Artwork by Mr. Jensen

What’s That Again?

I feel sure that many of my readers are no longer 25. You’re mature motorcyclists, guys and a few women who’ve been riding for years, if not decades. Many of us, because of our ages and because of the inevitable roar of wind around our helmets, are suffering from hearing loss.

I’ve been aware of that loss for maybe a decade. I began to dislike going to dinner with friends at noisy restaurants. I was unable to pick out individual voices in the din. I’d only be able to chat with those seated next to me. Dinner would be an exhausting experience; I was straining to hear.

I’ve probably worn earplugs on the bike for 20 years, the crushable ones that expand to fill your ear canal, and I was conscientious about wearing them. But the years and the miles added up; I realized I had lost something I wouldn’t regain.

It’s my hunch that men who live alone may not be aware that they’ve lost some hearing. As you may know, when we guys lose hearing acuity, we often lose it in the higher registers. Meaning, and you may be way ahead of me here, we lose it in the frequency of many women’s voices.

We need a perfect situation to hear the women in our lives perfectly. I need line of sight, almost no noise, and I must focus on the speaker. If I’m at the kitchen sink and the water is running, Tamar can be 6 feet away, right in front of me, and I can’t hear her.

Because we seldom have a perfect situation, we don’t hear our womenfolk clearly. To them, we either seem to be preoccupied and not paying attention to what they say… or not interested. I submit to you that such a barrier to communication between partners is poison.

And many of us are reluctant to admit that we are losing our hearing. We’d resist admitting we were losing any faculty, am I correct? We hate the idea of seeming old and no longer capable.

Artwork by Mr. Jensen

We don’t realize how much life we’re missing, how thinly we are stretching our loved one’s patience.

The first thing I did was to order custom-made earplugs, made from molds taken of my ears. They were somewhat expensive and I was skeptical, but they work really well. I feel sure they’re worthwhile—they’ll protect what hearing I have left. They will not restore what’s gone.

About six years ago, I got my first hearing aids. They were awful, frankly, and I successfully resisted wearing them. The tiny batteries in the crescent-shaped units that fit behind my upper ears lasted barely five hours. The little cones in my ears were uncomfortable and never felt secure.

Last year I had another hearing evaluation. One ear was worse than the other, as I believe is typical, and both had what is called moderate-to-severe hearing loss. I was a candidate for new hearing aids, and I was assured that the progress in their design is amazing.

My new hearing aids are molded to my personal ear canals and tuned to restore my specific frequencies of hearing loss. My hair is mostly gray, especially above my ears, so I chose gray for the little compartments that house the batteries and microphones. People do not see them…or say they don’t see them. I don’t care. I’m sure I’m as vain as the next guy, but I don’t care. 

The tiny batteries last a week! Changing them takes three minutes. All the hassles that accompanied my old set are gone. I did find that when I’d move my head at certain angles, the smoothly molded, clear plastic hearing aids would try to come out of my ears. I complained, and my hearing aids were modified with little clear plastic outriggers. Now they stay put.

When you first wear hearing aids, you’re surprised and pleased at how much you’ve regained. Yes, you can hear your wife or partner, but you can also hear the little “ding” as the elevator passes each floor… and you realize that your light switches click. You’d have sworn they were silent.

If you wear your hearing aids for a short ride in town, because it’s easy just to leave them in, your engine will sound somewhat noisy, as if the pistons are swappin’ holes, as guys used to say. That alarms you—until you realize it’s always been that clamorous, and you… couldn’t… hear… it.

Just recently, I explained to the audiologist that I struggle with phone calls, even in quiet circumstances. I’d become an email person, and begun to resent people who’d rather chat via phone. Exchange of information on the phone was imperfect, thus frustrating, and exhausting.

I now wear a device called a streamer on a loop around my neck. The streamer links my phone with my hearing aids at the push of a button. The phone itself makes no sound: The ringtone and voice go directly via Bluetooth to my hearing aids, like magic. I can actually participate in phone conversations again… after who knows how many years.

The streamer is also linked to the audio from our TV. At the push of a different button, the sound from the TV goes directly to my hearing aids—even with the TV sound muted. I never miss a word of dialogue. We’ve turned off the closed captioning (subtitles) on which I depended for years.

When I ride with my friends on Tuesdays, for instance, I ride to the meeting place, maybe 20 miles from our home, wearing my earplugs. When I climb off my bike, I take the plugs out and put the hearing aids in. We chat and I miss nothing.

When we saddle up to leave, I put the hearing aids in their case and the plugs in my ears. It’s much less hassle than it seems as you read this. Now, granted, I’m a motorcycling writer, and I depend on hearing riders’ voices. I never know what exchange or comment will inspire a column.

If you think you may have hearing loss, get tested. I don’t throw around claims like “it’ll change your life,” but saying that is appropriate here.

This story originally appeared in our April 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.