Friday, September 23, 2011


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 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.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Lately, whenever I forget something, like where I put my car keys (eyeglasses, dog’s leash, car, husband), someone usually will comment that I’m having a “senior moment.” Well, if that’s the case, last week I had an entire “senior day.”

I was on my way to Concord when my car’s low-fuel light popped on and made a “ding-ding” sound. That was due to a previous senior moment when I’d left the house to go buy gas and instead ended up running so many errands, I completely forgot why I’d come into town in the first place, and came home gas-less.

So the moment the low-fuel light popped on, I headed straight for my favorite full-serve gas station. When I pulled in, there were three cars at each pump, so I got into one of the lines and prayed my car wouldn’t sputter and die before I reached the pump. I sat there for a while until the attendant approached and told me I was on the wrong side and would have to back up and go around. I didn’t know what he was talking about until I realized I’d pulled up to the pump with the driver’s side facing it...but my gas cap is on the passenger’s side.

As I’ve mentioned in past columns, backing up a car is not something I do very well...and believe me, everyone at the gas station who was waiting in line can attest to that fact. Five attempts later, after endangering the paint job of every vehicle within a quarter-mile radius, I finally managed to back up and make it to the correct pump. A couple of the people in line actually cheered. I wasn’t certain if it was because I’d successfully made it to the pump or because they were so relieved they’d come out of it with their fenders still intact.

After I finally got gas, I headed to Concord to pick up my new bifocals, which I’d ordered two weeks before. I’d swapped my trifocals for them because I was convinced the trifocals were implements of death. With every step I took while wearing them, I’d risked fracturing some essential body part, mainly because the lenses made the ground look as if it were up somewhere right beneath my nostrils. So the optician thought going from a “tri” down to a “bi” might be easier for me.

I took a seat in the optician’s office and he handed my new bifocals to me. He also handed me a card with various-sized printed paragraphs on it. “Tell me which paragraph is the smallest you can read,” he said.

I studied the card. Every paragraph ran into the next one in a giant blur. “I can’t see any of them,” I said.

“Are you looking through the bottom half of the glasses?” he asked.

I nodded. “I’m looking through the part that’s below the bifocal line.”

“Try again,” he said.

If anything, the card looked even blurrier.

“How about the top part, the distance part?” he asked. “Look at that poster on the wall over there. Can you read anything on it?”

I couldn’t even see the poster, never mind read it. Heck, I barely could see the wall. “I think maybe you got my prescription mixed up with someone else’s,”
I told him.

He shook his head. “I can’t imagine that happening. But I’ll go double check.”

He took my glasses and disappeared out back into the lab area. While I sat there waiting, I picked up the card with the different paragraphs on it. I could read all of them, all the way down to the bottom. Puzzled, I looked at the poster on the far wall. I could read that, too.

My face turned crimson and I groaned out loud as it suddenly dawned on me why I could see better without the glasses. I was wearing my contact lenses.

I didn’t know whether to wait for the optician to return and explain why I hadn’t been able to see anything through the bifocals...or just turn and bolt out the door to save my dignity. I decided to stay, but only because I’d paid for the glasses in advance.

The optician, scratching his head and staring at my glasses in his hand, came back and said, “I can’t understand it. Everything checks out fine with your original prescription.”

I forced a weak smile. “Um, I think part of the problem might be that I’m still wearing my contact lenses.”

All I can say is thank goodness the guy had a good sense of humor. He burst out laughing. Not surprisingly, the glasses worked much better when I tried them on again with naked eyes.

I didn’t get home until nearly 8:30.

“Good to see you!” my husband greeted me. “I’m starving! I’ve been waiting all night for those juicy cheeseburgers you promised me. I hope you bought a lot of ground beef because I might even have three burgers tonight!”

We ended up eating tuna-fish sandwiches.

I forgot to buy the ground beef.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting here in my robe and slippers with cup of hot tea at my side. In a few minutes, my husband and I will watch a DVD movie we ordered from Netflix.

It’s only 6:30 p.m.

Just the other day, my husband and I were talking about how much we’ve changed over the years. For one thing, we’re now in for the night at an hour when in the past, we’d just be heading out. Back then, we wouldn’t get home until 2:00 in the morning. Now, by 9:30 p.m., my husband is snoring in his recliner and I keep dozing off on the sofa, waking up just in time to realize I’ve missed the end of the TV program I’ve been watching for the past 57 minutes.

When my husband and I were in our 20s, a typical Saturday would involve taking a ride to the mountains or the beach during the day, eating dinner in a nice restaurant in the evening, followed by either going to a movie, out dancing, or to a lounge to hear our friend, Tracy Stone, sing with her band.

Now, we drive to our favorite restaurant at 3:00 in the afternoon, order our meals “to go,” and eat them at home, usually in our pajamas.

There was a time when we didn’t mind waiting in line for a table at a restaurant. In fact, I can remember once waiting over two hours for a table at the Red Lobster. Now, I wouldn’t wait in line that long even if Wolfgang Puck himself promised to cook my meal and hand-feed it to me.

One of the late-night activities my husband and I used to enjoy when we were first married was to spontaneously take a ride to either Hampton or Salisbury Beach. We would be sitting at home watching the late news when suddenly my husband would say, “Let’s take a ride to the beach!”

It didn’t matter that it was almost midnight. We’d jump into the car and head toward the coast. Usually we’d find a pizza stand or hot-dog stand still open and grab a bite to eat, then we’d kick off our shoes and take a walk along the beach.

A few weeks ago, on a really hot night, I decided to try to revive the old spontaneity. “Let’s take a ride to the beach!” I said to my husband, who was stretched out in his recliner and watching some spy movie on TV.

The look he gave me clearly told me he thought I’d been sampling the cooking sherry.

“Why would you want to leave a nice air-conditioned house and ride to the beach?” he asked.

I shrugged. “We always used to take late-night drives when we were first married. I thought it might be fun to do it again.”

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then finally said, “OK, I guess we could take a ride. It’s probably nice and cool at the beach.”

He yawned, stretched and sat up in the recliner. “Are there any places with bathrooms along the way that are open at this time of night? You know I take diuertics and can’t last more than 20 minutes without having to go.”

“I don’t have a clue what’s open at this hour. But I’m sure there must be a 24-hour gas station somewhere between here and there.”

“Do you know where my favorite shorts are?” he asked. “The ones I’m wearing are full of holes.”

I went into the bedroom to search for the shorts. It turned out they were in the dirty-clothes hamper. I grabbed his second-favorite shorts, his green ones.

“Those are tight around the waist,” he said when I handed them to him. “I won’t be very comfortable if I have to wear those during the long drive. They might cut off my circulation.”

“Just put them on, and let’s get going!”

He put on the green shorts, a shirt and his moccasins. “Do we have any small bottles of water?” he asked. “I have to keep hydrated.”

I went over to the fridge and grabbed a couple bottles of water. We finally headed toward the door.

“Wait!” he said, just as I reached for the door handle. “I think I’d better go to the bathroom again before we leave, just to be safe.”

“It’s not good to keep your kidneys totally drained,” I said. “They’ll dry up!”

He rolled his eyes and headed to the bathroom. I stood and waited...and waited.

“This might take longer than I expected,” he finally called out from the bathroom.

Sighing, I plunked down on the sofa.

I woke up over an hour later. My husband, back in his holey shorts, was in his recliner, watching TV.

“You looked so peaceful, I didn’t want to wake you,” he said.

Yep. Times definitely have changed.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Maybe I’m too easily spooked, but a couple things happened last week that made me feel uneasy.

First of all, I was getting the lawnmower out of the garage when I happened to notice that on the back window, which faces the fenced-in yard, there was a big handprint on the glass. I rubbed it from the inside and nothing happened, so I went outside to see if it could be rubbed off from that side.

The land drops down beneath that window, so I barely could reach it. I finally managed to rub off a small part of the bottom of the print. I dashed back into the house.

“There’s a big handprint on the outside of the garage window!” I breathlessly told my husband.

“Well, don’t blame me,” he said. “I haven’t touched any windows!”

“I haven’t either!” I said. “So that must mean someone’s been trying to break into our garage!”

“Maybe one of the dogs did it,” he said, his tone unconcerned.

“The dogs even don’t have any fingers to leave fingerprints with! And they’d have to be six feet tall to reach that window!”

“That handprint probably has been there since the windows were put in,” he said. “Maybe you just never noticed it before.”

“But that was three years ago! I know my eyes aren’t great, but I’m pretty sure I’d have spotted a handprint on the window. Wouldn’t you have seen it, too?”

He shrugged. “I never look at the garage windows.”

So there I was, thinking we had a peeping Tom with big hands, while my husband figured it was either the dogs doing trampoline-like leaps at the window, or some fat-handed window installer who’d left his mark three years ago.

That night, when I finally managed to stop wondering about the mysterious handprint, something strange happened. Our two dogs really love a treat called bully sticks, so occasionally I will buy them one. Bully sticks are similar to rawhide chews, but they are made from the part of the bull that...well, um...looks like a stick.

I had been in a store earlier that day and spotted something I hadn’t seen before – braided bully sticks formed into figure-8 shapes. I bought a couple, thinking the dogs would be thrilled with them.

When I gave my special treats to the dogs that night, all I can say is their reaction wasn’t exactly the wags of appreciation I’d anticipated.

They took the treats from me, then almost simultaneously, spit them out, backed away from them and growled, the fur standing up on the backs of their necks.

My husband stared at them, then at me. “What the heck’s in those things anyway?”

I grabbed one of the wrappers and read it. It said the sticks were made of 100 percent free-range beef from Brazil.

At that point, both dogs slowly approached the bully sticks again, one cautious step at a time. When Willow reached hers, she grabbed it in her teeth and then flung it halfway down the hallway and barked at it. Raven picked up hers and shook it as if she were trying to kill it.

“Are you sure the wrapper doesn’t list one of the ingredients as cat?” my husband asked.

I’d never seen the dogs act that way toward any treat before. At one point, Willow crept up on the bully stick again, sniffed it, jumped straight up in the air then bolted down to the laundry room and hid. Raven stood growling at hers as she intermittently whacked it with her paw. I was beginning to think something was alive in the sticks, but knowing the part of the bull they came from, I sure hoped there wasn’t.

Raven, panting and growling, worked herself into such a frenzy trying to kill her treat, I finally decided I’d better pick up the bully sticks and get rid of them before she suffered cardiac arrest. I shoved the sticks into the trash and immediately tied up the bag. Then, feeling uneasy about what was in them that had made the dogs so frightened, I took the trash right out to the garage.

Maybe whatever was so scary in those bully sticks will protect the garage from the big-handed window-touching guy if he ever decides to come back.