Last night, the spouse and I trudged through the snow to my hearing aid fitting at the David Cronenberg clinic. It was a 6:30pm appointment again. We arrived at the swanky sliding entrance doors, but three weeks is clearly a long time in hospital terms because the previously swooshing doors now juddered shakily open 3 feet and then jammed. We squeezed through the gap and were met by a plethora of orange traffic cones in the shiny atrium and lots of black footprints. We didn’t fall for the escalators this time and went straight up in the lift, cutting about half a mile off the journey to clinic O.
There was absolutely no-one there at all this time, not even the receptionist, but there were a series of handwritten signs on A4 paper saying ‘hearing aid fittings round the corner’ sellotaped to strategic vantage points. This very much reminded me of Alan Fletcher’s image of a sign scrawled on corrugated cardboard in a ditch, saying ‘flying lessons here’, designed to illustrate authority in typography. I was just pondering whether, in actual fact, a handwritten sign might be more appropriate than formal typography for hearing aid fittings after all, when two sharp-suited men appeared in unison from around the corner. When I said my name, the sharpest suited chap did the now familiar hand pumping NHS thing and ushered me into his room of doom with such speed that I forgot to say bye bye to the spouse.
Once inside, I was met by a cross between a watchmakers workshop and what looked like a hasty moonlight flit of audio equipment. I was instructed to get as close as possible to a speaker sitting on top of a box with hundreds of wires coming out the back. There was a chair there so I sat on it, but this was not the correct response. “NO, STAND IN FRONT OF IT AND I’LL MOVE THE CHAIR. NOW SIT”. He then went on to say “OKAY, YOU’RE GETTING THE SMALLEST AID AVAILABLE AND WE DON’T GIVE THESE OUT TO MANY PEOPLE. THE ONLY REASON WE ARE ALLOWED TO GIVE YOU THIS IS BECAUSE OF YOUR TYPE OF LOSS….” So far so good, I thought “…I MUST WARN YOU, HOWEVER…” Oh, God, what now “…YOUR LOSS IS SMALL BUT IF YOUR HEARING CONTINUES TO GET WORSE, THESE WON’T BE POWERFUL ENOUGH, YOU’LL NEED TO GET THE BIGGER ONES.” I willed my auditory nerve to stop its bad behaviour right now.
“RIGHT, I’M GOING TO PLAY YOU THE RANGE OF SOUND THIS AID CAN MAKE”. He picked up what appeared to be a pair of headphones (without the ear bits on) attached to a handle, and held it up in front of my face like a priest holding a crucifix in an exorcism. The speakers then emitted a terrifyingly loud tone which went from low to high like a spaceship taking off and, although many people had warned me about how I ain’t seen nothin’ yet till I’ve been to a hearing aid fitting, I now knew what they were talking about. Next up, the crucifix headphones were applied to my heid, with the aid attached. The earpiece felt pleasantly tickly going in and I was lulled into a false sense of security. “Ouch!” I jumped in a reflex action as something, it felt like the jewellers’ screwdriver I had seen on the table when I came in, but wasn’t, was now being jabbed into my eardrum. This happened several more times, the intensity of my jumps becoming greater as the anticipation became greater.
“RIGHT, GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT NEXT TO THAT SPEAKER, I’M GOING TO PROGRAMME THE AID, DON’T MOVE AND DON’T SPEAK OR MAKE ANY NOISE”. I was hunched right over the bloody thing, wires everywhere, already feeling the first twinges of cramp and terrified of what dire consequences might accompany any involuntary movement. The next thing, my eardrums were blasted with white noise as the suited man rattled away on the computer. After a while I felt I could hear voices in the white noise and I wondered if the scientologists had come in, killed everyone in the David Cronenberg clinic, put up some signs to lure me in and I was now on my way to a spaceship.
After an eternity, the white noise stopped and some even stranger ones started. The suited man was talking to me. He now sounded like a dalek. “Okay, that’s you hearing through the aid now,” he said. For the first time in my life I was speechless, I hadn’t seen this one coming. “You’ll find your voice sounds a bit strange at first, but you’ll get used to it after a while.” I wanted to cry, but realising what a total ingrate I would appear when loads of people would give their eye teeth to hear what I was hearing, I muttered something about everything sounding a bit different and noted internally how strange my voice sounded right enough. “Open fit is much better than the earmoulds you’ll need if you get worse,” he said, “you really get the full ‘head in a biscuit tin’ effect with those”. I wanted to cry again. Fortunately I was momentarily distracted.
“What’s that noise?” I said, “that rhythmic ticking noise”. It was incredibly loud and seemed to be coming out of the table in front of me. I turned my head from side to side hoping this would help identify both the sound and where it was coming from, but no, it was definitely coming out of the table. Surely not a bomb despite the plethora of wires, I mused, but could it be a tapdancing woodworm colony? I’ve completely lost my ability to tell where sounds are coming from lately, so ticking tables, blackbirds singing in my bedside cabinet and planes landing in the hallway all seem quite normal. My quest was helpfully ended by the suited man. “Probably the clock”, he said, gesturing to a clock above the door behind me. Speechless again.
And that’s just the beginning.