Sound and Vision

Today is World Hearing Day and only my second since I got my hearing aids a little over a year ago and began to experience the world of sound in the way that most people just take for granted.

I remember my first little trial run with the hearing aids, when Clíona and I went for lunch in a nice little Italian cafe on Liffey Street. When we ventured outside Hidden Hearing I immediately looked to my right and jumped to my left to make way for the people pulling their suitcases beside me — except they were on the other side of Middle Abbey Street. That was weird!

When we went into Il Fornaio, I could hear what the people sitting up at the bar in the cafe were talking about. Only a couple of weeks previously I had been at a meeting in Leinster House where I only picked up about a third of what somebody sitting a few feet away from me said.

The other noticeable thing — particularly for those near and dear to me — was that I wasn’t shouting as much as I used to. Now I know I spoke loudly — a family trait that was put down to having to communicate across the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains — but I hadn’t realised just how loud, until the new ‘quieter’ me emerged as a result of the hearing aids.

So one year on, I’m so grateful to be able to hear almost normally with the help of my hearing aids. It has brought so many bonuses and also revealed things I hadn’t realised.

In terms of bonuses, I can now converse normally with my family around the dinner table — a thing that had become really problematic. Some people thought I just wasn’t paying attention to them or not interested in what they had to say — this led to some very tense and difficult situations for those I love and who love me. Now I can pitch in with the normal toing and froing at mealtime.

It’s also helped enormously when socialising with friends. For many years I had found myself withdrawing from conversations after a while or going to bed early because I was struggling to hear and it was physically exhausting. Now I can engage in a way I haven’t for years.

Other things stand out. I can listen to the readings in Mass without having to stand beside a PA speaker. Meetings and phone calls have become a lot easier — I no longer have to ask people to repeat things as often as I did in the past.

Another plus is that my hearing aids are Bluetooth-enabled so I can listen to music and take phone calls through my hearing aids. It’s actually great craic to see people looking at me as I’m bopping along when out for a walk with no obvious means of hearing music.

Perhaps the biggest positive is in terms of my own morale and self-image. My poor hearing — together with getting older like everybody else — had contributed to a sense that I was a bit banjaxed and ‘past it’. Indeed, I have only really begun to cop how much my hearing loss had contributed to the depression that had beset me over recent years.

So as we mark World Hearing Day, I’m delighted to be sharing the world of sound on a much more equal basis with everyone else and really grateful for the big fillip getting hearing aids has given me.

But I’m also profoundly aware that accessing good quality hearing aids is not an option for everybody — they’re not cheap! In that context — and particularly given the large numbers of people who experience hearing difficulties — it’s long past time that good hearing was treated as an optional extra in Ireland. Access to good quality hearing aids should be free-of-charge to all who need them so that the good quality of life I’m now experiencing is available to all — not just those who can afford it.

Pat Montague