Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chic Magnet

This being a term from the past it is an appropriate title for a post that will illuminate elements of my past. It could just as easily be labeled ‘Digitally Remastered’.

I am ‘Rocking’ (again with the new century jargon, …gag me with a back hoe!) a pair of high fidelity, digital, color coordinated …… hearing aids. Yes it is true Phonak is not just a sponsor for PED enhanced professional bicycle racers, they also make products. Damn good ones I might add. This is my second pair of Phonaks within the last 15 years and true to my Colnago tastes I ’roll’ (OY!) with the very best!

Chic magnet? Well maybe down at the senior center but despite my age in human years as calculated from my ‘real’ (not Hawaiian) birth certificate I still have trouble accepting the accoutrements of a life lived to excess, … and past prime. Not that I am on the prowl mind you, but the day you start wearing hearing aids, that’s the day you discard all pretenses of being a ‘playah’. In fact, as for most of your life’s passions you can pretty much cast them all in the past tense (back in the old days) unless you find you have recently taken up lawn bowling or shuffleboard.

Now understand; I am married and happily so, but a man will still want to look and feel his best, for his loving wife to brag on if nothing else.  As ever, the best of life is generally assigned to the young; if you’re not young your ‘best’ is behind you. Even the best, latest, high tech hearing aids, you know those big gawky hangin’ off the back of your ears devices fairly shout geezer. In fact I am surprised they don’t come with a complimentary rayon leisure suit.

When I first started wearing hearing aids I was a lot younger and occasionally they were a conversation starter, because, you know, they seemed a little out of place for someone my age (back in the day … Oy!) No longer. Now they just go along with all my other age appropriate baggage. I have often said I don’t mind getting older, I just hate the consequences and for those who can’t quite grok that, hearing aids are the perfect illustration.

So far I’m loving them. Hearing again takes some getting used to and these things are far from perfect. While they make speech easier to hear they really amplify NOISE! Maybe the HVAC system in the ceiling really is that noisy, the Freeway noise coming over the concrete wall really is THAT LOUD! Actually I know that is not entirely the case, because if you want to see me chip the enamel off my teeth just take a crisp fresh sheet of 12# bond and wrinkle it up close to one of my ears. YIKES! The sound and volume remind me of the few times I found myself standing a little too close to a crowning forest fire.

All the complaining aside, I can say I wish I had gotten them sooner. I have been without ‘aids’ for more than a month now, my old ones self destructed simultaneously, and I was stuck squarely on the horns of that technology creep purchasing dilemma. You know the drill:

  • Repairing the old ones would be a major investment in outdated technology
  • My hearing has deteriorated markedly in the ten plus years since I got them 
  • Even fully repaired, these older devices are not going to be much help with my particular hearing loss 
  • Technology has leapt forward: My old aids were pre-smart phones, pre-MP3, pre-blue tooth. (the new high end models can actually serve as a blue tooth device) 
  • The new technology has made great strides with my particular hearing problems
These factors combined, particularly the fact that my hearing is now so bad, made a rational decision pretty easy. If we were talking fancy, new, light weight, wheels, or another custom rando bike frame, my rationale might be suspect. I’m confident of making a rational decision about what hearing aid route to follow. So logically, I chose to go for the new tech, and I got close to top of the line stuff. Somewhere between Campy Super Record 11, and Shimano Dura Ace Di2. For those of you not fluent in Bike, this is like somewhere between Ferrari and Lamborghini. If you don’t know Ferrari from Lamborghini, well, you probably quit reading this before you got this far. I’m not telling you this as a brag; truth be told it seems almost a shame, sort of like blowing your years allowance on chrome plated underwear when you could have gotten a new bike (or whatever your weakness is).

The cost/benefit calculation was a lot more like swallowing a porcupine, butt first. Let’s just say that the price of my left hearing aid was enough to pay completely the total cost of my 2003 trip to PBP and then some. Take what was left over and add it to the cost of my right H-aid (they both cost the same by the way) and I could pay for another custom lugged steel bike frame, and still have enough left over for a double tall no foam Macchiato with a dash of nutmeg, and a chocolate covered bean, weekly, … for a year! In other words these things are stupid expensive.

Absolutely worth it. 
It's one thing when the audiologist says that you are profoundly deaf in your left ear (not sure it that is more or less deaf than ‘deaf’) and that your hearing loss in your right ear is ‘severe’. It is quite another thing to sit in a meeting with a group of people and not be able to hear what almost all of the women and many of the men with softer voices are saying. Not to be a sexist here but women are just harder for me to hear. This is not just the men’s conspiracy to ignore the wife. It turns out that the first casualty of industrial hearing loss (typically) is the frequencies within which much of the female voice resides. Oh, and it is no good to announce at the start of that meeting: “I’m deaf, could you all speak up?” Because believe me, even if you do that, people just forget after about 28 seconds and revert to speaking in ‘normal’ tones and then the conversation is lost to you.
  • You wind up using the speaker mode on the phone because otherwise you can’t hear, even with the handset volume turned all the way up. And of course people always want to know who’s in the room and why they are on speaker.
  • And you have to mute the TV or any other source of background noise whenever someone says something, because … you can’t hear.

Background noise is the giant killer. No intimate talk in the restaurant, no back and forth about the announcers revelation on the nightly news, and forget about a conversation in the car. And as the one with bad hearing you tend to forget that it is not just your burden; everyone is self conscious about speaking louder than what they perceive to be ‘normal’. It produces a particular strain on relationships because who do you talk and listen to most? The ones you love the most, and you can’t help but get annoyed when you are constantly saying “I can’t hear you” to the same person, no matter how much love is there.

These things are not the perfect solution, I don’t have the hearing of Brad Pitt and they certainly don’t lend that Brad Pitt caché. They are just another expensive, high tech crutch created to fill yet another need of the aging boomer generation. (Thankfully, I have no need for Viagra, Lipitor, or cataract surgery).

I wonder what the age adjusted cultural crutches will be for the gen-exers? A simpler, more perfect form of tattoo removal? Cosmetic piercing cover-ups? Will there be new maladies that result from wearing ear buds and thumb texting 18 hours a day?

Actually I have an idea to make a million but I think I am about 35 years before my time: How about hearing aids that can be mounted in ear piercing holes! And we could make ‘gel skinz’ covers, you know with a glittery dragon in sequins, or maybe in the shape of ‘skullz’. That would be totally awesome! Hey gen-exers, I’m your beta tester, rock me some love!

When I got home from work, I shut the engine off, sat in the cab of the truck and fiddled with the volume control and program mode switch on the aids. I am still getting things dialed in, and finding the right settings will take some time. The little computer inside the aids records my use patterns and when I go back to the audiologist for a checkup, she will be able to see what manual adjustments I have been making and then modify the program modes to better match my needs. A truck cab is sort of like a sound booth.  I sat there for a minute and listened to see what I could hear.  A smile crept into the corners of my mouth as I realized I was listening to something I had not heard in years: raindrops were drumming on the roof of the cab.


  1. Can you use them to listen to tunes via bluetooth while riding? Great to avoid the wires. And don't worry, you're still that Sexy Beast to the rest of us Boomers, and there are plenty of us.

  2. Re. Chic Magnet, Dr. Codfish Chronicles, February 15. 2011

    The new generation of digital hearing aids though imperfect as you point out are truly phenomenal, much better then the older analog brute force models. I have been wearing a pair for the last 4 years and have found the difference to be remarkable. However, two burning questions come to mind. Firstly, why are hearing aids (audiologists call them instruments) so expensive? Desk top or lap top computers with much more processing power are available for about half the cost of a single digital hearing aid? Function and cost do not seem to scale. Secondly, and possibly more important, is related to riding a bicycle. One of the great joys of riding brevets is chatting with other randonneurs and randonneuses. However, the wind noise amplified by the hearing aids is a problem. I would be interested whether you or your correspondents (who are legion) have a solution to this vexing problem.



  3. Curio:
    I'm sure this would be possible however:
    1. As a deaf(ish) person I've made very little investment in music over the last 20 years in terms of hardwear, softwear and well, I've not paid music much attention, so it's just not something that's been on my radar, and;
    2. I am philosophically opposed to the concept of riding a bike with earbuds, I think it is unsafe.

    I.F: I am with you on all counts. To my thinking there is no reason that in the time since I bought my first pair of digital 'instruments' (over 10 years ago) and now that the cost of same should have increased THREE FOLD!!! Sure the technology is through the roof, but remember in 1986 when an IBM pc (with all the computing power of todays pocket calculator) cost $6,000? Where's the justice???

    As for aids while riding, I too suffer from the fact that riding with other people is really no fun (for them), about all they get from me is WHAAA? or a knowing nod (because I didn't hear). If they could solve the wind noise problem, then it might indeed be worth the cost.

    Deaf people unit!! pitchforks and fire brands to the fore!