Someone That Made a Difference

A Visit to the Audiologist

This morning before I visited the audiologist's office, I went through my journal and made a list of all the problems I'd noted since she last adjusted my hearing aids. I try to remember to write at least the persistent problems down, though of course I don't get every little incident. Anyway, Amanda was surprised and pleased at all the detail, and spent what seemed to me like a long time reading my notes carefully and looking through my folder.

Then she said she wanted to test again, so we went to the booth and I listened to beeps a while. She made a new audiogram which came out much like the others except down a few dB across the chart. She mentioned her frustration at the way audiometric testing is still done.

Apparently the testing procedures haven't kept up with the technology, so what's on the chart doesn't give her nearly enough information to adjust hearing aids to their full potential. It's a guessing game, she said, and very dependent on how good an observer the wearer is.

She made some adjustments on the computer. The change is quite remarkable. The new sound is much, much more natural and richer than the old one. It turned out that most of my complaints fell into two categories - as she explained it, I needed more power at the low and mid-frequencies and less compression at the top. The low and mid frequencies were the problem with only hearing the ends of words and sentences, and with having a hard time with certain men's voices. I had the most anecdotes about those problems. The compression setting was the problem with the firecracker and sound of the falling cup that I couldn't identify. The siren, the doorbell and the hard surface stuff I'm going to have to live with. Those sounds just get mixed in with the ambient noise and are hard to sort out. Now I have to try out this setting for a couple days and call her back. She even set up a tentative appointment for Friday afternoon in case it isn't okay.

Later Joanne and Tom and I went out to lunch at a new bakery in the next town north of here, our potential competition, and oh, my goodness, it was such a pleasure! I heard everything the guy behind the counter said and sitting and talking with Tom and Joanne was actually relaxing. Whoo-hoo! The gods of hearing loss seem to have granted me a reprieve!

My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.

~ Taoist saying

Eve Neuhaus (

Those Who Made a Difference In Our Lives

I am a firm believer that we are composed of the marks others leave on us, the books we read, our experiences, our environment and our own individuality. But some people stand out more than others for one reason or another. As this is a newsletter for hearing-impaired individuals, I would like to tell you about Fran and Joe Kontzen.

Fran Kontzen, with the support of her husband, Joe, began the group, turned chapter, now known as SHHH, Birmingham, Inc. I met the couple through a sign language class. Having been diagnosed with mild hearing loss and wished good luck, but given no direction, I thought learning to sign was reasonable. Fran was deaf in one ear due to surgery for Meniere's disease. Joe had hearing loss in both ears, probably beginning when he was in the military. The class changed nights for the second term. I couldn't attend and lost track of them for a while. The years were a bit of a struggle for me, although my loss was considered mild at the time. Still, I was quiet, shy and felt that I had nothing to give and without hearing well, less than nothing.

During this time, Fran and Joe became involved with Self Help for hard of Hearing People, Inc., or SHHH. No one who knew Fran doubted there would be a group or chapter in Birmingham at some point since Fran embraced their goals and ideals with all of the energy and drive that was Fran.

Fran and Joe married when she was fifteen. She dropped out of school but later got her GED and went to get a radiology degree in the same class as one of her three sons. This was the first time in Alabama history that a mother and son earned and received the same degree at the same time. Fran went on to distinguish herself in her career at the V.A. in Birmingham until forced to retire due to her Meniere's disease. She was tireless and dedicated, with a drive to learn and a personality that demanded the best of herself. Being told after her surgery that she would never be able to stand straight without help, she proved her doctors wrong by sheer effort and determination.

During the time we lost track of each other, Fran, with the help of Dr. Jerome Alpiner and the support and help of Joe started the Birmingham Group. It met in the afternoon. I worked and could not have attended even if I had known about it. Time passed. My hearing loss got worse. I saw Fran and Joe in a restaurant and they told me of the group which still meet in the afternoon. We had a short, pleasant chat and went our own ways. On advice of Fran and Joe, I did join the National Association and found the magazine that comes with membership to be informative and the knowledge that there was a group doing something about hearing loss comforting.

More time passed. Fran, Joe and a small core of members kept the group going. Fran and Joe made a success of a jewelry supply business, traveled to the shows of that business, raised a granddaughter and kept up with their sons and all of their other interests. Always they supported and helped each other’s efforts and interests.

By chance, I saw in the local newspaper a notice of an SHHH meeting being held at night. I attended. It was the same group Fran and Joe had started with the core of loyal members who have since become friends. With Fran's encouragement, consisting of a lot of "we need" with direct looks at me, I became active and learned I could contribute and accomplish.

Fran demanded of those around her, the same thing she demanded of herself. She wanted the best and most everyone could give. Naturally, she was disappointed when she didn't get the "best and most" or the same passion for SHHH that she felt. But she never gave up on getting the "best and most" from her chapter. Fran could be harsh but there was always Joe to soften any blow Fran bestowed. Fran was the ship plunging full steam through rough ocean waters and Joe was the calm water and quiet clouds after the storm. There was no doubt they were a team and they were loyal to each other and to the things in which they believed.

She was Catholic while Joe was Unitarian. She was a jump right into type of person and he was more of a lets consider first person. Their fierce support of and loyalty to each other made such differences seem small. They were able to celebrate their 50th anniversary before her death to ovarian cancer. Her battle against this foe was hard fought. Joe survived but he was a different person. He was beginning to find interest in life again when he became ill and died.

Fran and Joe are part of why I am able to submit the articles I write. They pushed me to do and I made effort to do. When I volunteer today or accomplish something, there's a lot of their influence involved. I didn't always meet Fran's standards but she never let me see that she lost patience with me, although I know she did. She never gave up on me or on anyone else. Joe always encouraged me to try the things I was interested in doing or learning. Both were fierce about continuing to learn, no matter what the subject. Both showed faith in me. They encouraged my never give up tendency which had at time been called stubbornness. They showed me that it sometimes takes stubborn to accomplish.

I wish Fran had been able to give me her fearlessness and "can do" attitude. I came from a "stay in the background and don't try because you might fail" background and could have used more time to absorb her courage. There could never be enough of Joe's gentle, rock hard presence and his pride and confidence in the efforts of others.

Cancer was the one foe Fran couldn't overcome and her death was an experience Joe could not quite overcome.

Theresa Thrasher