I went to the audiologist at TCU’s Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic today. Not because I was having unusual problems, but because I volunteered to be part of a clinical study. Turns out the study is the honors project of a senior student—sort of like an undergraduate thesis. And it’s really complicated, so hats off to her and to TCU (and audiologist Tracy Burger) for providing this great learning experience.
I’ve been seeing Tracy for four or five years and consider her a friend, though I never see her outside the clinic. But she’s helpful, knowledgeable, and lots of fun. Still I went with trepidation. Do you remember taking tests in high school and college and fearing you’d failed? That’s how I feel about the audiologist and the ophthalmologist.
Today I was hooked up to some machines and had to listen to a series of beeps, raising my hand whenever I heard the beep. Okay, except that sometimes I thought maybe I was imagining the beep, and Tracy and Sarah would think I was foolish for raising my hand. My other problem was that it was a tad boring, and my mind tended to wander, so then with a start I’d come back to the present and think, “Was that a beep?” Maybe you remember trying to psych out the pattern on machine-generated tests—didn’t we call them bubble tests? Anyway I tried the same thing, looking through the mirror at Sarah, watching her reactions, noting when she stopped to write something. I don’t think it helped one bit. I was sure I failed.
We progressed to listening for what Tracy called “Shush” sounds—I told her I missed some, because I didn’t recognize that they were a “shush”—one sounded more like low-key trilling to me. That made Tracy self-conscious about the words she used to describe the sounds, and I in turn apologized. Some adjustment of my hearing aids followed and then we did the shush sounds again. By now, pleasant company aside, I was getting antsy. I never said I’m a patient person.
The last exercise was repeating words. A disembodied voice said, “You will say dog,” and I was to say “dog.” I think it would be easier if he just said, “Dog,” and omitted the “You will say.” There were a bunch of words that I felt fairly confident about, but then a static background came in, and my confidence disappeared. The test revealed what I already know—background noise dramatically wipes out my hearing. Without the static, I scored 76% (truly I thought I did 100%); with the static it dropped to 50-something. One reason I am uncomfortable in many restaurants.
Hearing difficulties can’t be solved by just turning up the volume. Somehow the brain is linked in there. In many instances, I hear a word clearly, but it just doesn’t register with my brain. It’s like it’s a foreign language—and then I’ll find out it’s a simple word like “vacation.” I miss a lot in sermons and lectures because of this. If I don’t “plug in” at the beginning of a talk, I’m liable to be lost all the way through.
The upshot of today’s testing is that my hearing is no better, no worse. And I left with instructions to play a mind game (with a musical background) on my phone for 40 minutes a week for the next two months and email a screen shot of the results to Sarah every week. (I had to be taught about screen shots too—such a Luddite.) I can do this, and I’m glad to be part of an educational experiment.
Next week: an ophthalmologist’s appointment. Now that one really makes me nervous. When they say, “Which is better, one or two?” I always want to ask, “Who’s grading this test?” Yikes.