I have a high frequency hearing loss, diagnosed in my early twenties but it probably started as a teenager. For a long time I didn’t really know what it meant except that I couldn’t hear a lot of bugs or birds anymore. In the late 90’s, I found the SayWhatClub and found out it’s called a sensorineural hearing loss but it took me about another ten years to fully understand my kind of hearing loss. It’s a mixed bag of hearing and hard to describe to others. I hear… but I can’t hear. I hear you talking… but I can’t understand what you’re saying.
While reading a book a few years ago, Missing Words by Kay Thomsett and Eve Nickerson, I finally understood why word discrimination is so damn hard for me. In our alphabet, vowels come across in the lower tones while many consonants are in the higher frequencies. The light went on and I know I get only pieces of words now. It’s like filling in crossword puzzles at the speed of sound. Or as I said in another post, conversations turn into the Wheel of Fortune with me racing to fill in the missing letters. No wonder I get so tired after straining to hear people hours on end, it’s mentally exhausting doing this for a length of time. And this is with my hearing aids in because once sounds are gone, they’re gone. (Hearing aids aren’t called hearing miracles for a reason.)
I’m lucky enough to live in Salt Lake City now with one of the best d/Deaf and hard of hearing centers in the country. The Sanderson Center continually offers us free workshops and classes to attend. We also hold our local HLAA chapter meetings there and one night, the hard of hearing specialist from the center talked to us about reading our audiograms, something else I never fully understood.
She passed out a childs audiogram with some of the alphabet on it and pictures of noises. Then we penciled in our personal audiograms. She said whatever was above our line, we couldn’t hear well. What’s below the line, we can hear. It took me a minute to understand that since my line drops down. I had to mentally raise the line first to comprehend below the line. Ohhh! The light went on again. Here’s proof of what I hear and don’t hear on a piece of paper.
I have a mild loss in the low tones (it dropped from normal for the first time) and a profound loss in the high frequencies. People like to call it a classic ski slope loss. Since I ski, I tell people it’s a black run (steep slope). Just look at the wonderful things I get to hear: guns, horns, planes, jackhammers and lawn mowers. Now look at what I miss: whispers, clocks and many alarms/timers, leaves rustling in the wind, lots of letters in the alphabet and casual conversation.
Our hard of hearing specialist also passed out the speech banana audiogram so I drew my black run ski slope into it to better understand my hearing. Now I can exactly what I miss and why word discrimination is such a challenge at times.
Sometimes, pictures are worth a thousand words. After having this sensorineural hearing loss most of my life, I finally understand what it means. I can now tell people exactly how I hear.