December 4, 2021

Oh, the woes of being deaf!

By John Guy LaPlante

I am totally deaf in my right ear and partially deaf in my left ear. I wear a hearing aid in that ear.

I have a lot of company. The latest statistic is that 37 million Americans suffer hearing loss.

It is the most common sensory disorder in our country. It affects more than 16% of our country.

We just take it for granted that everybody will become more and more deaf as they grow older. But kids can suffer from the problem. How sad!

How do I know that? I just read in the New York Times that President Biden by executive order has declared that hearing aids will be sold at pharmacies up to a level of $5,000 per pair.

Truth is you can buy a pair of hearing aids for $100 or for $10,000. Even more.

When I read that, I gave the President a thumbs up. Glad I voted for him. For that and other reasons.

A special one is that when I was serving in Peace Corps in Ukraine in my early 80s the then Vice President Biden was dispatched by Obama to hold conversations at the highest level.

One thing Vice President Biden did now and then was give a briefing to leaders and staff of our Embassy in whatever country he was dispatched to.

After his briefing he would offer to take questions from a few people in the audience.

Right now I am talking about the briefing that he gave at our Embassy in Kiev, which is the capital of Ukraine.

I was one of them. Lucky me. He noticed that I was not your typical youngish Peace Corps Volunteer 22 years old, or 28 or 35. I was 78 back then.

There were a couple of hundred people in the audience.

Anyway, he invited me to come down to the stage and I did that. He asked me how come I was such an old Volunteer and I told him.

I wanted to give back. And it appealed to me as a great adventure. And I wanted to write about it.

He could see that I was older than he was!

I had to keep it short and sweet. I knew I would be on the stage with him for only a minute or two.

He nodded. Smiled. Gave me a pat on the shoulder. And shook hands with me. And that was it. I left the stage.

But gosh, how proud he made me feel. I remember that moment to this day.

Many in the audience had cameras. In the next few days I received photos of that great moment from several. I was tickled.

One I liked a lot. I put it along with a few others that I worked with there in Kiev, on the cover of my book,”27 Months in the Peace Corps, My Story, Unvarnished.”

But why did I say “Unvarnished”?

Well, Peace Corps was very good but nothing is perfect, as we know.

It’s from those few fleeting moments that I got to see how caring and genuine a man President Biden was. And I have maintained that opinion of him ever since.

Now back to hearing aids. A couple of days ago when I saw him on TV explaining his executive order, I wondered, does he wear hearing aids?

Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he does. Some hearing aids are so small you can hardly see them.

But to be purchased at pharmacies?!

I did not like that one bit.

Since living in Morro Bay here, I have patronized “Morro Bay Hearing Aid Center,” a small shop on Main Street.

They sell a wide assortment of hearing aids, some very expensive and some so-so.

They give expert advice, have fair prices, provide fine service.

They have gotten to know me well.

They know I don’t want to buy a pair. They know I need only one, for my left ear. I’ll explain in a minute.

Well, the President’s executive order could put that shop and many others out of business. Not good. I’m opposed to that.

Now I will explain.

As I look back, I felt I had very little hearing loss until about 15 years ago. My hearing was great.

Then one day I fell down a stairway headfirst and banged my head against a closed door. No broken bones, lucky me!

I managed to call for help and I was rushed to the local hospital.

The young doctor taking care of me called my daughter Monique to tell her what had happened, and of course she was shocked. She asked to speak to me.

The doctor passed the phone to me and I put it to my right ear. Which is what I always, always do.

I could not hear a darn thing!

I thought Monique and I had been disconnected, so I handed the phone back to the doctor.

“No, no, no!” she said to me. “Your daughter is on the line.” And handed me the phone again. Once more I put it to my right ear. And tried as hard as I could to hear my daughter. But I could not hear a thing.

That’s when I discovered I was deaf in that ear. What woe!

But very quickly the doctor tried to reassure me.

“Oh, please don’t worry,” she said. “I’m sure it will come back.”

It did not.

But with my left ear I could hear quite well. My right ear had gone dead.

Discharged from the hospital, I worried, in fact I was frantic. I quickly consulted an ear, nose, and throat M.D.

Guess what? He told me that if I had been prescribed a certain medicine by that doctor, my hearing probably would have been restored. Imagine my awful disappointment.

I happened to chat with a lawyer. He advised me that I had strong grounds for a malpractice suit. But I never followed through. Maybe that was very dumb on my part.

Now here is just one consequence of that great loss of mine.

Sleeping in bed at night, I have to be very careful. I sleep on my  left ear, which is what I have always done,  and thus my so-called good ear, the one in which I use my hearing aid when I am up and about, is muffled by my pillow, so no way could I hear my alarm clock when it goes off. So I make sure my so-called good ear is not totally muffled by my pillow. But it’s an imperfect solution, believe me.

Now more consequences of having only my left ear working, even with my hearing aid in it.

If I’m walking along on a sidewalk, and someone walking towards me says “Hello, John,” I can say “Hello!” back. No problem.

But if I can’t see him or her, I can hear that “Hello!” But I can’t tell if it’s from somebody behind me, or maybe across the street from me, or maybe even somebody calling out from a second floor window. I can’t tell who it is.

With two good ears, I would have what they call “directionality.”

Which is what you have, I’m sure.

Lucky you!

Again, with just one ear, I can’t tell who’s speaking to me. To repeat, it’s an awful loss.

But there are a lot of smart people around who have come up with solutions of one kind or another.

For one, think of people who are totally deaf from birth. They can learn to read sign language but very few people ever get to “speak” in sign language. So there are darn few people they can converse with.

I am sure that sign language is incredibly hard to master.

And very few people ever get around to mastering it. And they have to be able to use your kind of English — meaning there are so many dirty words and expletives and slang that you never, never heard, so how do you handle that with your sign language? Sounds utterly impossible to me.

But modern technology has provided another solution. But this one is limited in its own way because it involves surgery, which can be risky.

You may have heard of it. It’s quite new– a Cochlear Implant. A specialized surgeon has to put the implant in you. You choose to have that done because it’s the only option you have left. There is no other solution. It’s your only hope.

I know of one elderly lady who has had that done.

It seems to work quite well for her in her circle of family and friends. But there is a steep learning curve for both her family and friends who of course are the usual contacts she calls. I doubt that on her own she could call and make herself understood to a plumber or even her doctor’s office.

But suppose your insurance plan doesn’t cover that?!

Now let me tell you about another solution. It’s a remarkable invention called the CaptionCall telephone. Yes, spelled as one word as I just spelled it. And it is a telephone.

Using my CaptionCall that automatically converts what is being said to text I can read.

I’m very familiar with it.

In fact, I have two.

The CaptionCall is the size of a small computer. It’s just a foot away on a small table by the side of my favorite chair.

If a call comes in, I can turn up the volume very, very high. Which works fine for me.

But if that were not good enough for me, the CaptionCall automatically converts the conversation into nice big captions appearing on a screen. Imagine that!

But suppose somebody is calling in French, in which I am fluent. What then?

Well, I just called my CaptionCall phone, which has its own distinct phone number. And it just didn’t work.

Anyway, I have two of them. One by my favorite living room chair and the other in my bedroom.

And guess what? I was told they are provided free to California residents by a California government agency of some kind.

Then on Google I discovered there are other so-called Caption Call machines. $0 Caption Call phone and another is called the Alelo Caption Call phone.

It turns out that qualified individuals can receive one through the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Which is available to anybody in our country who meets certain criteria.

And that’s why I have never received a bill.

I am sure further things will be invented to make life so much better for people with hearing loss.

Think of what a miracle that was!

And shows what all out dedication and concentration can achieve!

And to say it again, people with normal hearing loss deficits like me, and maybe you, surely appreciate how fortunate we are to live at this time and in this place.

President Biden’s executive order to cover hearing aids for up to $5,000 purchased at a pharmacy to be covered by Medicare, as imperfect as that is, as I have already explained, is really a giant step in the right direction.

How fortunate we are to be Americans — Democrats like me who voted for him but even Trump Republicans or libertarians or people who never get around to voting for anybody or anything.

God bless America!

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