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Ouch! My ears!

Food for Thought

For the past year or two, I’ve been receiving frequent offers of reduced cost or free hearing evaluations from a company in Cedar Rapids. They seem to be under the impression that I am losing my hearing and need a hearing aid. Now, I will confess to complaining that I sometimes miss a few of the words people say at meetings and social gatherings, but I don’t think it is my auditory faculties that are the reason.
For most of my life, I’ve been able to assess the state of my hearing by listening to my fingerprints, and when I can no longer hear the slight sound that comes from rubbing my thumb and fingers together, I know it’s time to ask my doctor to check my ears for wax build-up. I know this isn’t a very scientific hearing test– it’s more the equivalent of the vision check at the drivers license bureau as compared to the testing you get when you visit your optometrist, but it has served me well for a long time and still seems to work.
I recently had my annual physical and had one ear cleaned out of accumulated gunk. I don’t know the exact name of that devilish appliance they use to clean deep inside ears– even my doctor referred to it as, “that thing we use to wash out ears with.” So, if he doesn’t know the correct name for it, don’t expect me to. I do know that the process involves very loud, rapid and slightly painful pulsing of warm water against the ear drum and can best be described by comparing it to the sound made by a jackhammer. At any rate, the hearing in that ear improved noticeably and I once again enjoyed being better able to tell from which direction sounds came, and they were less muffled. This was further verified by two events. The first occurred before the check-up; the other afterward during dinner at a popular new local restaurant and bar.
I had spent an afternoon and evening at our community club celebrating my birthday (six days early), and at one point the noise level reached a fairly intense volume as family and friends greeted new arrivals and engaged in happy reminiscences and getting acquainted with others from different spheres of my varied abundance of friends. In other words, it got loud. While I am accustomed to frequent but smaller family gatherings, and at least four organization meetings per month, these are seldom raucous, and the noise never reaches a level to cause me to cover my ears in self-defense. But with enough people talking in small groups, and all at the same time in a room with less than ideal acoustics, sooner or later people are forced to talk louder in order to be heard, and this results in other groups being forced to talk louder, too, and the whole thing escalates to the point where voices are strident, close to being described as screams. At least the women’s voices seemed to be.
Men’s voices, being generally stronger than women’s, are easier to understand in the midst of noisy crowds; women’s voices, which were once disciplined to be gentle and well-modulated, tended to get lost in the uproar. Not so today, I concluded. A pair of young women, who reminded me of spring flowers, seemed to have voices sharp as scimitars, slashing through the room like bolts of lightning. Where do such delicate young females get such sharp, imperious voices? They could deliver speeches at the stadium without benefit of microphones. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not complaining about my guests’ loud conversation– it was necessary under the circumstances– but I was surprised that they could sustain such loud talk for so long.
Just short of a week later, we walked into that restaurant for dinner and I was ambushed by a wall of noise about seven times that of the maximum volume at my party. My granddaughter was crowded close beside me, I saw her lips move but heard not a syllable of what she was saying. The room seemed to be in the midst of a riot. Men’s voices boomed, women’s voices shrieked, and underneath it all, was the clanking of glasses and silverware, and the steady pulse of throbbing bass tones of what I assumed was supposed to be background music. A waitress appeared and explained about the evening’s specials– or so I assumed. While I could actually hear her above the din, she talked so fast that I could catch only a fraction of her words. I began to feel like a sloth, or one of those other animals that lives in a slower dimension from the rest of the world. Caught in a time that was accelerating past and leaving me further behind with every second. The food was very good, the dinner conversation, by necessity, was minimal. We made up for that in the quiet car during our leisurely drive home. And I could hear every word just fine.