I have two major updates to my senses this week: my eyes and ears are both getting an upgrade. On Wednesday, I am undergoing Lasik surgery to correct my nearsightedness, and on Friday I am getting hearing aids.
I have been nearsighted since I was around 10 years old, and have worn glasses or contacts ever since. Here’s a photo of me from way back when:
So I’ve spent most of my life with poor natural vision, but I’ve always been able to correct it so that I could see just fine. My hearing, though, is another story. When I was 18, I had just come home after an evening out, just beating an oncoming thunderstorm. As I walked from my car to the house it started pouring, and I made it inside without getting too soaked. Now I’ve loved thunderstorms since I was a little kid; all that power fascinated me. So once inside the house, I stood at the front screen door, watching the lightning, and counting the delay of the thunder to determine how far away it is. After a few minutes I remember seeing lightning flashes on both my left and right that were within a mile, and thinking that this must be the center of the storm. Right then, I saw an incredibly bright flash that was accompanied by a simultaneous loud thunderclap. It took a few seconds until my eyes could see again after the bright flash, and I stood there in a bit of shock and wonderment, as I knew that the strike had to have been very close. A few moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see my mother talking to me. I say that I saw her talking, because I couldn’t hear a thing she was saying. I then noticed that I couldn’t hear the rain or thunder or anything else!
The next day we went outside to discover that the lightning had struck a tree about 5 feet from the front door where I was standing. It had gone down the tree, and then jumped the gap between the tree and a grounded power line going into the house. This was evidenced by the hole in the side of the house, and a matching burnt patch of bark and wood on the tree.
After a day or so I was able to hear a little bit over the loud ringing in my ears, and a few days later was pretty much back to normal. I didn’t really think about this again until a few years ago when I took a hearing test. I’ve had a hissing tinnitus in my ears for several years, and I noticed it was getting worse. The hearing test showed a very sharp decline in the higher frequencies. In the charts below, a person with normal hearing would have all the points in the grey band along the top. As you can see, mine drop off severely after mid-range frequencies.
I thought that this could have been the result of too much loud music; after all, I do love to crank up good songs loud! But the audiologist said that too much loud noise over time would result in all frequencies losing sensitivity. My pattern suggested some hearing trauma, and asked me about any events in my history that I could remember. I told him about the lightning story, and he confirmed that this was the sort of damage pattern you might expect from a trauma like that.
So what does this mean, in practical terms? It means that I have a harder time understanding higher-pitched voices, such as women and children. My poor wife has to endure me asking her to repeat what she said all the time! And even with male voices, most consonant sounds are in the higher frequencies, so I have often have trouble understanding men, too. It also means that I miss things like birds singing and other delicate sounds of nature.
I tried hearing aids a few years ago, but the technology at the time hadn’t progressed enough to make a significant improvement for me, so I just lived with limited hearing. But I went back recently to try the latest technology, and it was amazing! Everything sounded so different! It will take a while to get used to them, of course, but I hope that once I’m acclimated to them, I will be able to hear what I’ve been missing for so many years.
The Lasik procedure will give me the ability to see without corrective lenses, and that will be wonderful, of course. But I’ve always been able to see well, so after the procedure I won’t be experiencing anything new. It will make my life a bit easier, but not richer. But since I’ve lived most of my life without being able to hear correctly, I’m really excited for all the new experiences that my hearing aids will make available to me that were simply not possible for me to enjoy before.