Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Big, Fat, Flat, and in Living Colour...

This afternoon husband* insisted we buy a tv equipped with closed-captioning. I protested, saying it was a luxury, it could wait, but he insisted, and there's a beautiful big flatscreen at the foot of the bed as I type. (Hearing people would never realize this, but flatscreen makes CC much, much easier to read - a fact that husband discovered in his research on a new tv. This man is a 24-carat-gold partner.).

And suddenly news about the world is flowing in around me again. I am really surprised that I have learned that, in spite of the fact that I would have said I get the majority of my news from the internet now, the fact is I get the majority of my in-depth news from the internet; for a quick overview of what's going on in my country or the one next door, nothing still beats a television "headlines" segment from CNN, Newsworld or NewsNet.


*In this blog I refer to my husband as "husband" in order to protect his anonymity, although most of you reading know him, or at least his name. He didn't ask to be in a public weblog; he didn't even know I was mounting one until I gave him the URL, although he read and approved the first two posts in their original magazine article format.

He has been the staff in my hand and the light on my path for many years "in sickness and in health"; and now he patiently and lovingly adds to that list the sound to my ears; and by referring to him as "husband" I mean to connote all the respect and commitment the term truly deserves.

When something goes right / It's apt to confuse me / It's such an unusual sight*

*Something So Right, Paul Simon

I wasn't sure what to expect at today's appointment with Dr. Henderson. So often in my experience working with medical professionals, one (a nurse, technician, family practitioner) will offer you tons of encouragement and advice about what path to pursue with the next (specialist) professional, only to find that the specialist - the one with the power to move things ahead - isn't interested in following that path and you're stuck with no further referral.

That's what I was afraid of today. "Alain" had been so helpful with the discussion of the cochlear implant possiblity yesterday that I tossed and turned in bed all night wondering what I would do if Dr. Henderson dismissed it out of hand. Press? Argue? Beg? I don't know what Dr. Henderson knows. I might be a patient advocating for my rights. I might be a nutbar arguing for something he knows won't help.

But when things work, they work; and when they work, it seems to be mostly because somebody makes them work. When I saw Dr. H. at 9 am this morning, not only had Alain already contacted him yesterday, but Dr. H. had written a letter of referral to the cochlear implant evaluation doctor, noting that Alain and he both agreed that I might be a strong candidate for CI! He let me read the letter, which was most helpful to understanding my situation.

So now my instructions are to continue with the steroid on the off chance - neither of us hope - of spontaneous recovery; wait for a CAT scan appointment; and wait for an appointment to have CI evaluation done, in Halifax. Dr. H. has put an "urgent" request on it, although regular waiting time is four to six weeks.

Unbelievably heady. I'll write more about what I've learned about CIs in the days to come - not nearly as creepy as I had let myself think, as it turns out - for those of you who are interested. For one thing, I had the surgery and the components all misunderstood. But more on that later...


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Words to live by...

A friend reading this blog passed the URL on to his mom, who is another person I'm privileged to call 'friend'. He reported on her reaction to the blog:

"Her comment [...] was that you certainly seem to have a very strong support
structure. I would second that observation. Also that it represents pretty good
planning on your part, since you didn't really have time to quit being an
asshole between onset and the point where you really needed people to like


I have some good news, and I have some bad news... if I could only decide which is which...

Saw the audiologist, "Alain", this morning. He is a great guy, really goes above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, we spent about thirty minutes doing some internet research together on autoimmune hearing loss. (I mentioned Dr. Henderson's musing to him.) It would be fair to say that my situation is a textbook case if there is such a thing. The symptoms and progression described on this page might be my case study. Although, knowing the why doesn't help awfully at this point.

We did - or tried to do - hearing tests but there was no result, so my new chart just shows a series of arrows pointing downward at the y axis (did not respond, did not respond, did not respond). While the audiologist can graph this, it's Dr. H. who must interpret it and the next course of action. However, Alain did strongly recommend I speak to Dr. H. about an immediate referral for an evaluation for a cochlear implant (CI). From his experience it seems my type and experience of deafness mean it's an option for me.

I don't know whether this is good news or bad. I am going to be honest here and say that I've always thought cochlear implants creepy. This from a person who has really never been particularly 'creeped out' by any physical disability or oddity. I feel guilty saying so and I know it's a bad, stupid and entirely unacceptable prejudice on my part but it's the truth. Now, ladies and gentlemen, live on this very stage, Instant Karma!

My reaction to Alain the audiologist as I left his office with a stack of literature about CIs under my arm was that this was a 'big decision' that I had to do a 'lot of thinking about'. You have to understand, when you've been through as many surgeries as I have (thinking on it this morning I realized I have literally lost count, particularly of the abdominal surgeries in the 90s), deciding to undergo that experience again is something pretty much every cell in your body and brain scream "NO!" to. Especially if it's going to involve messing about in my skull. Yet, as I sit here at home and read the literature, and after talking lunchtime with husband, what other choice do I have if I am a candidate? We must pursue the options that are open to us, was husband's advice, and he is right. You can't imagine how heavy it weighs on the heart to think of things you will never hear again.

Tomorrow, of course, Dr. H. may have an entirely different opinion of the point of testing for CI potential, so we shall see.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

Gardening for the Deaf; or, What I Did While Finding Out If I Will Hear Again

At 2:45 Saturday morning, I woke up; not an uncommon occurrance, as insomnia dogs me constantly now. But when I stumbled to the bathroom, I realized that the thing I'd feared most had happened: the vestigal hearing in my right hear was now gone. No amount of shouting into it can now penetrate it. I almost wish I could say that since then I've been in a profound silence; instead I hear a constant sound like rushing water or the wind in trees; punctuated by an indescribable sound, the closest thing to which I can describe as a dog barking, very very far away. The latter is most annoying.

I am not really ready right now to talk about what it feels like, because it doesn't feel very good at all. If I permit myself one comment, I'll note that profound deafness is not for the claustrophobic - literally.

Maybe I'll never have to describe it, but as detail in a tale with a different ending. Let's wait and see, shall we?

We did usual and unusual things on Saturday and Sunday; went to a Cultural Festival which I'd helped organize, went to the bookstore (having finished both The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, I picked up The Two Towers and The Return of the King; I expect I'll be finding a lot more time for reading in the coming weeks), went to the building supply store, on Sunday took the kitties for a walk in their, and our, beloved Odell Park; bought gardening supplies. I have been spending a lot of time in the garden in the last few days; it is very theraputic and something I can do very competently and peacefully in silence. I am growing snow peas, which are just going great guns, and scallions, which are not, in a tiny garden about one by two metres in a corner of the postage-stamp-sized yard; but my heart's delight is my flowers.

In my shady yard (in the heart of the old downtown core - which I would give up for nothing) - I don't have the pick of the blooming crop. I have a formal "Shade Garden" proper under the elm tree - its first residents were a birthday gift from my husband who saw my frustration with the large area under the tree where it seemed nothing thrived, researched shade gardens, and delivered a tray of appropriate and still-thriving plants. I add to it year by year, and love it best of all of all corners of my home. There I have abundant and overflowing perennials (which grow back on their own year after year): bleeding hearts; somewhat tentative foxglove (planted them just this year - they are growing but I do not think they'll bloom this year); astilbe; lily-of-the-valley and forget-me-not. In containers about the garden in areas that get more sun I have annuals; inexpensive "bedding plants" that live one year only; and these will do so shouting with joyful colour and much-appreciated in their containers in my yard: impatiens (several containers of pink and white and a couple of containers of "Voodoo Mix" which promise to grow in a loopy and hysterical mix of pinks, purples and oranges); geraniums (red and white); and red and white begonias. All these varieties I've found practically kill-proof in our Zone 4 (cold) garden which gets much shade and has clay-like soil.

As I continue to plan the perennial garden - planting things which I hope to be permanent in their place - I think I have found the proper spot for a Columbine; yellow, maybe (very few yellow flowers, it seems to me in my searching, are shade-tolerant, and I'd like more yellow in my garden). Hell, I think I'll get a couple, in different colours. Next to the gate to the backyard is my rosebush; a Hunter Rose, a birthday gift from my in-laws some years ago; like the other plants, tough as a son of a bitch, blooming from July to August with fat red blossoms and shooting out fierce new branches every year as it reaches for the sun. Toughest little bugger I ever saw; I am looking about for another to put on the other side of the walkway, at the other side of the gate. Anything that tough and lovely deserves a second go.

I am trying very hard to walk the line between staying optimistic and living my life in this silence and not appearing to be flippant or blithe. What I am NOT most of all, is resigned.


In today's "The Irony Gods Laugh" Department:

'Reissue' for classic Clash album

(BBC Online)

UK rock band The Clash's landmark album London Calling is to be reissued with newly-discovered demo tracks and unseen live DVD footage, it is reported.
It will include a CD of demos dubbed The Vanilla Tapes, found in a storage facility belonging to Clash guitarist Mick Jones, Sony Music said.

A film featuring band interviews and studio footage will also be included.

A 45-minute documentary created by band associate Don Letts also contains previously unreleased live performances, and a conversation with former manager Kosmo Vinyl.

The demos were found in storage belonging to Mick Jones

The demos include songs that did not make the final cut for London Calling, although a tracklisting has not been finalised.

Good and Bad Advice

Outside my very close circle who know me best, not all the advice has been sterling. I have already had "visualization", acupuncture (which I've had before for entirely unrelated things and which works, so isn't *so* whack, but which I strongly doubt is capable of re-animating dead nerve endings) and "touchless reiki therapy" recommended.

Bless their fuzzy-headed hearts.

But my favourite was a co-worker who is particularly prone to every quack spirtual/psychological babble that passes her way, who asked me seriously, "The true question is, what is it you don't *want* to hear, [ronnie]? Once you can discover that and come to terms with it, then your hearing will come back..."

No, I didn't hit her.

But I did invite her to exit my office through the bad feng-sheui door.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Passing paper at the pub

On Friday evenings, after work, I am lightly 'scheduled' to be at our 'local' to meet friends; husband and I are part of a lose collection of 'regulars' with a tight-knit core, and normally we might wander by two or three times a week to chat with the ever-changing gang and the amiable and funny barstaff. Fridays are a pretty permanent 'date' for us.

Friday afternoon I got an email from a close friend - not much of a pub person, so not too often at the 'round table' - asking if I'd be there. If so, she'd drop by.

Hmm. I hadn't really thought about it. Suddenly, it seemed a very daunting prospect, in my current situation. My friends were in all sorts of varying degrees of knowledge about the situation; some were going to be gobsmacked that anything was wrong (many never noticed the hearing aid, first to last), others were going to be upset, I knew, because I am lucky and I have friends who have invested their emotions in me; some might be in denial (it's happened) and insist on trying to speak to me; all would have to communicate through the clumsy method of writing to me with paper and pen, in a complex social setting with multiple conversations going on. Others in the pub would stare, I would stand out. I'd probably look like a freak. It would be a damned nuisance for all my friends.

On the other hand, what if my hearing didn't come back? What am I going to do, never go to a pub or party again? Never socialize again?

These people have invested in me over all these years. They would care if I vanished tomorrow. I owed it to them to swallow this and not to reject them, isolating myself in a cloud of self-pity.

So I went to the pub. It was a racous and merry time, and amongst many messages of concern, many hugs and exclaimations of upset and expressions of frustration and helplessness, the novelty of the paper and pen proved amusing enough to cause a lot of laughter and funny moments (such as one friend repeatedly feigning tearing off and eating comments that she had written ill-advisedly). At first they tried to write for me the essence of every turn of the multi-player conversation: "RUDE" protested my friend when I told her she needn't. But I convinced them it was impractical, just as trying to follow every conversation at a large and crowded table is, and shortly we settled into a very natural process whereby what I needed to understand was made understandable to me. It worked far better than I could ever have hoped. I am ashamed at having hesitations, and at not giving them the credit to adapt marvellously. Two, a married couple and two of my - our - very closest friends, have already decided they are going to learn ASL; one of the pair already knows it - well, she learned a lot of it as a child at camp - well, it was Bible Camp, and she learned it in the aid of converting the deaf heathen, so it was with much uproarious laughter that we discovered she is very facile at signing passages from the Bible, and knows the words for things like "Christ", "Crucifix", "Salvation", "Born-Again" etc - all the words likely to come up in my everyday conversation.

The most frequent question was the one I can't answer - "Will this drug help?"

But for their part, any help was offered. Drives, assistance in accessing technology (one tried to give me the TREO off her belt, the better for me to communicate with), help getting information on government programs which will help. Anything they could think of offering. Anything, anything, just let us know.

How lucky I am to have such friends. Cultivate and care for those select few around you well, my friends; when you need them, you need them badly.


Friday, June 25, 2004

Swimming through liquid glass

I did not miss the appointment.

Dr. Henderson's receptionist is an amazing woman, I'll just get that out of the way right now. She was younger than I expected her to be, but absolutely competent and helpful; she is the first person in days I was able to communicate easily with. Of course, she possibly works with a lot of hard-of-hearing people, which no doubt helps. She had my history of audiograms at her elbow, faxed over from the hospital. After only a short wait, she ushered me into the office.

Dr. Henderson is businesslike but pleasant; didn't even look in my ears as everything he needed was spelled out clearly on the charts. All except what was causing the hearing loss in the first place. I told him the tired story which I've had to tell everyone on this path, about the ulcers and the surgeries and the antibiotics and so on.

"Hmm," he said. (I lip-read that.) "I wonder if you don't have an auto-immune disease that's caused all of this - from the ulcers on." (That, he shouted into my right ear.)

I didn't know what to say to that. I am one of those people who is so baffled by auto-immune diseases I'm not even certain they exist.

He asked about family history of deafness. Yeah, well, my Gramma. But she was 95.

He told me there was a drug, a corticosteroid, that might help. But it had one concering side-effect which made him hesitate in my case. It caused stomach upset. In some cases, ulcers. Har-de-har-har. I may be nearly deaf, but I can hear the gods of irony snickering louder than anyone.

What did I think of that, he asked? Should we risk it?

Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Anything to get me out of this place. This place that is like swimming all the time through liquid glass, invisible but thick and slowing and silent.

He prescribes a stomach protector which is to be taken before the corticosteroid. The latter is to be taken with food. We talk about options; if I am in distress, I should halve the steroid. If in doubt, stop it.

Then there's a plan. Right away I am to go to the hospital for blood tests. Then get the prescription filled. Call the audiologist again, make sure I have an appointment for Monday or Tuesday. Dr. Henderson wants to see me again on Wednesday.

It's a dizzying amount of information, in retrospect remarkable that he made it all understandable under the circumstances, or that I retained it. But that remarkable receptionist, "Carla", had all the paperwork ready for me in three minutes and had repeated his instructions, and I had directions in hand and a plan. Finally a plan.

I thanked Dr. H. for seeing me; I had been told by the audiologist that the only other Otorhinolaryngologist (no wonder we just call them "Ear-nose-throat Doctors") in town had left last week, and he was swamped. He smiled kindly and led me out.

I followed the directions to the letter; my good audiology guy returned an email of update promptly and has booked me for tests on Tuesday. And then of course back to Dr. H. on Wednesday to see if there is any hope - I mean, improvement.

The prescription turns out to be for just seven pills. Seven pills, seven days to buy a chance to save the 10% hearing (with 82% distortion) in my right ear. Or maybe, maybe, maybe bring some of it back.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The sudden drop

For three months I'd had a happy relationship with my little hearing aid and with the world through its help.

Last Thursday, didn't seem to be a good day. I found myself struggling to hear. The remarkable little aid hadn't given me the now-familiar 'beep' but I changed the battery anyway, just in case (the sound fades as the batteries die). That didn't seem to help much. But it was a busy day and I got through it.

Friday I headed to Moncton for a two-day conference. Once again things didn't seem to be going well. I struggled to hear my colleagues in conversation. I found myself cupping both ears in every meeting to try to follow. I changed the battery again - maybe that last one was a bum one. I was getting worried; I phoned my audiologist back in my hometown (who is not the hearing-aid guy) and left a message.

After dinner I begged out of a reception, choosing to go to my hotel room and work instead. It had become too difficult to converse with people. Saturday was worse. At one point I realized that I had turned the volume control on the aid up to "full" in my increasingly-futile attempts to hear - normal usage for me is about 1/3 volume. By the time I got home on Saturday evening things were still very bad. Things didn't improve on Sunday. Maybe a cold, I thought - fluid on the ears. That had been a problem before, but never this badly. Anyway, I would follow up with the errant audiologist tomorrow.

On Monday morning, when I woke up, I had no hearing at all in my left ear. This was bizarre and frightening. That's my hearing-aid ear. My right ear had also suffered a loss. My husband and I talked; the first thing I did was stop wearing the aid (which is in effect useless now anyway) in case it's somehow contributed. I stuck a finger in my right ear - which still heard - to block it and banged on the wall as hard as I could with my left fist. I didn't hear anything in my left ear. Anything.

I called my audiologist, "Amy", again and emailed her. She still didn't reply. My boss - the President of my Board of Directors, hugely supportive - suggested a Dr. Henderson, an ear-nose-throat guy who's supposedly brilliant. I called my family doctor about a referral; family doctor can see me to discuss it next Monday.

"Amy" the audiologist doesn't reply on Tuesday either. After work, frustrated, my husband and I go to the emergency ward. The doctor that sees us immediately refers us to Dr. Henderson. He'll fax the referral, he says. Call the office first thing tomorrow morning. Don't wait. Don't miss the appointment.

Today is Wednesday. I called the office this morning. Henderson's receptionist, "Carla", is helpful, patient, efficient. She hadn't received the referral, she said, but not to worry; she'd contact the emergency department and follow up. Fifteen minutes later she called back. Be at the Audiology Department of the local hospital in fifteen minutes. They'd give me a series of tests. Be in Dr. Henderson's office 9:45 tomorrow morning (this man has a four to six week waiting list). Bring the results of the tests. Don't miss the appointment.

We are in the middle of last-minute preparations for an extremely important conference which starts tomorrow. Within my field, this is one of the most important conferences held in the past ten years. It's being held at a world-class resort, the playground of former Presidents (the Franklin D. Roosevelts were most fond of it), Prime Ministers and brilliant writers and artists. I have helped organize one of three schedules of speakers for the conference. It has been months of careful, coordinated work. Hundreds of wrinkles have been ironed out. We've developed a first-class slate of speakers and made all their travel, accommodation and presentation arrangements. I am to be one of the presenters. The presentation, especially, is a hugely significant career milestone for me; it will essentially establish me as being an expert in my field.

I dropped everything and was at Audiology in fifteen minutes.

This is not because I am brave, or smart, or even because I am not. This is because my boss and my colleagues reacted to the situation like the remarkable team they are. Within a few minutes of the phone call, my tasks in wrapping up the conference arrangements and being the 'point person' on-site at the conference for our slate of speakers were transferred to another colleague who, while looking a little shell-shocked, agreed unhesitatingly to take on the role. We discussed the presentation; realizing that I can't be away now (Dr. Henderson's nurse speaks of CAT scans and other testing which will happen who- knows-when), I decided to cancel it. My boss, who I am essentially letting down by leaving him a speaker short, supported my decision unqualifiedly.

Fast-forward to the hospital Audiology Department: I saw my former erstwhile and eventually useless audiologist, "Amy", sitting in her office, and just had time to look at her with utter disgust and see her eyes widen in panic (what on earth did she think I was there for, I wonder now bemusedly. "Disgruntled ignored patient shoots up audiology department"?) before being ushered into the office of another audiologist, "Alain", much to my relief. I don't know what on earth I would have said to that woman.

I outlined the rapid decline. We communicated by Alain speaking directly into my right ear as I cupped it.

He put an earpiece in my ear. "You'll feel pressure," he said. Sure enough, considerable pressure on the ear canal and eardrum. But what alarmed me most was that when we did the test on my right ear, I heard tones accompanying the pressure. When we did the test on the left ear, I felt only pressure. I heard nothing.

"Have you seen other cases like this?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Don't tell me how it turns out," I replied.

He told me the hospital sees about eight such cases a year - people with gradual progressive hearing loss who suddenly see a rapid decline over a few days or a week - but that they had seen three besides me just this month. How odd.

What could cause something like that to spike, I wondered.

They don't know, but the working theory, he told me, is perhaps it is a virus which is making the rounds in the community which has this particular impact on people with progressive nerve deafness, but which would not have the same effect on a hearing person.

Even weirder. What brilliant luck. But I didn't have time to reflect on it because we start the tests. Sitting in a small soundproof booth, I had earpieces inserted in both ears and was handed a button. Alain sat in another booth and we viewed each other through a glass window. First, he played a series of tones into the ear canal; every time I heard a sound, I pressed the button. To my utter astonishment, I heard three tones in the left ear - the one that had felt "dead" since Monday - compared to about fifteen or eighteen in the right. So it's not all over yet, I thought.

Then, holding a piece of paper in front of his mouth so that I could not read his lips, he gave me a series of words to say to determine comprehension.

"Say the word 'house'."


"Say the word 'van'."


"Say the word 'hairpin'."


"Say the word 'children'."


and so on, to see how well I comprehended words.

One last test in the booth in which sounds were played behind my ears (no idea what this was in aid of) while we did the old 'hear a sound, press the button' thing again.

Finally, out of the booth and back in the office, we did the pressure test again. Then he wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. He showed me my new chart. The right ear had declined, markedly. The line marking my "hits" staggered through the lower quarter of the chart. The line for the poor left ear crawled along hugging the y axis. Good God.

He would send the whole file - this test and previous similar ones I'd done - to Dr. Henderson, he said. Don't miss the appointment, he said. He said that three different times.

After we reviewed the damage like an insurance adjuster and a homeowner poring over post-tornado Polaroids, he asked if there was anything else I wanted to know. "I mean, I know you said don't tell you, but -"

"No, of course, I want to know. In the other cases you've seen - what has the outcome been?" I fully expected to hear that they had all ended up profoundly deaf. It certainly felt like that is where I was going.

"Fifty percent," he said.

"Fifty percent? You mean fifty percent don't lose all their hearing? Or fifty percent more hearing loss?" I asked, confused.

"Fifty percent chance that you'll recover some or most of the last rapid loss."

My chest felt tight. I thought for a second I was literally going to burst into tears in front of him.

"Recover?" I said. "I was just trying to find hope that I wouldn't lose what's left!"

"I don't want to give you false hope," he cautioned quickly. "But that is the result we've seen in the other cases that are similar."

He told me that if treatment -- there's a drug, apparently, which Dr. Henderson might prescribe -- starts within a week to ten days of the rapid drop, the odds have been 50-50 of some recovery. Even if patients don't seek help until more than ten days later, there's been a 33% success rate.

I left his office scarcely knowing what to think. I had to get back to the office, get my co-worker everything she would need to take my place at that conference. Later on, I'd be teary as I hugged her and my other colleagues goodbye, as they set off for the conference in the beautiful resort town, which I'd worked so hard to organize and wanted so badly to present my paper at. But now, as I took the elevator to the ground floor of the hospital, the conference didn't seem that important.

I knew what did, though. Don't miss that appointment.

The hearing aid

It took until March to get all the wheres and whyfores of the hearing aid sorted out. Insurance covered some, not all. A member of my Board of Directors suggested I could borrow the money from the organization and pay it back, interest-free, over time. I nearly cried with relief. Here was the way to make it happen. She put the motion before the Board in camera at their next meeting.

They didn't vote to lend me the money.

They voted to buy me the hearing aid.

The Board of Directors moved and voted to cover the entire cost of the hearing aid, up to $2000, if necessary. It is no overdramatizing to say I was humbled by the gesture; I work for a non- profit organization where every penny is precious. They could have simply and legally made my getting the hearing aid a condition of keeping my job.

So I got quotes. I was shocked that of five faxes (of my prescription/audiogram) requesting quotes, I got two replies. How do these people stay in business? One of the two returned calls promptly and had the best price on the same model. He ended every conversation with "Thank you for calling Beltone!". I cringed every time he did. It made him sound like a caricature of a bad used-car salesman. I did not want to make the most important purchase of my life from a used-car salesman.

I went to see him for the fitting. The way they fit you for an ITC (in the canal) hearing aid is this: they push a tiny ball of cotton way, way into your ear, next to your eardrum, with a pair of long, thin tweezers. You do not move at all while you're doing this, not because he's told you not to, but because you've seen the long, thin, tweezers. You wonder how they get the little cotton ball out. What if they lost it in there? Do they get it out again with the long, thin tweezers? You shudder. This is worse than you expected. Then the hearing-aid guy mixes up silicone in a little cup and puts it into a big hypodermic-thing. Then he squeezes it into your ear.

This is one of the weirdest feelings most people will ever have the privilege of not experiencing. For one thing, nothing has ever touched those cells that line that inner canal, but air, ever. It even occurs to you that they are being touched for the first time in your life. That's weird. Secondly, the sensation of having your ear canal completely and utterly blocked is foreign and not comparable to any previous experience. It's not like earplugs at all. It's complete. You realize how... silent it is when this happens. No air, nothing. You wonder if this is what it feels like to be profoundly deaf in an ear.

You sit then for five minutes making faces. You open, close your mouth, stick your tongue out. You say the vowels, count to ten, with exaggerated motions. The hearing aid mould will have to take into account all your jaw and face's natural motions. No point having an aid that pops out when you yawn. So you make every face conceivable on the "Thank you for choosing Beltone" guy's orders. You're grateful that he leaves you alone in the office during this bit.

After five minutes, the silicone has solidified. The hearing aid guy comes in and works it out of your ear. That feels weird, too, but by now you're getting used to strange sensations in there. He shows you the small masterpiece you have co-created. It looks largely like chewed gum, but now you see that a) the cotton ball had a thread attached to it all along with which to remove it and b) it comes out stuck to the mould, anyway.

So you write the hearing aid guy a cheque for your deposit and he tells you when the aid will be in, and you shake hands.

"Thank you for choosing Beltone!" he says cheerfully.

About eight days later, he calls. I go to his office and together we admire the hearing aid. He fits it - o perfect fit! the process really does work - and teaches me how to use it.

They really are incredibly ingenious little things. A tiny little volume control which can be easily adjusted with the tip of a finger. A miniscule little microphone attached to a remarkable array of electronics. A battery the size of half a dried pea.

Hearing-aid guy cautions me: I am not going to hear again. I am going to learn to hear a new way. A different way. I will be interpreting sounds differently. It will take patience and time. I am going to have to learn to talk with the sound of my own voice ringing in my head (put your fingers in your ears and say something. Yes, it's like that.) I nod and try to absorb everything, which is fruitless, because much of what he is describing to me cannot be explained and I have not experienced it.

Finally, the lessons and the talk are over. "Thank you for choosing Beltone!" he cries, waving, as ever-patient, ever-present husband and I leave.

Now out in the world we're on our own, me and my new hearing aid. Over the next few days we have to get to know each other. The first thing I notice is that I can hear my own footfalls, loud, heavy, inside my head, with the aid in (I expect you can duplicate this by sticking your fingers in your ears and walking, too)... This is disconcerting and unpleasant.

The second thing I notice is, hearing aid guy was right: I am not 'regaining my hearing'. This is a completely different way of hearing. My brain is processing the sounds differently. Things sound clear - but they don't sound like amplified versions of the old sounds. They sound... different. There are other small things at first, too; a truck passing on my right (the aid-less ear) sounds like it is on my left, because that is the aided ear which is picking it up. I have to be more cautious walking in traffic, but am no doubt much safer than before I had the aid at all.

One evening, about a week after I get the aid, in a pub with my husband, as we chat, I hear a distinct, low "beep-beep" - like the tone you sometimes hear when you're on hold.

"What was that?" I ask.

"What was what?" he says.

"Did you just hear a beep?"

"No." He looks at me funny.

"Oh." I shrug. "I thought I heard a beep."

He continues his story and about 30 seconds later, there it is again. Beep-beep.

I look over my shoulder, warily, as if the beeping culprit might be back there. Trying to be nonchalant, I scan the pub for the source of the beeping.


I suddenly feel like an idiot. It is the aid itself, and it must be some kind of alarm telling me to change the battery, as I've not done so since it was fitted. And here's me, covertly scanning the rafters for listening devices.

Indeed, the booklet that came with the aid didn't mention this little feature, but from that night on, my small helper beeped impatiently into my ear whenever it was time to top up the power and get the sound crystal-clear again.

People - people other than my husband, who has been warned - assume that I am 'fixed' now. It takes patience to make them understand that the rules we have worked out - speaking to me directly, speaking clearly - must still be followed. The aid is not a panacea.

Yet the change is remarkable. I can have conversations again. I can watch tv in the company of others again (our elderly but still perfectly-functioning televisions predate closed-captioning). I can talk on the phone again. I can do my job properly again. I can have long talks with my husband again. I'm happier than I've been in months. I change my hairstyle and buy some new clothes. I rejoin a gym. I'm interacting with the world again and I hadn't even realized I'd stopped doing. I get better and better at living with the hearing aid. Friends who didn't know I had a hearing loss (yes, I hid it well) are surprised but everybody seems generally pleased.

Maybe this could have been the end of the story. This would be a good end. But it isn't.