Life with Harry’s Hearing Loss
Harry is 62 and has been married to his college sweetheart, Sue, for almost 40 years. Sue knows that Harry doesn’t hear as well as he used to, but she’s not sure what to do about it. Every time she brings it up he has an excuse, such as “Kids these days all mumble.” Sue wants to be supportive, but she’s starting to resent having to negotiate her life around Harry’s hearing problems. Here’s how a typical day with Harry goes.
Sue and Harry have a cup of coffee together before heading to their respective jobs.
Sue: Remember, I’ll be home a little late tonight.
Harry: What are you bringing home tonight? Pizza? Make it pepperoni.
Sue: No, Harry. (Raises voice) I said I’ll be home a little late tonight. I have dinner plans with Janet and Sarah. Remember, I told you when I made them last week.
Harry: You never told me that. But fine.
Sue: But I did on Friday when we …never mind. I thought you heard me.
As Sue washes their coffee mugs in the sink, Harry is half out the door.
Sue: Don’t forget it’s trash day!
Harry: Huh? Oh, you have a good day, too.
Sue: Did you hear what I said?
Harry closes the door. A few moments later, Sue hears his car pull out of the garage. She sighs, goes outside, and drags the trash can to the curb.
Sue gets an email from her friends saying they need to postpone their dinner plans until Thursday. Sue calls Harry to make sure she’s free that night.
Sue: So the girls would like to reschedule our dinner tonight, because Janet has to work late. Did you and I have anything planned for Thursday?
Harry: Can you talk into the phone more? I can hardly hear you.
Sue (pressing her lips to the mouthpiece and raising her voice): Is that better?
Harry: Good enough. What was that about being thirsty?
Sue: No, not… do you and I have any plans for Thursday night? My dinner tonight was postponed.
Harry: I’m sorry, hon, people are talking behind me. I only caught ‘plants’ and ‘postman’.
Sue spots co-workers in neighboring cubicles giving her irritated looks.
Sue (Cupping her hand around her mouth): I’ll just send you an email. Bye, Harry.
Thanks to Sue’s email, Harry knows she was disappointed to have her dinner plans canceled, so he decides to take her out to their favorite bistro. The restaurant is crowded tonight, with at least one table filled with people talking and laughing loudly.
Server: Welcome to Bistro 365. Would you like to start with a drink?
Sue: I’d love a gin and tonic. (Looks at Harry who stares back). Harry, what would you like to drink?
Harry: A drink? I’ll have a vodka and tonic.
Server (smiles and nods): I’ll get those right away.
Sue and Harry catch up on their days. After about ten minutes of all but shouting to Harry over the noisy crowd, Sue is relieved to see the server show up with their drinks.
Server: Here you go. Are you ready to order?
Harry (to Sue): What?
Sue: Do you know what you want for dinner?
Harry: The meatloaf.
Sue (to server): I’ll have the chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. My husband will have the meatloaf special.
Server (to Harry): And what would you like to have with your meatloaf?
Harry takes a sip of his drink.
Sue (to Harry): She said what do you want with your meatloaf, Harry?
Harry (startled, to Sue): Oh! Uh, what are my choices?
Sue (to server): What are his choices?
Server (glances uncertainly between Harry and Sue): Um, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, green beans, or creamed spinach.
Sue repeats the options to Harry.
Harry: Potatoes au gratin and green beans.
Sue (looks up at server, wearily): Did you get that?
Server (smiles sympathetically at Sue): Yes, ma’am, all set. I’ll put your orders in right away.
Sue takes a gulp of her gin and tonic to soothe her now-scratchy throat.
Do Sue and Harry’s interactions seem familiar? If so, you understand all-too-well the frustration and exhaustion of enabling a loved one to avoid dealing with their hearing loss by tailoring your lives around it. But rather than allowing a treatable condition to wear on your relationship, wouldn’t it be better to encourage your better half to accept they have difficulty hearing and do something about it?
It’s time to have a frank discussion about your beloved’s condition and how it’s affecting your life together. Provide support as they contact a hearing care professional and schedule a consultation. Go with them to their appointment, be part of any post-hearing test discussion of the results and next steps. If the proposed solution is to get hearing aids, show your support by helping them pick the best possible option for their hearing needs, style, and comfort preferences. Tackling hearing loss directly is the healthy choice for your spouse, for you, and for your relationship.
Jennifer Gehlen, Au.D. is an Educational Specialist at Sivantos, Inc., manufacturer of hearing aids branded Signia and Siemens. She provides training to customers and staff on company technology, products and software from face-to-face meetings to virtual sessions. She holds an Au.D. from the University of Florida, where she also received her undergraduate and master’s degrees. At Sivantos, Inc., she has previously held the roles of staff audiologist for manufacturing and customer support, and field training consultant. She has practiced audiology and hearing aid fitting in a variety of clinical settings in northern California and in the Tampa Bay, Florida area since 1993.