Dr. Dungan recounts her family's multi-generational experience of coping with hearing loss...
When my grandfather and his sister Edith were children, they spent their summers on an island in the Connecticut River at their grandparent's farm. When his grandfather was a young man, he and his wife had a little girl named Grace. After a hard rain, my great-great grandfather and two year old Grace went to the river bank to check on the boats. She picked spring flowers as they walked to the dock. Distracted, and severely hearing impaired, he did not hear the splash when Grace fell into the rushing waters of the river. He never recovered from her death. As a young medical student, my grandfather fashioned a hearing aid trumpet for his grandfather. It was made of tin, and with it, he was able to hear words.
My earliest memory of my great Uncle George was auditory and olefactory: I heard the constant feedback of his hearing aid and smelled the ever-present cigar. He wore what I know now to be a body aid- a 3 inch by 2 inch silver box in his breast shirt pocket with a cord slithering up to his right ear. I wondered how he kept food from dripping on it. I was nine or ten before I realized that he could not hear the hearing aid feedback. That whistle broadcast to all of us, but he was not aware of that sound. Nor could he hear me. He often could not hear his wife, my great Aunt Edith, who taught me how to sew on a Singer treadle sewing machine. She had so much patience teaching me to sew. Not so much patience for Uncle George who sat in his world, usually fiddling with his body aid, always trying to hear, rarely with much to say.
Aunt Mary came to live with me in Tennessee shortly after she was discharged from a rehab center following her stroke. I was in graduate school by then, and twice weekly, I cut classes to take her to therapy at the Patricia Neal Rehab Center in Knoxville. She was issued behind-the-ear hearing aids and thought they were wonderful. "Good," she said with great force. "Now, I can hear, and now I want to talk." She was so happy that she didn't need to use a body aid like Uncle George. She never complained about the noise of my children, but she too would get very quiet as the noise level increased. I know now that her analog hearing aids raised the background noise to such a level she was cut out of the conversation. And she had so much to say! Dis-connections are part of my family history.
I fit my mother with digital hearing aids in 1990. My husband and I were sitting on the sofa in the den, commenting to each other about how alert Mom was with her new hearing aids. Twenty feet away, in the kitchen, with her back to us, washing and rinsing dishes in the sink, she said, "They should be. They sure cost enough!"
Today's hearing technology is life-altering. Soft sounds, nature sounds, distant sounds, music, the speech of young children, family telephone calls, finally audible and clear again, all connecting the very important people in our families to us once again.
What a privilege to be a part of this!
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