A couple of weeks ago, I went to see an audiologist and try out a hearing aid for my left ear, which has been hearing rather poorly ever since a benign tumor ate two of my ear bones. Go figure. Going in, I had a few expectations: that it would cost a lot, that I’d be weirded out by how it looked, and that it would be an obvious improvement. In fact, only one out of three was really correct.
On the plus side, hearing aids are so small they’re not particularly obtrusive, and after the worrying I already did, that my ear would look strange after surgery, they’re small potatoes. The issue is that they don’t sound like I thought they would: the experience is tinny, noticeably mechanical. It amplifies doors closing, my footsteps, the whoosh of traffic. Apparently the one I was wearing wasn’t quite the right strength for my ear, but still, it wasn’t what I’d hoped.
I was, of course, right that they would be expensive. Because why would insurance cover a reasonable fix for a medical problem? I MEAN, WHY?
I guess I’m still trying to think through how I felt about the experience, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing about it here. Or no, I still would be, I’d just be valedictory. “I am a cyborg now!” I’d say. “I fixed my problem with maturity and grace!” That was what I planned on, really.
The thing about being a cyborg is that you expect the transition to be seamless. Your new bionic leg feels like your old leg, except stronger. Your electronic eye pops in and suddenly matches your old one, but now you’ve got X-ray vision. My point is, it’s supposed to be an improvement, a la Luke Skywalker’s hand, and in fact the hearing aid felt more cobbled together, a la Furiosa’s arm in Mad Max: Thunder Road.
I’m probably underselling the magic of a hearing aid: it’s almost certainly a magnificent scientific achievement. But the 35 years I’ve already spent hearing the world unfiltered, almost unaware I was doing it, naturally altered my expectations. What I heard that day was unnervingly ersatz; it was the uncanny valley of audio. Almost real, kind of nifty, maybe not how I want to live my actual life.
Of course I’d get used to it: apparently you have six weeks (or six months?) to try out a hearing aid before you have to commit to buying it. So maybe I’ll do that. It seems like the mature decision, the one that leads to valediction. But at the moment, the world is quieter to my left side, and my right side compensates. The body knows what to do, at least as well as it possibly can. The body delivers.