Can you hear me now? That’s a rhetorical question, but one I’ve heard too many times, usually right after I ask, “What was that?” It’s humiliating, debilitating and several other words that rhyme.
“Hard-of-hearingness” runs rampant in the Blough family. I can remember my paternal grandpa, Mahlon Blough, with white objects the size of rice cakes protruding from his ears. Coupled with thick glasses and a perfectly round bald spot on the top of his head, Grandma Blough had no fears of losing him to a younger woman.
At that young age, my hearing was so keen I could hear a bowling pin drop. I didn’t understand that Gramps had a pesky handicap he never chose, so said things like, “If you took them baseballs outta your ears, maybe you could hear.” I also said about the pancake-sized bald spot, “You have a big hole in your head, Gramps.” Even though he chuckled, it probably hurt (unless of course he thought I said, “You have a really cool head, Gramps”).
I teased my semi-deaf Dad too, but now I know how it feels. I first noticed a slight hearing loss when my old friend Brad Meeker and my comely next-door neighbor Patti were visiting. Brad said something I didn’t comprehend, and with what I’m sure was an imbecilic expression, I grunted, “Huh?” Obviously with no desire to make me look good in front of Patti, Brad barked, “Huh? What, are your ears painted on?”
Of course, they weren’t and I wasn’t even sure I heard him correctly when he repeated it. I think it was more because of his drunk slurring, but I certainly didn’t want to exacerbate the situation by calling him on it. This guy had an acerbic, Don Rickles-like wit, so I cut my losses and pretended to hear him the second time.
And now 30 years later, the hearing is far worse and the results more obvious. Take Sundays in church for instance, when my nephew Rusty and I sit side-by-side and find the need to chat (about spiritual matters of course). Rusty was born deaf in one ear and dumb (actually, he’s probably just as intelligent as I am). His right ear is deaf, while my left is the troublemaker.
When Rusty whispers something to me, I swivel my head to the left like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, rotating my good ear closer to his mouth. When I whisper my answer, Rusty immediately twists his head 120 degrees over my left shoulder to present his good ear. When the exchange is rapid-fire, it might appear to amused parishioners behind us that we’re making out (a misconception one certainly doesn’t welcome in a house of worship).
About 15 years ago, my mother and late sister Wanda were visiting from Pennsylvania and at brother Jess and Marti’s house, someone produced a waxy object shaped like a small pine cone. It was designed to extricate ear wax once placed in the ear and the opposite side lit by a match.
Thankfully, no one’s face was set ablaze and several recipients declared clarity improvement. I had fun making plenty of jokes, but my turn on the chair never came, and as my hearing has declined, I’ve always felt cheated. Obviously, though, Jess’ improved hearing was an illusion, as he’s deaf as a post (a clinical term for the hearing impaired). Jess (actually “Mahlon Jess,” named after my deaf grandpa) now wears hearing aids, as does my brother Paul “Alfred” (middle namesake compliments of deaf Pop).
With my own hearing on a slow decline and unable to figure out how to get closed captioning on my remote, my time has arrived. Thusly, I responded last week to the offer I received in the mail for a free screening at Ralston’s Heart Mountain Hearing Center. A pro bono evaluation plus a $20 Blair’s Market coupon proved too tempting to ignore.
Hearing specialist Chris Pelletier and office manager Angelena were pleasant, and the tests interesting — especially the one where I was instructed to repeat words I’d hear in my headphones. I was sailing along pretty well I thought, but when “bad luck” reached my ear as “dump truck,” the writing was pretty much on the soundproof wall. My hearing loss was diagnosed as “moderately-severe” (unless Angelena actually said, “You have a cauliflower ear”).
So either I invest in hearing aids, which I can’t afford on my one-day-a-week workload, or I have my ears amputated and new ones painted on. At least then it will be clear to everyone why I keep saying, “Come again?”