How My Hearing Aids Helped Me Rediscover Eyes

Living with a High-Frequency Hearing Loss

The first moment I put on my new Widex Inteo hearing aids, I yelped in pain. I was unprepared for the onslaught of sound. The forced air coming through the heating vents sounded like a gale. I actually threw out my hands, a futile form of self-defense that is not on the program at my children’s Tae Kwon Do lessons.

The next moment, however, I realized that I could hear my audiologist speak without looking at her lips.

Reading lips to me is as natural as walking. Since I was born with a high-frequency loss, it is quite possible that I began reading lips as an infant. Watching lips greatly increased my comprehension. I struggled to hear teachers when they turned their back to the class to scrawl an equation on the blackboard because I could no longer see their lips. And television programs and movies, in which the voices are not perfectly synchronized with lip movements, were a bear for me.

When most people converse, they spend at least some, if not all, of their time looking into the eyes of their fellow conversationalist. Instead, I watched lips. Periodically, I would glance up at a person’s eyes to maintain conversation, but then my gaze would dart back to the lips. I worried that I might appear strange or off-kilter because I was looking slightly down from people’s gaze when they spoke. This was more of an issue for acquaintances rather than family members. With my husband and children, I spend a lot of time drinking in their eyes because I love them. My son Cal has gray-blue eyes, my daughter Mena sapphire-blue, my husband David a goldish-green.

Once I was fitted with new aids and no longer needed to read lips, I discovered what for me was up to then the largely unseen world of people’s eyes. I was surprised to find that the expressions on people’s eyes did not always match their lips. Some acquaintances sported cheerful smiles, but lurking in their eyes were suppressed resentments or frustrations. Other people, in contrast, frowned with worry, yet reflected in their eyes was a deep empathy or kindness. The realization that up until now my picture of acquaintances had been somewhat incomplete chilled me. Yet I’m grateful for this second chance.

Had I not returned to adult piano lessons after a 25-year hiatus, had I not experienced this change of life centered on my passion for classical piano music, it is quite likely that I would have delayed upgrading my hearing aids for another few years. I would still be out there, missing not only the lovely resonance of the highest notes on the piano, but also the emotional resonance in people’s eyes.

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Copyright © 2017 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

2 Comments

  1. I had a similar experience. I had always struggled at school. Sat next to someone who knew what was going on. Hid at the back for fear of being asked something. When I played instruments I always played the quieter notes harder to make them sound the same as the ones I could hear. I rested my teeth against the side of my guitar to feel the resonance through my jaw. I’d always lip read, as a back up. Then I got my hearing aids and felt bombarded. My eyes seemed to give in looking, since my brain was now overloaded with listening. I felt tired at first, then suddenly sound appeared as colour and finally music which seemed like a loaf of bread, doughy and stuck together, became sliced and sent to the four corners of the room. I was sat in the sound and heard the breath of the oboe player, the brush across a drum and the resonance. I was on some kind of high with the whole experience. What a waste of 40 years struggling. I’m now greedy for new music.

  2. Helen, thank you for sharing your experience. How wonderful to hear what a big difference hearing aids have made for you!

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