Call me the Deaf mechanic

I went for a run with my running club last night as part of one of our social runs (called social because we finish off at a pub for a pint and some chips,not too healthy but we have been running so it’s a little treat!). As it was nighttime and as I were running on the road with a bunch of people I had decided it would be safer to keep my hearing aids in for as long as possible. The problem I encountered towards the end was that I hadn’t had any sweat band on and even though we are in Autumn now and the evening temperatures are dropping,by the time I had reached the end of the run at 5 miles i had sweated enough to wreck my hearing aids for the evening. 

Now for most if not all of us who are deaf in England, most of us rely on the NHS which although does the best job it can to offer us free care,isn’t the most perfect system. As such when hearing aids break for whatever reason it isn’t a simple case of popping in and getting it sorted straight away. Instead you have to book an appointment, not easy to do on the phone when you’re deaf and have a struggle to hear, or visit the hospital itself. If you’re lucky you may be able to get an emergency appointment within a week to get seen to (I have had to wait for a month before due to insufficient numbers of staff who can deal with special digital hearing aids). 

This is immensely frustrating,for a deaf person who suddenly can’t hear with life becoming that much harder. As such most of us who have been born deaf or became deaf at a very early age have become kind of hearing aid mechanics ourselves. 

None of us are taught this I have to ask,and it’s something which does need to change. Some hospitals do offer basic help which is a start, as many issues can actually be resolved simply. The hearing aid is comprised of many component parts which can be easily replaced.

From the picture above from left to right you see the ear mould. This is something that cannot be repaired or replaced at home as you have to get fitted at the hospital. It’s a strange sensation and one which for some reason I find entirely relaxing! But because everyone has unique ears you have to ensure you get fitted well,any mistake in the impression will lead to various problems,for myself I’ve had moulds that haven’t come out the machine properly and smoothed down leading to sharp bumps,these bumps to the finger senses are minute,but once they rub against the inner ear which is one of the most sensitive organs on the body,feel like someone is poking red hot needles in your ear! Other problems are illfitting moulds can lead to gaps between it and the ear. Hearing aids work by applifying sound through the device and through the mould. Because the sound is so high powered to make up for my level of hearing loss,any gaps lead to feedback and a constant annoying high pitch whistle. Sometime I can hear it,but not all the time,but it is a sound people who aren’t deaf can hear well! This is why is always important to find a good audiologist who knows how to make good impressions!

The next part of the hearing aid belongs to the mould and connects it to the device itself. These are simply called tubes. These are parts which can be replaced by an individual,it just takes some practise as they are fiddly to insert! Doing re-tubing of moulds generally leads to me testing my swearing vocabulary out! I live alone so it’s made even more difficult as I have to look in the mirror and try and cut the tube to the right length to the best of my abilities. It is for this reason my hearing aids always look like they are doing a balancing act on my ears as the tube is always too long! When I lived with my parents I had my dad to do this job for me and handy it was too! Because it is a finicky job many people prefer to get it done at the hospital even though it is only a 5 minute job,this is why I stick to doing it myself. 

The tube connects to a part informally known as an “elbow” and this is the bent pit of plastic you see connecting to the actual brown hearing aid. These tubes generally need to be replaced every 6 months as being on the ear,although it is gross,they collect general body bunk off the head. It is nasty but when you sweat or wash your hair you are left with dirt which ultimately gets inside the elbow. These can also get cracked,they are flimsy and I’ve broken quite a few trying to put the tubes on! Any good hearing department will let you have a couple of these so you can replace them as they are simply thread screwed on.

Now onto the hearing aid device itself. The modern aid has been made very difficult now to implement repairs. I’m guessing it’s cheaper for hospitals to send them back to the manufacturer rather than make in house repairs like they used to do in the past,with government cutbacks they probably don’t have any staff who can maintain them now. Some basic parts can be changed and the battery compartment can be cleaned out regularly, for me this is a necessity as running creates sweat,sweat reacting with the battery and copper parts inside creates rust and the copper to green up! 

In the old days you used to be able to take the case apart and see which part was broke and if you had access to someone who had the kit could replace it yourself. But as I said,hospitals no longer do this and so the outer case has a very tiny pop rivet to clip hearing aid together rather than a screw. This means like modern cars,you can’t do anything but the most basic of things. 

But my years of being deaf and having repaired my hearing aids has actually left me with enough knowledge to detect which part of the hearing aid I suspect is at fault,and many times having taken it for repairs have proved the hospital wrong! Goes to prove that although doctors and audiologists have undertaken all that learning, one of the extra lessons they need to have is listen to the patient! I don’t have the degree and I won’t pretend to know the whole anatomy of the ear or understand the genetic reasons why I was born deaf. But I do understand what it is that sets my ear off infection wise and having to wear hearing aids over 12 hours a day gives me an intimate knowledge of what they can and can’t cope with, ultimately this knowledge will help rather than hinder the professionals. 

Sometimes I think I’ve gone into the wrong profession, maybe I should have gone into the hearing aid world to be a mechanic of sorts! 

Happy reading fellow bloggers!

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