Articles

I TAKE MY EARS OFF AT NIGHT

This man is stone deaf.. Yet, with a gadget the size of a cigarette pack and a neat little button in his ear, he has come back from the world of eternal silence to hold down an important government job. And even better, he can tune out riveters, bores, thunder and his son’s trombone

NORRIS HODGINS January 1 1951
Articles

I TAKE MY EARS OFF AT NIGHT

This man is stone deaf.. Yet, with a gadget the size of a cigarette pack and a neat little button in his ear, he has come back from the world of eternal silence to hold down an important government job. And even better, he can tune out riveters, bores, thunder and his son’s trombone

NORRIS HODGINS January 1 1951

I TAKE MY EARS OFF AT NIGHT

This man is stone deaf.. Yet, with a gadget the size of a cigarette pack and a neat little button in his ear, he has come back from the world of eternal silence to hold down an important government job. And even better, he can tune out riveters, bores, thunder and his son’s trombone

NORRIS HODGINS

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN

ALMOST EVERYONE who has seen a man with one of those neat little buttons in his ear probably has wondered: How the heck does that thing work? Is it any good? Can he really hear with it?

Many of the thousands of Canadians wearing hearing aids are still looked on with the same of pained curiosity that used to be reserved for old-fashioned ear trumpets which you still occasionally in comic strips.

But the fact is that science has rescued thousands from the special kind of living death which deaf people can know. A revolution in hearing been accomplished in a few years so that today people like myself are leading normal useful lives.

Today if you sat a few feet from me and shouted in my bare ear at the top of your lungs I probably wouldn’t hear you. For all practical purposes stone deaf. Yet, with my hearing aid—an assembly smaller than a cigarette package, finely wired to receiver “button” in my ear—I lead a full business and social life. During the past 10 years I’ve government posts which called for better-thanaverage hearing, including that of executive assistant to the Deputy Minister of Agriculture during the war and my present position as director of information in the Department of Agriculture.

Far from being handicapped by deafness, I have learned that a hearing aid gives me advantages over people with normal hearing.

One night a few summers ago a neighboring cottager came to me in alarm because her boy and his chum hadn’t returned from a fishing trip. I took her down to the dock, turned my hearing aid up full volume and was able to tell her that the lost boys were talking at the other side of the lake half mile away.

In 1940 at a conference held in a hall with particularly poor acoustics I turned up the volume of my aid and summarized for the chairman—a man with acute hearing—statements by delegates the back of the room.

At a meeting in London, Ont., some years ago the crowd was too big for the convention hall and overflow delegates were directed to a second room where they were to hear the speeches from a loudspeaker. This worked fine until the question period, when the overflow group was unable to hear remarks delivered from the floor of the convention hall. posted myself near the door of the second room, turned up the volume on my aid, caught the questions in the other room and relayed them to my audience. But I had to remember to flip back my volume to prevent the answers—coming through the loud speaker—from blowing my head off.

Wearing a hearing aid has other advantages. My son, who plays a trombone, is a fervent jazz fan and frequently has a group of pals in for a session. They often have the joint jumping, to use his own words, a time when I want to sit down and quietly read the paper. But I don’t even bother to get out of the rpom. I simply tune them out and sit there reading blissful silence.

I put my aid on after I’ve shaved in the morning and leave it on until I put it on the night table bedtime. The only other time it’s off is when washing or swimming. When I go to the beach I the assembly in the pocket of my shorts. When I into the water I put it in my shoe and leave it the beach with my glasses.

In simple terms, my hearing aid consists of microphone to pick up the sounds and a three-tube amplifier to make them intelligible. A tiny assembly that hangs from my neck by a white shoelace underneath my shirt contains the “mike,” efficient little vacuum tubes and an A battery and B battery. The only wire is a threadlike affair leading to the receiver or ear button. The receiver snaps like dome fastener onto a molded plastic form which fits into my ear and provides the necessary snug contact. This apparatus is fitted to the ear on which hearing is least impaired.

You might think a hearing aid would sound to the wearer like a voice over a loudspeaker to a person with normal hearing. But to those who wear them it is a clear natural tone, perhaps because there nothing to make it sound—by comparison— mechanical. The hearing aid is my ear and to me represents normal sound. But if I were to change my present set for a new one it would sound strange for a few days.

There’s a control knob on the assembly which works like the volume control on a radio and which I operate as automatically as the driver uses the clutch on a car. I can bring in whispering speakers comfortably, and rather than say “For heaven’s sake, don’t shout!” to the folks who start hollering as soon as they see a hearing aid I simply tune them down.

On a train when I’d rather read than listen to a traveling salesman’s stories, most of which I heard years ago, I just switch off and I’m alone with my book. By tuning down the volume I can make a six-cylinder jalopy sound like a 16-cylinder limousine. When I’m driving on a washboard road I can make it sound as if I were riding on an advertising writer’s prose.

I make good use of my volume control in church. Some preachers have a way of delivering a splendid sermon for 20 minutes, then taking 25 minutes to tell you what they said. I reach for my control as soon as they start repeating themselves.

I sleep like a log. The house could fall and I wouldn’t hear it. My wife will sometimes say in the morning: “Wasn’t that a terrible thunderstorm last night?” It will be the first I’ve known that the night wasn’t serene and peaceful. When I’m working I can tune out distracting sounds, from a type-

writer to a riveting machine.

Continued on page 33

LEN NORRIS GOES TO A NEW YEAR'S PARTY

Continued from page 23

Sometimes I tune myself out a little too completely. Once I was at my desk and I looked up to see a stranger apparently yammering wordlessly— and furiously. A twiddle of my control brought me into the middle oF a sentence and I spent the next few seconds trying to convince a throughly angry caller that 1 hadn’t purposely snubbed him and trying to guess at the previous installment of his remarks.

Another thing that’s apt to give a stranger a start is to see me answer the phone. My “ear” is on my chest and when I answer a phone I put the receiver on my wishbone. Anyone who doesn’t know what I’m doing is likely to start looking around for the nearest exit. Incidentally, I don’t like a cradle phone. Trying to get my head down to my chest or shifting the phone rapidly between chest and head makes me feel either like a contortionist or a juggler.

There are, of course, a few slight inconveniences to wearing an aid. I can’t detect direction of sound. If I were berry picking and somebody shouted “Bear!” I’d probably race right into the animal’s arms. If I’m walking along the street and a pneumatic cement breaker starts beside me, I have to move fast to cut down the volume. Teas and cocktail parties are perhaps worst of all. A person with normal hearing is able to concentrate his hearing on one person at a time. I hear everybody in the room at once— with almost equal volume — and the general effect is confusing.

Progressive deafness like mine happens so gradually that it’s hard to say when it begins. I experienced no aches, no strange noises in my head, no nausea. It took the form of nothing more startling than a growing sense of tranquillity, though I learned that this was not always shared by members of my family who had to make themselves heard. I was one of those deaf people who added to the confusion and to everyone’s irritability by pretending to hear when they don’t.

I first began to have difficulty with my hearing about 12 years ago when I was teaching at Macdonald College, McGill University. But when I became secretary of the Agricultural Supplies Board at the start of World War II my troubles really started. It was my job to keep an accurate record of daily discussions by the board. Sometimes I’d be trying to catch the remarks of men who might be talking out of the corners of their mouths or talking and smoking a pipe at the same time.

Let me say right here: if you’re talking to a deaf person enunciate clearly and turn your head toward him when you speak; most deaf people do some lip reading. If he fails to catch what you’ve said, raise your voice slightly and repeat. But don’t shout. It’s like a slap in the face to a deaf person.

Between pretending to hear when I didn’t, trying to decipher remarks that people with normal hearing couldn’t have caught, and having to go to the members after the meetings and ask what they said—I lost 10 pounds. I became nervous and irritable to the point where I finally decided to do something about it.

My first doctor said my trouble was catarrhal. He put me on a diet and had me come in twice a week to “have my ears blown out” (to open the Eustachian tubes). When this brought no change I suggested getting a hearing aid. The doctor said I’d be wasting money, that it wouldn’t help my type of deafness. But I refused to give up. My second specialist found no signs