One of my patients is struggling with hearing loss in retirement. I found his history very interesting and so with permission from him and the Association of Late Deafened Adults this is a reprint of one of his articles.
Life In The Middle End of The Hearing Loss Spectrum
My whole life I have experienced hearing loss, however I wasn’t made aware of it until I was 19 years old and was drafted for military service. My draft letter notice arrived right after the 1967 New Year, because I dropped out of college when the semester ended in December. I needed to work full time to earn enough money in order to take more classes, to keep my college deferment. As soon as the university notified my local Draft Board I was no longer attending classes the letter for my draft physical arrived that next week.
The letter told me to report at 6:30am with proper credentials (birth certificate, draft card, and photo id). I had heard about the infamous draft physical from other friends who got drafted. I remember hearing that it was thorough, time consuming, intimidating and included invading and exploring every orifice and crevice in one’s body. They would also test every body system and their fluids.
After I arrived I was registered in, assigned a Medical Examination Folder, and then told to strip down to my underwear and tee shirt, place my clothing in a foot locker and follow the arrows through the various medical examination stations. Luckily the stations were all numbered and I didn’t have to ask where to start. The facility was staffed by US Army personnel and none were friendly or accommodating.
When it came time to do the hearing test we were taken to a small portable sound proof room which held about 6 chairs and a table with headphones and hand held button testers to press when we heard a sound (beep) in the headphones. I sat down put on the headphones and held the confirmation button and pressed it when I heard a sound in one of the headphones. After the test you were given your folder back and told to proceed to the next exam station. I however, was not given my folder and told to stand aside and repeat the test again with the next group. I thought this was strange since no one else was held back or told to repeat the test..
I reentered the soundproof room and retook the test and when I was walking out I was not given back my folder and told I was to repeat the test again. Now I am getting a little nervous and concerned, because no one else is being held back or told to repeat the test again. I take it for the 3rd time and I am listening so hard for the tones I feel like I am imagining them in my head, rather than really hearing them. I can’t figure out why I am being made to repeat this test over and over since I am using different equipment each time I retake the test.
After my 3rd attempt at this test, I am told I must see an ENT doctor because I am unable to pass the test satisfactorily. I was also told if I was trying to deceive the US Army and trying to get out of being drafted, I would be found out and be put onboard a train to the nearest Army boot camp, before the day was over. That made me panic and wonder why he was saying that to me.
The Army ENT doctor was an older man, an Army officer and rather stern. I sat in his office in my underwear and the perspiration was running down my arms like a river. He sat at his desk studying my hearing tests and asked me to tell him about my hearing loss. I said I wasn’t aware I had a hearing loss. He asked if I had trouble hearing people talk or understanding what they said. I said some people mumble or don’t speak clearly and those were the only ones I had trouble with and sometimes women who had soft voices, I didn’t always hear well.
He asked if I any had trouble hearing in grade school, high school, or at home. I suddenly remembered how the nuns would sometimes throw an eraser at me in class to make me to wake up and pay attention. I couldn’t figure out why they would do that because I really was paying attention. They would say I day dreamed, didn’t pay attention, or just not listen when I was called upon. Many times I was moved to the front of the class in the first row, so I would listen and pay attention better. It never dawned on me why this was occurring. Of course when I was moved up to the front row I heard better, which just reinforced what the nuns thought I was doing, not paying attention or daydreaming. My hearing loss was in the upper frequencies which was why I had trouble hearing the nuns.
In high school I attended an all male Catholic high school where the entire faculty were priests or brothers of a religious order. I didn’t remember having problems there like I did in grade school. Since I heard lower frequencies well, the loss was not evident to me during my high school years and I just thought many girls and women mumbled, or talked too soft and it was them not me who had the difficulty.
At home I had 5 siblings and my mother was always yelling and hollering and I never had any trouble hearing her or my Dad. Our house was so busy with so many people living there (extended family), everyone yelled to be heard, so no one at home could really could tell I was hard of hearing.
The doctor then personally repeated the hearing test then said he was going to ask me to repeat words he was going to tell me. He first asked me the words facing me, then repeated the words from behind me. When he was finished he told me I had a profound hearing loss in my right ear and severe in my left ear. I was an excellent speech reader and that was probably how I was able to get by as well as I had thus far in the hearing world.
I sat there absolutely stunned and surprised to find out it was me who had the problem and that I had such a serious hearing loss that I was truly unaware of. My problem had a name and it wasn’t something I did or caused. It was an epiphany and suddenly so many things made sense to me.
After the exam and consultation with the doctor, he told me my hearing loss made me unsuitable for military service and I wouldn’t be eligible for the draft. He suggested I seek out a qualified audiologist to see if hearing aids could improve my loss to where I might be able to hear better.
I was given copies of the hearing tests and the ENT consultation by the medical clerk and then I was escorted to the check out station to complete my physical and be discharged. I had so many conflicted feelings as I left the medical facility. I was happy on one account that I would not be drafted (although I was expecting to be), but now I had another issue to deal with and that was my newly diagnosed hearing loss.
I didn’t tell anyone about my getting called up for the draft physical for like a month, including my parents. I finally did make an appointment to see another ENT Doctor and in February of 1967 was fitted with my first pair of hearing aids. That experience is another article for another time.