Phonakered

Perhaps Floyd Landis winning the Tour de France is a good enough reason to write a little bit about my own fun with Phonak. It has been almost exactly four months since I went bionic by starting to wear two Phonak "hearing instruments" - hearing aids, for those of you trapped in a 20th-c. hearist mindset.

I think that the experience has, over all, been a good one. I mean, as good as it can get when I've just spent a huge sum of money on two "hearing devices" that will only mask the fact that I'm slowly going deaf. But that sure beats the alternatives - going deaf quickly, not being able to hear your wife, etc. And anyhow, you, too, are slowly going deaf. Only I'm slowly doing it more quickly.

And but so, wearing the hearing aids has been a good thing. Just as advertised (by a slightly creepy snow owl), they do in fact help me hear a lot better. Taking them out each night on going to bed, I'm always struck by just how quiet the world gets. Most of the same sounds are there - the air conditioner thrumming, the baby monitor picking up the white noise machine in Julia's room, a car on the street - but all of the sounds are dampened, muffled, flattened. There's no detail to them. And anything Shannon says then, she might as well just say three times.

Conversely, putting the aids in each morning - which isn't really a pleasant experience, though not really unpleasant, either: just imagine sliding a wad of plastic into each ear canal (specifically, the external auditory meatus - if only it meant something to brag about my augmented meatus) - makes the world seem a lot richer. In the few minutes it takes for the brain to adjust after I put them in, I perform several very loud acts. Combing my hair, for instance, sounds like raking very dry leaves.

But then the aids' processors kick in and choose the right settings - just enough volume, just enough bass and treble (or whatever the right terms are). On and off over the course of every day, though, the aids reset themselves to new situations - say, leaving my preternaturally quiet office and going out into the wind. Every time, there's the sensation (but not the reality) of my ears popping as the aids turn themselves waaaay down, then tick back up to the right level. Every time, I'm amazed at the thought that computers are literally controlling one of my senses. Every time, I hear a lot better in a few seconds.

Sometimes, a little too well. Sounds inside my head - chewing something crunchy, my pulse when I'm working out, the little voices - are always way too loud, and since the sounds aren't coming in through the ear canal, the instruments can't modify them. Just this evening, in the middle of a workout, I actually stopped to look behind me because my pounding pulse sounded just like footfalls. The amplification of cranial sounds is one of the two main drawbacks to the devices. The other is their unholy smell. Suffice to say that sweat and ear wax do not combine to smell like roses. Many are the kleenexified trees which will die to ensure that I can wipe down the devices a zillion times a day.

But those of us with stinky microphonic computers in our ears are surprisingly numerous. My "completely in canal" devices are very small, so they're pretty hard to notice unless you know to look for them. Just the same, I make a point of checking out people's ears, and every few days I find another member of the club - a faculty member at Carleton, the college president. Call us the HUH - Hearing-Underwhelmed Humans. Don't fear or pity us - unless you want to chip in for the hearing aid batteries. Then you can do whatever you want. Those things are spendy.

email: christopher at tassava dot com