BY RICH PATTERSON
It was the sound of birds, or the absence of it, I noticed most.
Military noise augmented by youthful years in small planes, using power saws and hunting eventually caught up with me. By my 40th birthday my ears started buzzing. Called tinnitus, increased ringing has been part of my life for decades. Gradually it became harder to hear high-pitch sounds. Conversing in a crowd became maddening as I could hear background conversation but not the person in front of me.
Eventually wood thrushes convinced me to shun procrastination and seek help. No sound in nature is as magical as the springtime notes of this woodland bird. Several years ago I heard my last thrush. Either they were avoiding my woods or my progressive hearing loss blocked their music.
Studies link hearing loss with depression, dementia, falling, high blood pressure and anxiety but, it was the inability to hear birdsongs that launched my search for a solution. I’m not alone. At least one in three people over age 60 suffers hearing loss.
Advertisers know this, and when my 60th birthday passed, advertisers started bombarding me with information on hearing aids. Some claimed cures for tinnitus and most offered better hearing at bargain prices. Most sounded too good to be true. I decided to seek a certified audiologist and within a week, I was sitting in a quiet booth as Jennifer Reekers tested my ability to hear.
She patiently answered questions and convinced me that I was not just about to buy hearing aids, but was beginning a long-term relationship with professionals committed to improving my hearing. They fitted me with a trial pair of hearing aids appropriate for my unusual lifestyle.
I’m outside in wind, rain, blizzards and other quirks of nature. Sometimes I need to amplify sound, then suppress a saw’s roar or a rifle’s bark with ear protection.
Reekers adjusted the aids to fit my needs. They aren’t merely amplifiers. They are computers enabling aids to fit varied needs. Mine are designed to dampen background noise, while increasing my ability to hear high-pitched sounds.
An important feature of my new aids is a tiny mute button. Just before I pick up my power saw, I mute the aids and slip quality muffs over them. The mute function eliminates the hassle of removing hearing aids before noise exposure.
I spent a week trying everything I could think of to frustrate the new hearing aids before I decided to buy them. I went out in the rain and wind. The aids stayed in place and kept working. I couldn’t shake them out. They were comfortable, even after 14 hours. One afternoon I rowed to the middle of a smallish lake and could clearly hear anglers on the bank conversing.
The hearing aids are expensive, but one day shortly after getting fitted with my custom devices I hiked seven miles in the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa, amid calling orioles. As I sat on a bluff over the Mississippi, the song of a wood thrush filled my ears. ♦
BY RICH PATTERSON