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I have been a practicing audiologist for the past thirty-three years, and have always taken good care of myself and considered myself to be in very good health. Little did I know on how my health would hit so "close to home" with my profession this past March. It was during the State "B" basketball tournament in Aberdeen, that I took seriously ill with what was diagnosed as influenza B, and for the next five days, I was absolutely miserable. When I finally felt well enough to go back to work, I found that I was dealing with an annoying ringing in my left ear. It was so loud it was disrupting my focus and concentration. In addition to that, my three colleagues pointed out to me that I was "missing" things being said, or misinterpreting people in conversations. I usually have a pretty good sense of humor about those kind of things, but inside, it was starting to bother me.

What really hit me hard was hearing myself say all the things my patients tell me when they're dealing with hearing loss, like "people mumble all the time," or "people don't speak up," or "you don't look at me when you talk." That really convicted me, and I decided to discuss the matter with my three colleague audiologists. One of them gave me a very thorough hearing test, and to my surprise, I found I had lost almost forty decibels of hearing! The tests also revealed that my left ear was worse than my right, and when there is an unequal hearing loss between the ears, and with the ringing being so pronounced in my left ear, that I needed to visit with one of ear, nose and throat doctors on staff at Midwest Ear, Nose and Throat.

I visited with Dr. Ken Scott, and he wanted to make sure I ruled out any possibility of a tumor, so I underwent an MRI, which to my relief, was negative. So, the viral attack on my ears left me with compromised hearing, as well as having to constantly focus and concentrate in order to make sure I heard people right the first time. However, I found it to become increasingly easier said than done, encountering more and more struggles and embarrassing moments in my interactions and conversations. I finally had to realize that I really was not representing myself or my profession very well by denying myself the help that I have worked all my career to provide for others.

With the help of my three colleagues, I was finally fit with a set of digital hearing devices in each ear the end of July of this year. At first, it was a little strange and intimidating, at times a nuisance that I didn't want to bother with, and yes, I found myself even dealing with the stigma that they "made me look old!" Once again, I caught myself saying all the same things I hear my patients tell me when they're adapting to wearing hearing devices for the first time! My colleagues reminded me that I too, had to be patient and persevere, and in the end, better hearing and ease of conversations while using them will ultimately prevail! My other issue with my annoying tinnitus was not going away, and I found myself growing frustrated that I was going to have to deal with that nerve-wracking sound in my head all my life. Then, two weeks into my wearing my new devices, I contacted a specialist with the manufacturer of my hearing devices, and she asked me to let her trying something different in terms of how my digital aids would be set. Within thirty minutes after her setting the devices with her unique approach, I could not believe it!! The noise in my head went quiet!! I admit that it is not totally gone, but I do have to stop and think if it is there now when I'm wearing my devices, and that is a life-changing improvement for me! It's not a cure, and I'm reminded of that every time I take my hearing devices out, for within a few minutes, the tinnitus comes roaring back!

My decision to take this lemon life has given me and turn it into lemonade has given me the opportunity to work with technology that removes the stigma of looking old wearing a hearing aid, to being someone pretty tech savvy, as my device settings for volume, noise control, wind noise, and my tinnitus treatment all operate off an App for my Iphone! My Bluetooth connection through my phone actually allows me to stream music, talk radio, and even ballgames straight to my hearing devices! What a bonus that is to me at my gym, not having to deal with headphone cords flopping all over the place!

While hearing loss is a struggle, it doesn't have to be a lifelong sentence. I've gained a whole new dimension of empathy for what my patients go through now that I have taken that journey myself. I now realize that all the counsel I have given the past thirty-three years, while it may be simple, it does not necessarily mean it's easy! I now recognize that later in life, no one really wants to wear a hearing aid, but I also now know that it is way better than having to struggle to hear and understand others on my own! That being said, I know I can help people even more, and with the mantra of, "If I can do it, so can you!."

Written by Robert Froke, MA, CCCA, November, 2015

Midwest Ear, Nose & Throat
2315 West 57th Street  •  Sioux Falls, South Dakota 57108  •  605-336-3503  •  Toll-free 888-336-3503  •  Fax 605-336-6010