My wife, Joice, and I are both hard of hearing (auditory impairment) so we now have hearing aids. My ears started to go bad when I was about 60, probably the result of shooting guns when younger and riding around PNG in noisy single engine airplanes when I was a bit older. I could tell I needed hearing aids when every fifth word to my wife was answered with “huh?”.

There are all kinds and sizes of these little magnificent and costly devices and there are dozens of places that test one’s hearing to sell them. They are not cheap, that is if you buy them from one of the “hearing centers”, instead of a large box store like Walmart or Costco’s. There are also now places to buy them “on line” for around $200 each, which is 10 times less than the going audiology center price.

I bought my first pair around the year 2005 from Miracle Ear in the Sears store in Dallas, Texas. They were a brand name Metronic and fit right into the ear, very visible and very noisy. My audiologist was the son-in-law of the franchise owner and, although helpful, had better things he wanted than looking in ears all day. I didn’t like the contraptions he sold me, but stuck with them, off and on (but mainly off) for a few years. We had to have a special budget for batteries.

Then, in January, 2011 and for $1,800 each—more expensive than our wedding in 1956 and costlier than our first car—I bought a new kind. One part went behind the ear and the other in the ear, connected by a little tube, and there were four levels of programming: near, far, TV, when the wife is mad, and the “buzz”. The brand was called Starkey and my audiologist was a man named Keith. He had been in the business for 30 years and knew the inside and outside of all kinds of ears—big ones, pointed ones, square ones—as well as the various categories and consistencies of wax that ear canals tend to have. I saw him for over three years and he was always helpful and resourceful. He had a small office on Main Street in Duncanville, Texas and it was littered with hearing aids—he seemed to “mess with Texas.”

As a client, you get tested “free” and it is always a foregone conclusion that you will need hearing aids. The question is: How much can you afford to pay for them? It is like buying a car—there are installment plans and insurance plans, and you will “be offered” both. Each time I have been tested I have gone into the little solitary confinement hearing cell and pressed a button to claim I understood what I heard. Sometimes I did, but certain sounds at the end of words were challenging.

Getting used to hearing aids for the first time, or even the second, can be embarrassing. The toilet flushes so loudly, zippers sound like trains going by, and blowing your nose resembles a cannon going off. Newbie users need a gradual noise build-up.

We left Duncanville and Keith and moved to Waco about three years ago and recently the local audiology shop advertised a special on Starkey hearing aids. They offered up to $2,000 to trade-in my current ones, if applied to the latest make—which had gone up in price by $2,000. No longer within range of my previous audiologist, I decided to try trade for the new ones—kind of like buying a car by trading in your old one. They weren’t working very well anyway, so I traded them in. My new audiologist, Josh, had convinced me that he had the best to offer and gave me evidence on his computer screen. I would be able to hear the birds sing again and my wife would not need to yell at me (as often) for attention.

However, two visits later my audiologist had suddenly left town and I had a new one—we will call her Susie. She gave me a new hearing test—the same as Josh had done—and re-programmed my little expensive auditory midgets.  I get free batteries “for life”, but I don’t know if that is my life or the life of the hearing aids. At 50c a battery it is not going to matter, even though a battery only lasts about 6 days. That is about $45 a year, so in 10 years I would have retrieved simply 10% of my costs! Of course I won’t be alive then, but I intend to pass on the hearing aids to a grandson in my will.

Joice needed hearing aids too, because she had surgery on the parotid gland near her left ear and the radiation left her with almost no hearing in that ear. She was saying “huh” as often as I used to. Besides, the audiologist said the other ear needed help too—hearing aids come in pairs, like rabbits and guinea pigs. She has regular appointments with the ENT doctor, so we got her hearing aids at their adjoining office. Susan, her audiologist, had a special for about $3,500, so we sold our furniture and bought them.

Her brand was Oticon and we were told that her “improved ability to hear and understand [would] bring …greater joy” and “add quality to [her] life.” No more “huhs” or “What did you say?” There would be a “natural adjustment process” to expect, but she should remember that hearing is a “mental process” and that the “ears are the doorway to the mind.” The “hearing instruments” would keep the doorway open, meaning that anything I said to her would to through the door and directly to the mind.

Hearing aids are easy to lose: years ago I dropped one on the floor and the dog immediately chewed at it, fortunately leaving the serial number so that I could get an insured replacement. My wife has not been so lucky: she has lost hers three times and they have been found twice. So we were down one and needed a replacement—uninsured it turned out. So her new audiologist, Nancy, found a used one and reprogrammed it. It served her well, but then she lost the other one. This time a young lad found it outside our church door—we had been praying—and it is back in her ear again. It has bigger “buds” so it shouldn’t fall out easily.

We decided that with her history of loss it would be prudent to buy insurance—no hesitation about that. However, for the present, Nancy said the recent replacement is insured “automatically” for six months, so Joice has to lose it soon or we won’t be able to get another one for free.

I read that audiologists now have to have PhDs. That makes sense—it is high tech to record the beeps that the client misses in the hearing booth, then translate them into a frequency worth $2,000. Besides, there are now more kinds of hearing aids than species of cockroaches and the audiologist has to know a little about each of them. I’ve seen Nancy turn the instruments over on their belly—like a cockroach—and inspect them.

Recently I read that you can diagnose your own hearing and order “instruments” on line. I haven’t read the fine print, but I’ll bet it says something about them not being insured in case of loss or damage (like a dog chewing on it).

Years ago there was a TV advertisement for cell phones that showed a bewildered man walking around to various spots and repeating, “Can you hear me now?”

A good question—if not, you will need a certified PhD audiologist to sell you two hearing aids. Have your children or relatives start saving their money right after graduation from high school. Rap music—and especially church music—is loud and they are bound to need help.