My Hearing Journey Begins

Living with Hearing Aids

In my previous post on Why I Finally Decided to Buy Hearing Aids, I described how I arrived at the point where I needed hearing aids and, more importantly, I reflected on taking the leap to booking my hearing aid fitting. When it came down to selecting a model—after discussing it with my audiologist—I chose the Phonak Marvel for its connectivity features, rechargeability, and suitability for my particular hearing loss.

Andy Bellavia

Of course, choosing the Marvel was a very personal decision. It is an exciting time in hearing health tech, with increasing options for features beyond hearing improvement. I am quite happy with my Marvels but recognize that features in other products might have greater appeal to someone else. This isn’t a review article; it’s about living with hearing aids.

My appointment for the hearing aid fitting was on a Thursday morning, so I went there on the way to my office. My audiologist set me up and guided me through their use. This included loading the correct mobile app and pairing the Bluetooth connection.

All went well until the end, when I received a shock. She went to her computer and printed something for me. As the printer started, I just about jumped out of my chair. She asked if it was too loud. When I said yes, she programmed them down a couple of notches. As I began to drive away, the first thing I noticed was that the radio was rather loud. Only after I turned it down did I realize what had just happened—I had simply turned the volume down to a more "normal" level. That was a good sign.

First Impressions

When I got to my office, the surprises came one after the other. I was working at my desk and heard a pair of voices as plain as day. Thinking they were on my threshold, I looked up. Nobody was there. I slid over to look out the doorway. They were talking about 10 feet (3m) down the corridor. “Wow” was all I could think.

Later I had a hallway conversation with a woman co-worker. As we parted in opposite directions, she tossed off a last comment, which I heard perfectly. I turned around to respond, but to my surprise, she was already at some distance. No way would I have heard her the previous day.

Conversations in general were much easier. I didn’t have to concentrate to understand everything that was said. I was delighted but knew the office environment was a relatively benign one. So it was time to push the envelope a little and see how they would do.

Friday afternoon: “Hey dear, purely in the interest of making sure these things work correctly, do you want to grab a beer and dinner tonight?” My spouse didn’t believe my justification either, but she was all too happy to roll with it. Off we went to one of our favorite (and, not coincidentally, very loud) restaurants. This bar in particular was a place where I always had trouble hearing her. I would lean in and cock my head to bring my better ear to bear. Being familiar with both the restaurant and my spouse’s voice, it was an ideal test.

Andy Bellavia Hearing Aid

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We put our name in for a dinner table and managed to catch an empty cocktail table in the bar while we waited. It’s a bit strange to say, but by the time we got there I had more or less put the hearing aids out of mind. They were so comfortable that, as day two was coming to a close, I had already gotten used to them. Perhaps that’s why what happened next left a deep impression on me.

As we sipped our beer and talked, my spouse must have noticed my demeanor, because she asked me how the hearing aids were working. Suddenly I realized I was leaning back in my chair and feeling quite relaxed. She said “judging by your smile, I guess pretty well.” A tear rolled down my cheek. If you want to know why letting your hearing loss go untreated is a stupid thing to do, there you have it. It’s all about your relationships. In similar situations with a group, I often let the conversation go on around me. No more.

Into the Lion’s Den

After participating in a community meeting the next day, I did have to go back for a quick adjustment. In that setting, my hearing was improved but I had trouble understanding a soft-spoken woman across the U-shaped table from me. Though it was recommended that I give it some time to get used to my hearing aids, I had a conference and meeting in China coming up and was hoping for some improvement.

My audiologist told me she would set them back where they were. She said it was common for people to react as I did initially, saying the hearing aids were too loud. Now that I was used to them, I would enjoy the benefit of the original setting. The conference and meetings went well as a result. But the true acid test was yet to come.

The NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants) is the ultimate test for anyone with hearing loss. The exhibition halls are full of booths in which live demos of every kind of instrument or audio equipment take place. While the show organizers have done a good job enforcing safe loudness limits, it is still a tough environment to converse while every kind of music demo is going on around the hall.

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I remembered well how difficult it was to have a conversation at last year’s show. This year, the experience was quite different. Like in the loud restaurant, I could hear every conversation amazingly well. I was already sold on my hearing aids, but NAMM sealed the deal. I was far less worn out mentally than last year, because I didn’t have to struggle just to hear.

The only downside was that after many hours in the hall, my ears experienced some fatigue. My hearing aids are open-fit, allowing me to hear the bass naturally. This adds to their comfort but meant that on the show floor more bass noise was getting through. A few hours in a loud restaurant did not cause fatigue, but a full day of the NAMM cacophony did. This is a rare situation for me, so I have no concerns. Make sure your audiologist understands your listening needs so that you get fitted with a device that works best for you.

Living With Hearing Aids

It’s been two months now, and I’ve gotten to know my devices and new hearing capabilities. For sure, there is no going back. When I do have them out, everything sounds so muffled.

The automatic mode works really well under most circumstances, though one amusing circumstance had me asking for a manual setting. At the Consumer Electronics Show, I was walking back to our hotel with a group of colleagues after dinner. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my shirt collar. One of them said jokingly (and more colorfully) “for a person with hearing aids you can’t hear worth a darn!” He had called out to me several times from behind without me hearing him.

On the loud Las Vegas Strip, the hearing aids were filtering out all but the sounds in front of me as if I were in a restaurant. Now I have a manual program I can use when necessary to force hearing in all directions. These are the sorts of things one can’t anticipate but are easy to address with your audiologist.

In a way, the most interesting side-effect of wearing modern hearing aids is not the hearing assistance, which is a given, but the other features. I’m still learning just how convenient it is to have hearable devices in my ears all day. Early on, I was eating lunch at my home office when I heard a musical tone. “What the heck is that?” I thought for the moment before the phone in my pocket started vibrating. A call coming in. What was it… yes, press the top button to answer. Bingo. No need to grab the phone or pop in earphones—just answer.

On a trip to Japan, I got off the train with intent to walk to my hotel, about half a mile (800m) away. I gave Google Maps the address and put the phone back in my pocket. As I went, I could hear both the directions and the street sounds perfectly.

I can’t overstate what it means to have such a device in your ears all day. I listen to music or podcasts when I want, dictate messages, use Google Assistant, and so on without having to pull earphones out of my bag and start them up. Far from being a burden, my hearing aids are a real convenience. This is the future.

Disclaimer: I work for a company that supplies multiple industries, including the hearing healthcare industry, with hardware. However, I am not personally involved in my company’s relationships with any hearing aid manufacturer. All views and opinions expressed in this article are my own and based on my own experiences.