It has been a long journey to not hearing… one that really happened with little realization from me. I recognized that I was having hearing issues but I mostly ignored them thanks to the COVID lockdowns and the changes it brought to daily life for many people. I mean… if you are not going out much, who cares about hearing? And if everyone wears a mask… could that not be the issue with my hearing? Yeah… I was very much in denial and ignoring all the loss of hearing signs. But I did not realize how bad my hearing had gotten until late last year when watching anything on the TV with Steve became almost impossible. I could not hear the television at a level that was comfortable for him and he absolutely hated having closed captions on… so that impossibility spurred me to talk to my regular doctor in February at my annual check up. Well… those hearing challenges coupled with the ever-present tinnitus I have.

My doctor surprised me by listening carefully and making a referral to an ENT physician (who conveniently has office hours in the same office my doctor is in!) I made the appointment and that began my journey. I met with the ENT (who I really liked) and had a hearing test. He spent time examining my ears. And then sent me off with the technician who administered the hearing test… yes, in a small sound proof booth (which made me laugh, because at that point most rooms were sound proof for me!) Once my hearing test was done I was back with the delightful Dr. Kubik for him to explain in great detail the results of my hearing test and how my hearing loss would benefit greatly from hearing aids. He also gave me lots and lots of information on tinnitus but he believed there was some chance that once my hearing returned, the tinnitus might just go away…  no guarantees, but he recommended that I wait to get the hearing aids and see how things were after I had them for a few weeks. My next step… an appointment with an audiologist!

And so I made the appointment with the audiologist with eager anticipation! I met with her before we went to Erie and was amazed at what she did in that appointment. She “plugged” all my hearing test data into a “sample” pair of hearing aids and put them in my ears.

I wish I could explain that experience fully… but it was instantaneous and miraculous…  I could hear! EVERYTHING! Me breathing. The AC blowing in the office. I could not stop the tears that flowed from my eyes. She made a few measurements of my ears and asked me some questions about how comfortable I was with technology (i.e. an app on a phone) and then she laid out the plethora of hearing aid options. Really…  so many options ranging in price from $1400 to $6000… yeah, very pricey options. After much discussion with her about my lifestyle and my age, I opted for a middle of the road rechargeable hearing aids (as opposed to ones with batteries that I could change…) the mid-priced Oticon Intent™ with a price tag of $3600.

A bit more on hearing aid pricing… paying more does not equate to hearing better. As my audiologist, Kara, explained to me there are some improvements in background noise reduction (i.e. noisy restaurants, large groups of people) but the day to day hearing is not better with a pricier model. I wanted to be able to remotely control my hearing aids, so that had a big part in guiding my decision! (Things I did not do… call around to other hearing aid places to see what their pricing might be. I also did not go to Costco, which Steve thought I should do.)

I was fortunate that my insurance paid for the visit with the ENT physician, the hearing test, and all appointments with the audiologist but it does not cover hearing aids… at all. (I believe that this needs to change… hearing should not be limited to “those who can afford it” ever.)

I went to pick up the hearing aids on Tuesday afternoon and that appointment took surprisingly long! First there was a test where a small microphone was inserted into each ear canal and a series of sounds were played. She then plugged that data into my hearing aids and then she put hearing aids in my ears and played more sounds. She had me take them out, change the ear dome and the filter, and then put them back in (which is not as easy as one might think!) She gave me the lowdown on how my hearing aids work. She also asked lots of questions about how I want to do things like answer phone calls and listen to books or music. She showed me how to turn them down/up and off/on in the app and in my ears. And made an appointment for me to go back and see her on the 31st of this month! In the office I had some “itching” in my ears which I asked about. Kara said that itching might be just because of something “in my ear” but if it persists I should call her and she will work on other ear domes that might work better. (I am happy to say that as of Thursday the itchiness is completely gone.)

With Kara’s advice (and Kym’s suggestion as well) I have opted to be “thrown in the deep end” as in… my hearing test results were my “out of the gate” option. Not dialed back… but full on hearing from the start! And hearing is very overwhelming… just saying! The drive home… the sounds of other cars freaked me right out! Typing this blog post… who knew a keyboard was so freaking noisy! The refrigerator running… feels like MAX VOLUME! Sherman’s toenails clicking on the wood floors! Speaking of floors… the creaking!! How on earth had I not heard that before?? (Also buzzy bees and the *actual* cacophony of birdsong… omg, LOUD, LOUD, LOUD!) But as Kym said… these are sounds my brain has not heard for years so it is my brain resetting itself again. And as for TV watching with Steve… well, he can’t believe I can hear the television at the volume we now have it at! Ha! (I can hear it and it could go even lower!!)

I had long stretches on Wednesday and Thursday were I did not notice the tinnitus at all but at the end of the day, when I take the hearing aids out… it is back with a vengeance… sigh. But I am hopeful that as the days progress my brain will realize that it does not need to make a sound any longer because I can hear!

I realize that I am very, very fortunate (privileged… yes, so much privilege… sigh) in my journey to hearing again. We can well afford the hearing aids. I live in Pittsburgh where Pitt… UPMC has a HUGE hearing loss program… an ENT physician whose speciality was hearing loss, testing in the same office my doctor’s office is, an audiologist who is in the same building as well. I was able to get state of the art hearing aids with an app for my iPhone. And if the tinnitus does not improve once I have acclimated to being a hearing person again… Pitt has a tinnitus program to help me retrain my brain (this is not covered by my insurance, but I am fortunate that we can afford it if it is necessary!)

I also realize that everyone’s journey is not the same but I am hoping that by sharing my experience… you might find something that works for you!




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