As I’ve discussed in this blog before, I go dancing almost once a week and have been for more than two years. I love it, but the very loud music doesn’t love me. Even before then, I’ve had that ringing in my ears, called tinnitus, which looks like it should be pronounced “tIn-EYE-tus” like every other “-itis” word; but no, it’s pronounced “TIN-uh-tus,” as if we need it to be any more annoying than it already is. It generally doesn’t bother me, but over the past few years, I noticed it was getting a little louder, so I first tried wearing sleeping ear plugs while dancing, which were aesthetically and auditorily useless — why do they come in Day-Glo colors? I quickly moved on to some off-the-shelf musician earplugs, and they worked fairly well for the past year, except they slip out while I’m dancing. What can I say? I’m grooving and sweating, and the damn things need to keep up. Recently the ringing kicked up another notch, so I decided it was time to move up to the big guns — custom musician ear plugs.
But that requires an audiologist, a hearing test, and before that, a referral from my doctor for a hearing test. My initial mature reaction to that was, I don’t want to know if my hearing has been damaged. Because if I don’t know about it, then it can’t be real, right? Besides no one is yelling at me. Yet.
In the end it was my love of dancing and not maturity that won the day, and on a recent Friday I found myself in a little booth talking with a perky audiologist student placing headphones on me. It was a more elaborate version of the kind of hearing test we got in grammar school — beeping in your ear and raising your hand when you can hear it. Of course, I’m a lot older, and lately I’ve had the focus of a dog in a squirrel park, so it was hard and tedious. Plus, I knew when I wasn’t hearing stuff.
Boop, boop boop (silent pause), I raised my hand. Softer boop, boop, boop (silent pause), raised hand. Barely there soft boop, boop, boop (silent pause), raised hand. And then… nothing. Shit. I knew damn well there was a boop, boop, boop going on, but I couldn’t hear it. For a second I thought about raising my hand and cheating, as if doing that would get me something, like admission into a better college. But apparently I have matured, because I next heard in my brain, “I’d only be hurting myself,” said in the Ben Stein voice from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
But my tricky mind wasn’t done yet. During that disappointing silence, my brain said:
“Hey, hey! I think I heard something! Raise your hand!”
Ears said, “Shut up, you idiot! We didn’t hear diddly. You just want to hear a sound.”
“No, no, really! I heard something!”
And then the faintest boop, boop, boop came back, and with it, a sigh of relief as I raised my hand. That is until the audiologist changed the tone, and it started all over again: Beep, beep, beep (silence pause), raise hand. I thought it would be done after we went through the range of sounds, but then she came in and put more headphone things on my head. Then we did it all again, but with various kinds of white noise in the background, as if I always have conversations on the side of a highway or by active train tracks.
Once again my brain tried to tell me we could hear stuff, but it and my ears were getting tired, so it gave up pretty quickly. Then came the third part the test. The audiologist explained that I’d be hearing a man’s voice saying sentences, and I needed to say the last word of the sentence. I’m not sure if it was because of the way she explained it, or that I’m a die-hard English major, or that my brain was on the verge of over-focused delirium, or that my son is studying for the SATs, but I immediately thought I was going to have to listen to a guy while he recited a paragraph, say from literature, and I was going to have to do a kind of verbal listening comprehension and pick out the last word of each sentence.
As I was wrestling with my low-level panic, I had to stifle a full on laugh when a computer-generated voice said, “Say the word, ‘eye’.” Oh. Duh. “Eye.” “Say the word, ‘ear’. “Ear.” My relief quickly gave way to fatigue-generated irritation: Why is a man telling me what to do? Why can’t it be a women? Of course, the sentences kept coming, so drifting off with irrelevant side thoughts wasn’t helping.
Then, because my perimenopause sometimes renders me into a teenage boy, the sentences themselves started to distract me.
“Say the word, ‘wood’.” I immediately heard Beavis and Butthead giggling, “He said ‘wood,’ heh-heh, heh-heh, heh-heh.”
Now my brain was having to rein itself in: “Pay attention, focus, and say, ‘wood,’ goddamnit! We’re going to fail this test too!” A couple of sentences later the man said, “Say the word, ‘stiff’.” I mean, come on! Really?
But before I could go too far down that puerile path, he said, “Say the word ‘mews’,” which turned out to be my equivalent of trying to read that last line of impossibly tiny print on the eye chart. Mews is a British term, and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t use that in an American hearing test, unless he also asked me to say “lorry” and “footman.” Then he said. “Say the word, ‘mees’.” Oh fudge. I also knew it was wrong because he continued to ask for that word three different times, like a teacher trying to help me out on a test. I finally realized by the third time he was was probably saying “knees” and that “mews” was most likely “news,” but by then I was too tired to care. I just wanted to say the word “done.” And finally it was.
The student audiologist came in and explained that I have some hearing loss, but not enough for hearing aids (no shit, Sherlock!), but I couldn’t really get mad at her because she earnestly gave me these helpful pamphlets, one called “Tips for Talking to Hard of Hearing Persons.” She said I could give it to my “loved ones” (seemed presumptuous). Then she told me the highlights of the pamphlet, looking directly at me just like tip number one said to. Then the supervising doctor came in and gave me the seasoned version, but I was already moving onto getting my custom musician earplugs. Both of them seemed to forget the main and very important reason I was there — to keep on dancing. Interestingly, because of some hearing differences in my ears, she didn’t think it was the dancing music that was causing the ringing. “But it’s not helping, either,” she said, giving me her stern doctor’s hairy eyeball. She thought it may be genetic, which means I really don’t have any control over it, so blah, blah, hearing, blah, blah, can we get on with the custom ear plugs?
Getting the molds done for the plugs was much more fun — they come in cool colors, and I picked clear with gold sparkles because if I’m going to be hard of hearing I can still look fabulous. And just a tip for all of my loved ones. Next time you’re giving me mews about your mees, be sure to look at me directly.