Since prattling on about my brother’s sensitivity to noises it got me to thinking about my own ears. For the past several years I have been known to say “what?” more than the average person. If there is competing background noise when someone is speaking to me they need to enunciate and speak at a determined volume. Otherwise they get my “I’m sorry…what did you say?” Or the more familiar, “huh?”
Over the years my ex got increasingly annoyed with my frequent “whats?” Fearing her nasty retorts to my “what?” I started to wait a few seconds after being the recipient of her mumbled utterings….thinking to myself, “ok Mer, you think she said ‘please take all my cash’…but that really doesn’t make any sense cause we are in the middle of cleaning the kitchen – hmmm, what sounds like cash? Oh! She said ‘please take out the trash!’” I didn’t always get it right and would often be forced to sheepishly ask her to repeat herself, which she did, often with derision in her voice.
The day finally came when I said to her, “Hey, my ears are bad from going to too many clubs and concerts when I was young! I am not ignoring you! I just can’t fucking hear!”
Eager to prove myself an attentive listener with damaged equipment I made an appointment with an audiologist to have my concert-club-iPod-beaten ears tested. The day of my appointment I arrived at the modest office and was greeted by a young and very attractive doctor of the ear. Dr. Ear explained the series of tests she was going to administer and politely escorted me to a sound-proof booth and instructed me to put on the headphones sitting on the chair inside. She closed me in the booth then subjected me to a series of tests where I had to identify various sounds under different circumstances, including identifying a sound in one ear while noise was piped separately into the other ear.
After all the tests were completed Dr. Ear lead me to her office and sat behind her desk with my test results in front of her. She looked at me and smiled and then said, “Marie, you have excellent hearing.” She showed me a sheet of paper summarizing my results which were all above normal or excellent. I was stunned and asked, “Well then how come I am always struggling to hear what people say?” She again smiled and said, “You can hear perfectly you just have a hard time processing what you are hearing.” My jaw dropped and I blurted, “oh great, my problem isn’t my ears, its cognitive degradation?!”
Dr. Ears smiled and patiently explained that it was not cognitive degradation but rather a reduction in the effectiveness of the mechanism that processes the hearing inputs from my ears. She assured me that my cognition, by all appearances, was just fine. She continued that such processing problems are common in people in their 40s and that in effect this is experienced as difficulty hearing. I made several more self-deprecating jokes about my apparently waning mental abilities and watched the hot Dr. Ears laugh, then I shook her hand, thanked her, and headed home with my stereo blaring Sublime.
I came home, my excellent hearing results in hand, and explained to my ex that I have a processing problem. She listened patiently and acknowledged that my “whats?” were not a personal affront to her. A few minutes later she yelled at me from the other room, “will you please go to the store?” I was puzzled, “what do you need at the store?” She poked her head around the corner, smiled and said, “I said would you please close the door, I am cold.” I closed the door and she stopped mumbling quite so much.