Fri, 31 Aug, 2018Community Contributor

Getting older: The moment I found out I had hearing loss

Getting older: The moment I found out I had hearing loss

Ray Thomas left his family farm in South Australia when he was in his 20s and moved to New Zealand. He has always loved writing short stories and watching sport. He married an amazing woman 16 years ago and they both retired three years ago. They love family life, travelling, spending time in their large garden and fostering young children.

It all began so innocently and without warning. What seemed so minor and insignificant at the time would six months later cause us so much distress, and financial worries.

We had been fostering children. There was nothing unusual about that, as we had done so many times before.  Our most recent children were about to leave and return to members of their family. As was usual, we were sad to see them leave, hoping they would remember the good times we had shared together.

A few days prior to their departure the authorities phoned us, well aware of our situation and asked: “Would you consider being foster parents to a much younger child than we had previously?”

My wife and I discussed the situation. At our age, were we prepared to take on a very young child, when previously we had decided against it? We decided to accept and went about preparing the house and ourselves, for the numerous challenges we knew this younger child would present.

Our cute little girl duly arrived, and as usual we were excited about what lay ahead, confident in our abilities to overcome any possible problems. There was what we thought at the time, to be a minor problem. Six months later, it turned out to be anything BUT minor.

This delightful, energetic pocket rocket arrived with a cough. It steadily worsened, which soon required a trip to our doctor, and medication. Both my wife and I had been in excellent health for some time, but we were fearful, of also contracting the cough. And so it turned out to be so. Within a few days, my wife had all the typical flu like symptoms, and was quite miserable for a number of days. I thought “touch wood, so far I’m fine” but unfortunately that was not to last, and soon I was feeling sick and as usual with some men, felt certain I was far worse than my wife!

Suddenly and without warning, my condition severely worsened. Virtually overnight, I sensed a slight hearing loss in my right ear. It was nothing major, like having cotton wool in my ear. A short time later I became aware of the same thing happening (but slightly worse) in my left ear. This concerned me a great deal. I hoped that somehow miraculously my hearing would return to normal, which unfortunately did not eventuate.

I resented the thought of having to pay $45 for a visit to my GP, but eventually was concerned enough to concede I had no other alternative.

“Probably a sinus issue,” he said as he gave me his bill, and a prescription for some nasal drops.

“They will do the trick,” he said smiling, as I left, feeling confident that would be the end of the matter. Being the excellent, diligent patient, I did exactly as was prescribed.

One week later, there was no change. Two weeks later and still there was no improvement. I was becoming concerned, but resented the thought of paying another $45.00 for a doctor’s visit.

The next time we were in town, I went into the pharmacy where I had picked up my prescription, and explained my problem to the pharmacist. He looked up on the computer what I had been prescribed, and suggested I try a similar alternative informing me, with a smile on his face “this will work quickly…within a few days”. Happily, and confident, I walked out… but $30 poorer.

Several days later, there was still no change. If anything I was getting worse. I was having bouts (fortunately not at all the same time) of really bad sore throats, ear ache, bleeding noses and dreadful headaches, which were my biggest concern.

Reluctantly, another appointment (and another $45) was made with my doctor. After another examination, he told me, “I don’t think it is a sinus problem, but it could be some kind of viral complaint.” He appeared to be very vague and I sensed, not very optimistic of a correct diagnosis.

This opinion was re-enforced when he did not suggest any alternative medication.

So what was my reaction? I had paid $90 for two GP visits, plus $5 for a prescription, and another $30 from the pharmacy, which for a pensioner like myself, represented a large amount of money. However, nothing seemed to be making any difference. I was more than slightly annoyed and frustrated. As I was about to leave my GP he casually mentioned, “You might like to get your hearing checked”.

A short time later, while walking in town, I saw a sign for “Free Hearing Check”. I thought that will do, wrote the number down, and immediately phoned after arriving home. An appointment was made. Little did I know at the time, but six months later, visits to the audiologist were to become numerous and common, because of on-going hearing concerns I was to experience.       

After a lengthy and extensive hearing test, I was informed of the result, for which I was totally un-prepared: “Moderate to severe hearing loss in BOTH ears, slightly worse in the left ear, which MAY NOT worsen, but will certainly NOT improve”. She went on to say, “eventually you will require hearing aids”.

(Unfortunately, and for reasons still unknown, my hearing has slowly continued to deteriorate.)

I was deeply shocked as I drove home to inform my wife. We did not know a great deal about hearing aids, apart from the fact they can be reasonably expensive, which was also a concern. Before leaving my audiologist, she informed me, “I will send a copy of my report to your GP.”

A few weeks later, an appointment at the ENT Department in the local hospital was made.

“Yes, there is a severe hearing loss,” I was told, before being further informed “grommets will help, but not solve the problem”.

Upon arriving home, I did something crazy which I later regretted. I googled grommets, in an attempt to find out what they were, and how the procedure was done, all of which was a HUGE mistake. I realised I was in for considerable pain and discomfort.

The procedure was duly performed, and unfortunately was as painful as I predicted. Without going into details, several injections were inserted behind the ears, and as most people are aware, there is little surplus fat, in that part of the human body. What made it worse was the fact that after one ear was completed I still had to endure the discomfort of having the other ear done. About 90 minutes later the painful ordeal was over, and I promised myself, NEVER to be repeated. Before leaving, I was informed, “for the first three to four weeks, expect SOME slight improvement, but nothing after that”.

At about that stage, I did something which at the time, did not think had anything to do with my hearing, but as of today, I’m uncertain.

A large retail store specialising in eye wear was advertising “Free Vision Check”. Because a few years ago I had a major problem with my left eye, I thought this would be a great chance to make sure my eye was OK, and I was free of glaucoma or any other possible eye problems.

I was happy and confident, when the examination began. Oh yes, a couple of times while driving on the country road, VERY RARELY I noticed a VERY SLIGHT blurriness, but thought it was nothing, just old age beginning to catch up with me, and nothing to worry about. Besides, (I felt) my driving was still as good as it had always been.

However, part way through the examination, I just knew I was in trouble. The optician suddenly stopped and asked, “Do you drive a vehicle”? To which I proudly and confidently replied “Yes” thinking, “what man does NOT drive?”

She quickly replied, “You should not be driving, certainly without glasses,” before adding “if you were in an accident you would not be covered by insurance”.

That did not make sense to me, but for once I made no reply. I was totally speechless. Me, a retired man who had driven for over 55 years, and suddenly being told I should NOT be driving! The mere thought was simply outrageous. It is like handing over the T.V. remote to your wife… it simply DOES NOT happen!

During the course of the next few weeks and after several visits, selecting frames from the huge range available, and getting the correct lenses, I picked up my flash new glasses, and yes, I am probably now a safer driver, but it pains me to admit it. Numbers and small writing on the TV and when reading, are now much clearer, so maybe my vision was not as “great” as I thought.

Friends and family really enjoy my “new look” and make positive comments about them.

Now back to my hearing problem. Exactly four weeks of the grommets trauma I was back to my audiologist. My right ear hearing had improved slightly, but, unfortunately, as I had sensed, not my left ear.

We then discussed various hearing aid options, such as battery or re-chargeable, inner ear or ones that sit on top of the ear, connected to an ear piece. With her help and advice a re-chargeable, and 30mm outer ear hearing aids were chosen, which best suited my needs. They were barely visible, when in place and I was delighted to pick them up, a short time later. There was a wide variety of prices, but for something as important as the ability to hear, we felt it essential to be sensible about our choice.

My wife is VERY relieved, as she no longer has to talk loudly to me, and I can now have the sound on the TV reduced to a level that does not disturb the neighbours several hundred metres away.

It is still early days, and I am experiencing some normal initial problems. I have been told this is to be expected. However, with the on-going help and support from my amazing, friendly, supportive, professional audiologist, I am slowly getting used to them.

Six months later after I became aware of a problem, it has largely been resolved, and as a result of improved vision and hearing my quality of life has certainly improved.

I still have two major unresolved issues…

  1. Is there a connection between a perceived weakness in my left ear and left eye?
  2. Why is the hearing in my left ear slowly continuing to worsen?

Six months later, from now, hopefully we will have the answers to those (for now) unanswered questions.