Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hear Hear!

Over recent years I have noticed something peculiar about people. They all mumble. They miss out bits of words. Children are the worst, what with their squeaky high-pitched incomprehensible rambling. Women are almost as bad. People in groups produce a wall of unintelligible and impenetrable sound. The whole world needs elocution lessons. Or... Just possibly it might be my hearing. To rule out this absurd possibility I recently attended the Audiology clinic at my local hospital. It turns out that 50% of us with Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy have high frequency hearing loss. Guess which 50% I fall into. The charming audiologist placed headphones over my ears and played various sounds into each of my ears while I pressed a button if I heard anything. Often I heard burps and rumbles and I dutifully pressed away. Sometimes the machine wasn't working and I heard nothing. Eventually the audiologist used her computer to generate a graph to represent my bat-like hearing. "This line," she said, indicating a straight red line crossing the chart, "would represent perfect hearing. This blue line is you." For about two thirds of the way across the chart the blue line wobbled at fractionally below the ideal red line. Not too shabby. Unfortunately, at the final third - the third representing the higher frequencies - the line plummeted down the graph like an unsuccessful attempt at hang-gliding off Beachy Head. To remedy the situation the audiologist produced two shiny little hearing-aids and plugged them into her computer. "There," she said. "I've programmed them to compensate for the high frequencies you've lost." With that she inserted the plastic tube bit into my ear and turned them on. "You'll need to practice wearing them. It takes a while for the brain to process frequencies it hasn't heard for a while." This did indeed turn out to be the case. For the next few days my brain ascribed the same significance to all high-frequency sounds. The squeak of my tyres on the floor was accorded the same auditory status as peoples voices. The sound of a distant lawn mower the same as the television. Worst of all, our budgerigar, Cato, twittered and tweeted at the apparent same volume of a commercial airliner taking off. Eventually though my brain began to work out which sounds had significance and which could be safely relegated to background noise and a kind of sonic harmony was achieved. A few weeks later I had an appointment with the audiology consultant who was positively thrilled to discover there was a link between FSHD and high-frequency hearing loss. "Well, I've learned something new today," she said, delighted. She also suggested that the hearing-aids should have their programming tweaked now that my brain had adjusted to them so as to maximise their effectiveness. This was duly done but the result means that for the last couple of days the budgie has sounded like he's been given a megaphone. One brilliant thing though was that we had taken Sam, now 10, with us. On our way to the clinic we passed the League of Friends' cafeteria. "The League of Friends," mused Sam. "Does that mean it's run by superheroes?" "Yes," replied Polly. "All of them cunningly disguised as elderly ladies wearing tabards." Thank you for reading. If you choose to comment please write quietly and annunciate clearly. Thank you.