I was too old to qualify for the program.
I completed college and worked for years without the help of a hearing aid. I made do by placing myself in the front of lecture halls and asking people to repeat themselves if I couldn’t understand them. I got used to closed captioning on the TV and simply not understanding everything said in movies or songs if I didn’t have headphones at my disposal. There were plenty of embarrassing moments, but for the most part I made do. I didn’t see fit to tell anyone about my problem, except for my future husband. I remember feeling like a nervous wreck on the day I finally decided to tell him about my hearing impairment, and that any future children we might have could end up with the same thing. Keeping in mind my brother’s ENT, I thought that maybe it was a deal-breaker for “normal” people, even if I couldn’t understand that myself. But my fears were overblown—my future husband didn’t care. We would deal with the problem if and when it manifested itself in our future children.
And so I lived for nearly fifteen years with no hearing aids at all. I was used to it, but I was also becoming increasingly frustrated. It was embarrassing asking people to repeat themselves. Once I became a mom, I relied on my husband to hear our baby cry in the night—once I was in a deep sleep, even the baby monitor wouldn’t wake me. I missed people at the door if I was upstairs. I worried that I might not hear a smoke alarm or know if an intruder had broken into the house. When I began teaching a college class, I wore myself out having to walk up to each student who had a question—even though the class size was small, the voices didn’t carry across the room.
I was very happy for my Dad when he told me he had won a free year’s supply of a new hearing aid called Lyric in a contest. My parents have fallen on difficult financial times in recent years, and paying for new hearing aids was out of the question for him. I am always concerned about my dad and my siblings who have a harder time than I do—if I ever won the lottery, setting them up with the latest technology would be first on my agenda. Unfortunately, Dad’s hearing loss is so severe that the Lyric aids didn’t provide enough boost for him. I felt awful, but Dad saw an opportunity. He asked the company if rather than accepting the other option, a free trip, he could transfer the hearing aid prize to someone else who needed it. They graciously allowed him to do so, and he offered his prize to me.
At this point in my life, I couldn’t care less what other people think of hearing aids. That I didn’t have any aids was due strictly to our financial situation. The free hearing aids were a blessing; the fact that they would also be invisible was icing on the cake—not crucial, but sweet.
I started the process with a hearing test at the audiologist’s office. I was thrilled to discover that my hearing loss had not progressed significantly, if at all, over the many years since I was last tested. One of my ears had mild loss, and the other was mild to moderate. The particular pattern of loss that my family deals with can seem more severe than it is, however, since mid-range frequencies (primarily conversation) is most affected. The audiologist measured my ear canals to ensure that the devices would fit in both ears and declared me a prime candidate for Lyric hearing aids.
Lyric extended wear hearing aids are not your typical hearing aid. They are placed deep inside the ear canal, close to the eardrum where they can create more natural amplification. For that reason, they must be inserted by a professional. Also unusual is the fact that they are not removed daily; Lyrics are worn until the battery runs out, then they are disposed of and a new unit must be inserted. They are tiny devices that resemble an earplug. They are water resistant, and as long as the fit is correct, they can be worn in the shower without worry of damage.
My audiologist inserted the Lyric in my right ear without a problem, but my left ear put up a fight. There was a painful spot (most likely originating from removal of impacted earwax) that brought me to tears when she inserted the device. We needed to allow a couple more weeks for my left ear to heal and relax before attempting to insert another device. The audiologist chose a smaller size for that ear, and although it was still uncomfortable going in, it has not presented any extended problems.
Growing accustomed to hearing aids is a lengthy process. I didn’t understand that as a kid, and I believe that is part of the reason I was reluctant to wear my hearing aid back then. Lyric comes with its own set of issues that make the process a little bit more difficult, but very worthwhile. The first thing I noticed after my audiologist inserted my first Lyric and turned it on was the ton of bricks lifted from my shoulders as I listened to her talk and heard every word she said without any effort at all. I cannot explain the feeling. I had never before realized the tremendous amount of energy and concern I had channeled into simply hearing someone talk, even at close range. I almost felt like crying.
Once I left the comfort of the audiologist’s office, though, I was a little bit less confident about the device. I realized that I was hearing everything all at once: every person talking, every office machine, the rustling of the fabric of my coat sleeves. I couldn’t listen to the radio in the car because the engine noise and the sound of the tires on the road seemed to have equal priority. I remembered the reassurances from my dad and the audiologist that my brain needed to “re-learn” hearing and it would get better. It seemed to me beyond the scope of what my brain could do, but I hoped they were right—there were times when I felt that I preferred my poor natural hearing to this artificial sounding electronic hearing. But I held on to that feeling in the audiologist’s office when I first heard her talk with my hearing aid, and I knew that I would try.
Then, there were the physical aspects of adjusting to the Lyric hearing aids. I never realized how sensitive the ear canal is; I learned that a simple cotton swab can cause tremendous irritation, even if used safely. My ears are no exception, and if anything they are more sensitive than most. They didn’t take kindly to the objects residing semi-permanently inside, and I felt that I had a mild ear infection. The ear canal will swell slightly as it reacts to the Lyric, and this is completely normal. I read that the adjustment period, which is usually about three days, can be longer for some people. My right ear took about a week, while my left ear has taken close to two weeks. The almost constant pain, though not severe, made me feel a little bit sick. I used acetaminophen as recommended, and that helped greatly…though I have to admit there were times when I wanted to take the things out!
Other Lyric users claimed that after a while they forgot they were wearing the things—their ears adjusted, and they no longer felt the object inside. That was hard for me to believe, and the initial sensation of simultaneously having a plugged ear and superior hearing was difficult for my mind to reconcile. But once the pain went away and my ears accepted the Lyrics, the sensation of a foreign object in my ear really did go away. Apart from occasional itching, my Lyric hearing aids are completely comfortable. I don’t know yet if I will have an adjustment period when my next set of aids are inserted. If so, I expect it will be easier.
It’s been about a month and a half since my first Lyric was inserted, and I couldn’t be happier. Although I didn’t believe it would happen, I truly have adjusted to my “new” hearing. My mind naturally filters out background noises, and I am once again able to listen to the radio in the car. I’m not processing every little noise I hear. When I’m in the classroom, I’m able to hear and answer my students’ questions from behind the desk. Recently, I was annoyed when the ringing phone woke me from a much-needed nap…until I realized that only a few weeks before the phone ringing, downstairs, would not have woken me, because I would not have heard it. I was more amazed and grateful than annoyed.
I no longer care about whether people know I wear hearing aids, so the invisibility factor isn’t important to me, but it’s nice. There are more practical aspects of the Lyric extended wear hearing aid that I truly appreciate. I don’t need to worry about replacing hearing aid batteries, which is not only an inconvenience, but also a safety issue—those tiny batteries are deadly if swallowed, and with a toddler in the house that is an important concern. I don’t have the stress of worrying about misplacing, dropping or breaking removable hearing aids. It is nice having the security of being able to hear all night long in case there was an emergency. The Lyric aids are very easy to adjust. The audiologist pre-programs the devices to match my hearing levels, but I can adjust the volume or turn the aids off myself with a little magnetic “wand” that I insert into my ear.
Lyric hearing aids are wonderful devices, but they’re not for everybody. For one thing, the cost is prohibitive for many people. Currently, a Lyric hearing aid in each ear will cost more than $3,000 annually. As much as I enjoy my Lyrics, I won’t be able to afford that cost once the year is up, so I will need to seek out an affordable standard hearing aid (there is no way I will go back to nothing). Hopefully the cost will come down as more advances are made and the technology is more widely adopted. Besides the hefty price tag, convenience is another issue for some. The Lyrics, which will last three to four months at best, must be inserted by a trained professional (they can be removed at home in an emergency or when the battery goes dead). Since only a limited number of audiologists currently deal with Lyric hearing aids, the required travel may be too much. It’s a 45 minute drive for me. Although I haven’t used a standard hearing aid recently to make a comparison, I do believe I would prefer the Lyric if I had the means to pay for it.
I am so grateful to my dad, my audiologist and Lyric for restoring my hearing. I am very excited about all of the advances being made in the audiology field that will help people like me, my family, and future generations realize their full potential in a world that isn’t always kind to them.
DISCLOSURE (what’s this?): I am not affilliated with Lyric in any way. I wrote this review independently based on my own experiences using the product.
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