Sight or Hearing? Pick One

“Would you rather lose your sight or hearing?” is how it would start. It was usually late at night, in someone’s dorm room, when we should have been working on a paper or trying to figure out the meaning of some poem. Instead, we were having what we thought were deep philosophical discussions about the hypothetical loss of 1 or 2 of our senses. We were 18 or 19. Some of us wore glasses. We were young and healthy. None of us had faced the reality of such a loss.

My hearing loss bothers me the most

“How’s your vision?” a friend asked at lunch yesterday. I heard her concern but also flashed back to those teenage years. She knew about my journey with macular degeneration, and I knew about her total loss of hearing in one ear from Meniere's disease. Could we have imagined this discussion 50 years ago?

“Wait a minute while I adjust my hearing aids to the ‘restaurant’ setting. It’s noisy in here,” I said. Yes, my hearing aids allow me to filter out the background chatter in a noisy restaurant. Just like the flashlight app makes it possible to read the menu. “Actually, it is my hearing loss that bothers me most,” I told her.

She looked puzzled. I think she expected a different response when I said, “Even with these hearing aids, it isn’t always easy to hear what people are saying. I don’t need anyone else to read or watch television.” She smiled when I added, “Unless you count whoever did the close captioning.”

At that moment, I realized that hearing involves someone or something else like a whistling tea kettle and functioning hearing aids.

Having hearing that is stable, but not quite normal

Many people assume that just because you are “old,” you will lose vision or hearing. My experience was that my hearing loss began at about age 30. My then-husband and I were outside the house working in the garden. He turned to me in exasperation: “Are you going to get the phone?” (Some of us remember the days before cell phones when you had to go to the phone, not carry it with you.)

My response: “What phone?” What he heard, I did not. It took 5 years before I needed an aid, another 20 before I moved to 2. Today, creeping toward 80, my hearing is stable, but 40 percent of what is “normal.”

Many of us lose both vision and hearing

One of my best friends, same age, has perfect hearing. Others use aids. I know no one who doesn’t wear glasses or contacts.

My vision is stable after almost 3 years post-diagnosis. Part of that I attribute to regular intravitreal injections. Genetics must play some role. I try to do all those things doctors tell us to do to protect our vision: sunglasses, a big hat, those vitamins, a healthy diet, and no smoking. None of those can hurt.

The irony of life is that for many of us, it is vision and hearing. We lose both in some measure. We never thought of that possibility sitting around the dorm.

Consistently inconsistent

My husband considers me a paradox, both a Pollyanna and a Doomsayer, finding the good in my current situation. At the same time, I bemoan my dependence on hearing aids and the insistence of the National Geographic magazine to use tiny white type on dark photographs.

Perhaps I am consistently inconsistent. It depends on the day and even the hour. When the hearing aids are working and I can read my e-book or listen to a podcast, I can say, “Life is pretty good.” When I can’t find a battery or my eyes are tired from too many hours before a screen, I whine.

How about you? Where do you find yourself on the Pollyanna-Doomsayer scale?

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