“I see you wear hearing aids… you are so brave”
Dr. Blake Papsin is Otolaryngologist-in-Chief at SickKids. He is also Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Toronto and the Jordan and Lisa Gnat Family & Bastable-Potts Chair in Otolaryngology at SickKids.
I was recently at a surgical meeting and one of my colleagues, a very renowned otologic (ear) surgeon, noticed my hearing aids and said this to me. I defused the moment with some humorous comment but it got me thinking about what hearing loss and hearing aids mean to my patients who are often teenagers in the midst of tremendous social pressures and image development. This comment came from a surgeon who deals with hearing loss so I can only imagine what others might say when they see a pair of hearing aids on someone.
So for starters, I am brave for many reasons, including the fact that I ride a bicycle to work in downtown Toronto! I don’t wear hearing aids to make a statement; I wear them so that I can hear people talking to me. There is an enormous amount of data that shows that cognitive development is dependent on addressing hearing loss and even more data showing hearing clearly preserves cognitive capacity as we age. As soon as humans can’t hear clearly they tend to isolate themselves and pull back from engaging in conversation, which is fundamental to development and socialization. They don’t like to say “what” and hate having to ask people to repeat themselves. I communicate for a living and when I say “what” people wonder if I either was not paying attention to them or am not so bright. This is not how I want to be perceived. If I chose not to address my hearing loss, I would have to be very brave indeed.
You know who is brave? Kids who get it. Kids who wear their hearing aids (in pink, green or Maple Leaf blue) because they want to hear and are not afraid to stand out a little. I mean, who doesn’t have something in their ear these days?
It is May, and that means it is Speech and Hearing Awareness Month, so I would like to salute my patients who wear hearing aids because they want to hear their world, and are also truly brave because they face the daunting task of educating their families, teachers, friends and communities about how important every conversation is.