You might remember me telling you about the school district audiologist, diagnosing Max with mild hearing loss? Well, the next thing that happened was that he had a well child visit (sorry, Max, well "practically a MAN" visit) at his pediatrician's office. Handy, no?
So I asked the pediatrician for a referral to an ENT doc, to get this hearing thing figured out. The pediatrician scoffed.
"He doesn't have hearing loss!" He brandished Max's chart. "Look! We tested him last year!" I responded intelligently, by staring at him and repeatedly opening and closing my mouth.
"But the audiologist recommended we follow up..."
"Fine, if it'll make you feel better, we'll test his hearing again! You'll see!"
And the nurse came in later with her little box and headphones, Max was put through his auditory paces, and indeed. They declared him fine.
Well. Now I was flummoxed.
I don't know why this threw me so much, but I honestly did NOT know what to do. I asked Max what he wanted, and his emphatic vote was to drop the whole thing. It took me weeks to realize that what we had here were two differing medical opinions, and since this issue was too important to hope and ignore, we needed a third opinion. Once I realized THAT, I also recognized that the audiologist had tested Max multiple times, with sensitive equipment, in a soundproof booth, while the nurse had slapped some earphones on him and spent a few minutes fiddling with dials and looking bored. So. I found my own dang ENT doctor, thankyouverymuch, and last week Max and I toddled off to get the tie-breaking vote on his ears.
We met the new audiologist, Zach, and were ushered back to his
meat locker soundproof booth. Not sure what I was expecting, really, but I wasn't surprised to see that Zach's graph of Max' hearing loss matched the school's audiologist's graph exactly. He repeated what she had said, too, about the speech sounds being affected in that register. I didn't expect what he said next.
"I strongly recommend hearing aids."
Max and I blinked at each other. The school audiologist had said she didn't think he'd need hearing aids, thought we could deal with this with classroom adjustments. Neither Max nor I knew what to say. I suspect this isn't an uncommon response, because Zach said he'd talk to us again after we saw the doctor. We were ushered into the next room, where Max sat in the exam chair and I sat on a bench. I looked at him, he avoided my eyes.
"Hey," I ventured, "how about you give the hearing aids a try?"
"I don't need hearing aids."
"They won't help."
"That's contradicted by the 'aids' part of their name."
"I have a system. Someone says something. I go over it in my head. I respond. It works. I don't need hearing aids."
"You could eliminate a whole step there, if you could hear what they said clearly. Think of it like a system upgrade."
"FINE. I'll TRY."
The doctor came in and examined Max. He couldn't see any immediate reason for the hearing loss, and further testing would be pretty expensive and difficult. There doesn't seem to be a pressing need for that, so we're just going to keep an eye on things. He reiterated that hearing aids were a good idea, and we were sent back to Zach.
We were in a small room, with computer equipment and a clock that ticked loudly on the wall. As Zach fiddled with Max's loaner hearing aids (he gets to try them for a week before committing), I listened to the clock and wondered how he can stand sitting in such a small, quiet room with such an obnoxiously loud clock. I would shoot something, I swan.
Zach fiddled and pushed buttons and placed the hearing aids on Max. They fit behind his hear, and are flesh toned, if you are an iridescent peach. If you are Homer Simpson and inexplicably glittery, these are your exact flesh tone. They fussed with them for a minute, getting them set just right, then Zach leaned back in his chair, reached over, and pushed a button.
Max's eyes flew wide open. The clock, he told me later, just started ticking. The room was suddenly alive with rustles and murmurs. He shifted in his chair, then jumped when it creaked slightly. It was like the moment when you get your first pair of glasses, and suddenly see the world as everyone else does. It was seeing that trees have individual leaves, but with noises.
A mild hearing loss, Zach pointed out, does not mean the impact on a person is mild.
As we left the building, I reached over and put my hand on Max's back. He startled, then turned his face toward me, mostly not seeing. Just listening.
"Oh," he said lightly, "that's right. Feeling sorry for the disabled kid?"
"Nope," I shook my head. "I can just see how hard you're working right now, that's all."
In the days since, I keep thinking of Max and hearing aids. I start to wonder how we're going to pay for it all, and that quickly slides sideways into oh, my poor baby, 15 years old and needs hearing aids.
But you know what? He's not a poor baby. He's a fierce young man, and for the first time in probably his whole life, sounds are reaching him clearly. Once he makes the adjustment to this change (and believe you me, it's an adjustment), he is going to be unencumbered in a way he's never been before.
I didn't expect him to have a hearing loss.
I didn't expect him to need hearing aids.
And Lord knows, I didn't expect getting hearing aids to be a joyful event. But it is. It really is.