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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Such Bird Such Song

First Published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas April. 24, 2021

It is funny how everything in life is relative and how normal is what you grow up with. It is only when you have something different to compare with your normal that you notice the difference. If you had spent your life with a three legged dog for a pet and had never seen another dog it might appear strange to you how a four legged dog walks.

This is also the case with change over a long period. Like going deaf gradually over a couple of decades. Tomorrow seems very much like yesterday as the change is unnoticeable from day to day. You are generally aware there has been change but you adapt gradually.

Yesterday I was fitted with my first hearing aid but I didn't really get my hopes up as it wasn't really my first. I did have an attempt at having one about five years ago which was not a success. It was so uncomfortable to wear that the gain was outweighed by the benefit. So I call this one my first.

The audiologist placed it in my ear and wow, suddenly it was like someone had turned up the volume of the whole world. It was the strangest experience because it was mostly just very loud noise and my first thought was this was not going to work, but I had already done some reading and discovered that this was to be expected. What we all think we hear is simply a version of the sounds around us that have been interpreted by our brains. Going deaf over twenty five years leads your brain to adapt to a different way of hearing and it takes time for the brain to readapt to the new information being supplied.

I have to keep this thing in for all my waking hours to get used to it and to retrain my brain. At one point yesterday evening I nearly despaired because the loudness of everything suddenly got to me to the point when I nearly pulled it out. But I resisted the temptation.

This morning I ventured into town on my own to just do ordinary things with traffic noise, people shouting and all the other mayhem you don't notice when your hearing has not changed overnight. I went on a photo walk (here) and an hour later I had almost forgotten it was in.

So there are several discoveries I have made, the most important of which is that I had actually forgotten how much bird song there is. As I walked across the market square all I could distinguish against the general buzz of life was birds. A whole world of birds. It probably helps that it is Spring but even so, the world has suddenly become an audio bird soup. Ironically at the start of my photo walk I spotted this small section of the town mosaic as I walked past.

Apart from the bird song itself what I now have back is 3D sound. Having lost most of my hearing in one ear I have subconsciously trained myself to forget what direction sounds are coming from. Most people who hear their name called when outside immediately look in that direction. If I heard my name called I had to look in every direction to find who was calling me. When crossing a road I had to be extra vigilant, normally looking in both directions more than once before being confident enough to cross. Today, cars that sounded like A380's landing were obvious, even around corners and out of sight. The sound of crows flying overhead led me to look instantly in the right direction to see them approaching.

I am definitely not used to it yet but every new sound is a revelation especially the mundane things like crumpling a piece of paper or rubbing my own skin, the fabric of my clothes moving as I do. All of these ordinary, normally unnoticed noises are now a kaleidoscope of colourful noise rattling and jangling all around me.

Something strange that I never predicted is that my other half cannot hear a word I say and keeps complaining and asking me to speak up. This is the result of my own voice being so loud that I have naturally adjusted it to quiet, without realising. We have just had a conversation where I was instructed to increase or decrease my vocal volume until it was about right something I am not able to do naturally yet.

The main thing is it works and it is so comfortable that I am already forgetting it is there some of the time. A minor issue which is bugging me is remembering when wearing a face mask not to take it off too quickly as it has a habit of getting entangled in the device, so it is all a learning curve.

I would like to take this chance though to give a shout out to our NHS. I went to the doctor to discuss my hearing about six weeks ago in the middle of a pandemic not expecting much urgency of action, imagining I might hear something in three months, and I couldn't have been more wrong. I had my hearing test less than two weeks ago and my device fitted yesterday. I was told it would have cost about £3000 privately. There has been no charge for anything and even the replacement batteries are free at point of demand, as is a regular six monthly service, re-tuning should it be needed, a call back in about a fortnight to check things are OK, and ongoing help and advice.

It is going to cost dearly though as I can now hear how squeaky the floorboards are upstairs and they are going to have to go sooner rather than later.

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