I’ve suspected for quite some time that my husband’s hearing might not be quite as sharp as it used to be.
The other night, for example, I was making a sandwich for him and asked, “Do you want pita bread?”
“Peter’s dead?” he answered. “Peter who?”
That did it. The week before, I’d received a card in the mail addressed to “resident” that offered a free hearing exam by a board-certified audiologist. I practically tore apart the house searching for it. When I found it, I dragged my husband, kicking and screaming, to the office for an exam.
“You’re crazy!” he protested. “I can hear just fine! You mumble!”
The audiologist, a pleasant, very personable sort of guy, nodded and smiled knowingly as I described my husband’s symptoms to him.
“And when you say you’re going to the store, does he think you’re going next door?” he asked.
My husband started to laugh.
“And when I ask him if he wants a diet Coke,” I added, “he thinks I’m going to dye a coat!”
The audiologist explained that he believed my husband couldn’t hear consonants, just vowels. He said when a person hears only vowel sounds, the brain compensates by making up the consonants it thinks should go with them. As a result, he said, the word “flake” may sound like “face.” Or “cheer” can sound like “ear” or “rear.”
That certainly would explain some of the crazy stuff my husband had been coming out with lately.
But my husband was convinced his hearing was perfect. “She doesn’t speak clearly!” he told the audiologist. “And usually when she talks to me, she’s at the stove, facing the wall and not facing me, so I can’t hear her.”
“Were you ever able to hear her years ago, when she was at the stove, facing the wall?” the audiologist asked him.
“Well...yeah, I guess so,” he answered.
The audiologist smiled with satisfaction. “I’m going to first try a simple test on you,” he said. “I’m going to give your wife a list of everyday words to read to you, one at a time. All you have to do is repeat each one after she says it.”
He sent me to stand near the wall a few feet behind my husband, then told me to read each word in my normal voice. “Raising your voice won’t help a person who can’t hear consonants anyway,” he said.
When my husband and I both gave him a puzzled look, he said, “OK, I’ll prove my point. I want you both to say ‘ssssssssssssss,’ like a snake.”
My husband and I both hissed out the “ssssssssssssssss” sound.
“Now try to do it louder,” he said. “Not higher or lower, just louder.”
We both tried...and failed. There was only one volume for “sssssssssssssss,” sounds, apparently.
“That’s why speaking louder to someone who can’t hear consonants doesn’t help,” the audiologist said.
I then read his list of words to my husband, one by one in a normal voice. He got nearly half of them wrong.
“You’re kidding, right?” he said when the audiologist told him the results. “I thought I did great!”
“You hesitated before repeating every word,” the audiologist said. “And even then, you got nearly half of them wrong. That’s because your brain was trying to think which consonants to use because you weren’t sending it the right signals. How do you think you can keep up with a normal conversation if you have to stop and think about every word you’re hearing? The answer is, you can’t.”
That would explain why so many times after I asked my husband a question, he’d wait a few seconds and then say, “Huh?”
The audiologist put my husband into a little booth, gave him some headphones and began the full-blown, ultra-thorough hearing test, complete with buzzes, beeps, background sounds and even total quiet.
I watched the audiologist cranking up the dials on the machine as he instructed my husband to hold up his hand when he heard a sound. By the time my husband finally held up his hand, the audiologist was covered in cobwebs. I got the distinct impression he wasn’t going to ace this test.
Sure enough, the end result was a 65-percent hearing loss in his right ear and a 75-percent loss in his left.
When the audiologist broke the news to him, my husband couldn’t have looked more shocked if I’d just told him I was expecting triplets.
So he was immediately measured for two hearing aids, which will take about two weeks to be tailor-made for him and his specific needs.
“I can’t wait until you get your hearing aids!” I said to him on the way home. “Then you’ll be able to clearly hear me nag you...in stereo!”
For once, he actually heard what I was saying. “No, I won’t,” he said, giving me a sly smile. “I’ll just turn down the volume on them!”
At that point, I think it was a good thing he couldn’t hear some of the consonants I was muttering.