Even with My Hearing Aids, I Am Still

by Tina Blue
December 8, 2003

          I remember an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that I saw back in the 1950s, when I was a little girl. The protagonist was a deaf woman who had gotten hearing aids without telling her husband, because she planned to surprise him with her new ability to hear.

          After she leaves the doctor's office with her new hearing aids, the scene changes.  She is standing in front of the mirror, fixing her hair, as her husband and her sister come into the room.  They are talking about her, and she registers awareness on her face.  "I think she hears us!" the sister exclaims in surprise.  But the woman's husband insists, "Not at all.  She's just reading our lips in the mirror."

          So the two turn their backs and continue talking--planning to murder the deaf woman that very night, so they can be together!

          Of course, because she has heard all their plans, the woman is able to escape the trap that they set for her, and poetic justice being what it is, they end up getting killed instead.

          Whenever I think about this episode, it makes me wonder at the ignorance of--well, just about everybody--where hearing impairments and hearing aids are concerned.  In the first place, no one who is totally deaf, as the woman in the TV show supposedly was, is going to be helped at all by hearing aids. Hearing aids can boost whatever hearing you have, but they can't make something out of nothing, just as glasses, no matter how strong, cannot restore sight to a blind person.

          Secondly, hearing aids don't make us hear "normally."  My favorite line about the efficacy of hearing aids is this, "My hearing aids help me hear about as well as your grandmother's walker helps her walk."

          I wear hearing aids.  But even with my hearing aids in, I cannot understand speech unless I am also reading lips.  With my hearing aids and lip-reading, I can usually manage about 70% comprehension (more or less, depending on the circumstances and on the willingness of my interlocutor to cooperate with me). With my hearing aids in and the volume turned up very high, I can catch about 40%-50% of the dialogue on TV, if I am sitting close to the set.

          I catch less of the dialogue in movie theaters, but I go to the movies with a friend who fills me in on what I have missed.  Even at that I only go to movies I really, really want to see on the big screen, and it is always frustrating that I miss so much.  Usually we wait for the DVD, so I can watch with closed captions.

          The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode is evidence, I believe, that most people are clueless about what hearing loss entails, and far too sanguine about the degree of correction hearing aids can provide.  Yes, I realize the episode was presented over 40 years ago.  But I have seen no evidence that the hearing population is any better informed about our handicap now than they were then.

          I have, however, seen plenty of evidence that they are still incredibly ignorant on the subject.

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