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Lend me your ears.

How do you reveal to your dear wife that she not only has become hard of hearing, but that she's also beginning to mumble?

She, on the other hand, doesn't hesitate to suggest that it is me who couldn't hear "a sonic boom if it were in the next room," as she so quanintly puts it. Me, imagine. But to keep our marriage from going belly-up at this late date, I laugh it off as only a desperate defense for her own auditory deterioration.

Actually--and this is confidential--my only concession to the "silver citizen" generation has to do with my sense of smell; it's pretty well shot. In fact, and this is just between us, I couldn't smell a skunk if it were sitting on my lap eating garlic. But if my dear wife knew this, no telling what she might be trying to pass off at the dinner table. What she gets away with already is murder.

Anyway, I have approached her hearing problem tactfully, if I do say so myself. Other husbands might have come right out with something like, "By the way, dear, do you realize you're becoming deaf as a lamppost?" But I went to the Spencer-Owen Library to explore the reason why she is becoming deaf as a lamppost, and how we might avoid our current pattern of conversations:

Me: It looks like rain.

She: What?

Me: I said it looks like rain.

She: I didn't hear you.

Me: What?

She: I said I didn't hear you.

Me: IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN!

She: You don't have to shout.

Me: What?

She: Oh, forget it.

Now, I'm not suggesting--lest it put my eternal well-being in jeopardy--that our Maker in making man made a mistake. But it would have been thoughtful to have the human ears continue to grow with age. With a cutoff date, say, at around age 65, or at least before they reached the size where they'd be piling up on the shoulders. But earflaps of maybe 8 or 10 inches would certainly have saved conversations from being sprinkled with witty retorts such as "Hmm?" and "What?" to the more profound "How's that?" and "Come again?"

The library, however, didn't provide as much help as I had hoped. "Conductive deafness from earwax blockage" I understood, although I had to look up conductive. "Sensori-neural deafness from fluid pressure in the labyrinth" didn't mean a thing. (I thought the labyrinth was somewhere in Italy.) About the only explanation of my dear wife's condition that made sense was "the hearing mechanism gradually degenerates with age, and about one-fourth of the population over 65 need a hearing aid." Also within my intellectual grasp was the revelation "to an adult who has started to become deaf . . . high tones are less audible than low tones, and the sounds s, f, and z are not heard at all."

So where did that leave a man of my gentle nature? To tell my dear wife to go soak her ears was out. Definitely! To limit my usual witty remarks to words without the s, f, and z sounds could very well bring my usual witty remarks to a screeching halt. There would be less risk of our marriage ending up in small-claims court, I decided, if I girded up my loins and suggested to Dear Wife that she was ripe for a hearing aid.

But whadaya know, folks, when the idea presented itself, I lost my nerve.

We were watching a movie on Channel 4--watching the action but guessing at the dialogue--when she said, "If that's as high as the volume will go, the old set needs an overhaul."

The volume was loud enough at least that I had to reply, "What?"

"The volume is weak! The old set needs an overhaul!"

The perfect opening for me to inject, "It's your ears, old girl, that need an overhaul." But instead I meekly called the TV repairman.

For a mere $114.85 (the bill is now thumbtacked above my aging bride's sewing machine), he tinkered at the back of the set, put up a new aerial, and at 9 cents a running foot ran in a new coaxial cable guaranteed to bring in stations from outer space. Thoughtfully, he piled enough extra footage behind the set to reach the barn, should we ever choose to watch television out there.

When this did nothing to increase the volume, I took the bull by the tail and looked the issue square in the face, or however that goes.

"Why don't you try a hearing aid?" I suggested.

"What?"

"A hearing aid! Why don't you get one?"

"Why don't you?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."

"WHY DON'T YOU?"

That's the way I thought it would be. Me first. Always me. I had no need for bifocals, but I was the one who had to lead the way. I was the one who saw three steps off the patio when there were only two. I was the one on my hands and knees when she came out and asked what on earth I was doing.

"Looking for buckeyes," I explained.

"You're under the elm tree," she pointed out. (She was hearing all right at that time.) "The buckeye tree is over there."

"I've read that they now have hearing aids for dogs," she went back to jabbering. "We ought to get Brutus one."

She was right about that. Although we still had a "Beware of dog" sign posted, for Brutus to detect an intruder now, the intruder would have to intrude on his tail.

I should have said, "Why don't you get Brutus a hearing aid and you could share it?" but I didn't think of it until the next day. Instead, I said maybe I would try an implant, like Ronald Reagan's. I could have saved time by repeating it then, but instead I waited for the inevitable.

"What?"

"An implant!"

"What?"

"You can't what?"

These situations get even more serious when she asks me something like would I care for tea with my dinner. I tell her yes, tea would be okay. But I don't get tea. And why don't I get tea? Because I asked you, she says, and you didn't say. So I have to haul myself up from the table and make my own tea.

Another inconvenience associated with her hearing problem has to do with the phone ringing.

"Telephone," she'll call out. (She has even poked her head in the shower to tell me that the phone is ringing.)

"What?"

"The telephone! ... Can't you hear it?"

"Of course I can hear it."

"Well ... aren't you going to answer it?"

"It could be for you."

"ANSWER THE DARN PHONE!"

"Yes ma'am."

The only reason I let her get away with this at times is to build her confidence. If I should ever fall victim to her hearing handicap, I'm sure I would appreciate the same consideration.

As for the TV volume being below her hearing ear waves, I solved this problem thanks to a commercial hawking a gizmo called the "Sonic Ear." Designed like a pocket radio, the earphones to be clamped over the head are connected by wire to this amplifier. With the earphones in place, according to the lingo, you can "hear a pin drop from 50 feet away." What actually sold me, however, was the line "It works so incredibly well you literally won't believe your ears."

Although I had no use for the thing, to make Dear Wife feel at ease, I ordered two. And what do you know, folks, they actually work. So you'll find us at night watching TV with these contraptions clamped over our heads (that's one head apiecea) and looking like a couple of astronauts awaiting the countdown for the sofa to take off for the moon.

Whether the Sonic Ear deserves all the credit, I can't say. My wife's hearing has definitely improved. Just last night as I went to the kitchen to answer the phone, I muttered under my breath, "That's all I'm good for around here." Upon which she immediately responded, "You can say that again, buster!"

On second thought, it might have been the low tones, which are easiest to hear. I probably shouldn't have growled.
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Title Annotation:hearing problems
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:1377
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