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Kristen Hansen Brakeman Headshot

Don't Hate Me Because I Can't Hear You

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"We cran do your earwig pest cow," the nurse said.

"What?" I asked.

"I said, 'We can do your hearing test now.'"


Over the last few years, I've noticed my hearing is starting to go. I'm constantly asking people to repeat themselves. At restaurants, I have to lean in and strain to decipher the conversation, and at home, my kids regularly tease me about my hearing, shouting out non-sequiturs like "Louisiana Purchase" or "Barack Obama" to illustrate how far off I am with my guesses at what they've just said.

So, it was no surprise when, after finally working up the nerve to get a hearing test, the results were grim. Part way through the test, the audiologist stopped, looked at me as if I only had months to live, and said, "You have a significant hearing loss, and it's likely degenerative, so you should start wearing hearing aids now."

I was shocked; blindsided by the news. Even though I had long suspected I had a hearing problem, for some reason, having it confirmed made it so much worse.

Apparently I had inherited my mom's cookie-bite patterned loss, so named because it affects the mid-range of hearing where most human conversation takes place, and unfortunately, one of the most difficult types to treat.

After a childhood spent teasing my mom about being hard-of-hearing, I realized that payback was indeed a bitch.

Even worse, I knew the future that lay before me. As a kid, I would often act as my mom's interpreter so I saw first-hand how people with hearing loss are treated. Even when told about my mom's impairment, salespeople or waiters would still act impatient or even downright rude. I've seen doctors and nurses talk down to her like she's a child, and now that her hearing is almost completely gone, they assume she's senile as well. Thankfully, she's still sharp as a tack.

I barely listened as the doctor went on about the various hearing aid options, extolling the virtues of the new technologies. She even went so far as to describe the newer models as being downright sexy. Really? Are they part of Victoria's Secrets' new Sexy Support Hose and Hearing Aid line?

Armed with brochures, I negotiated my way through the sea of walkers and wheelchairs in the waiting room, smiling kindly at the elderly patients as I left. These are my people now, I thought.

But I don't want them to be my people, damnit. I'm not ready.

I don't want to wear hearing aids. I don't want to have to take them out to swim or shower, or worry about getting them caught in my glasses, or have to buy and change batteries every month. And I certainly don't want another thing that makes me feel old.

I let the idea sink in for a while, then after a few weeks I hosted a dinner party and broke my news to our friends.

I waited for their consoling words. I waited even longer for pity. But none came. Instead, for a solid hour my dinner guests teased me with every hearing and age joke they could think of. "What's that you say, Grandma?" "I can't get this spot out. Yes, it sure is hot out!" Ha. Ha. Ha.

I played along, always the good sport, but afterwards I was hurt and, I'll admit, a little angry.

Why is losing your hearing funny? Why is it treated so differently from other disabilities? We don't laugh at people who are missing a leg or tease someone for being in a wheelchair. No one is rude or impatient with the blind, "Hey mister, watch where you're sticking that damn white cane already."

Maybe people assume hearing loss is just a minor indignity of age, on par with getting reading glasses, or perhaps because one can't tell what the hearing-impaired are missing, it's easy to get frustrated with them, and harder to be sympathetic.

After our dinner party, it took a few months for my bruised ego to recover -- 12, to be exact. Then, after reading new research about how untreated hearing loss can lead to loss of cognitive function and depression, and learning that hearing aids can actually preserve speech recognition, I realized it was time to take action and stop the self-pity.

I had to get over myself and just "own it" already. So, I went back to the audiologist, and finally placed the order. Not for a subtle, hair-matching one either. I figured if I'm gonna do this thing, I'm not gonna hide it. I ordered the bright pink.