(April 8, 2011) Hear the audio version

One morning last summer I was sitting at the kitchen table while my daughter looked into the refrigerator. “How was writers group?” she asked.

“Grapefruit’s not in season, sweetie.”

She turned so I could see her better. “Mom. Get those hearing aids.”

Oops. Several months earlier I’d finally, at age 56, had a hearing test because, well, for some reason I’d been asking her, or her sisters, or their dad, or quite a few other people to repeat themselves when I hadn’t known exactly what they’d said. But I was managing: I’d gotten really good at reading lips, which I also used while watching TV. Radio was no problem – when I wore ear buds. I didn’t mind sitting up front at writers conferences or workshops. And most of my work is in front of a computer screen anyway.

Still, a hearing test showed I didn’t have typical age-related hearing loss, where one doesn’t hear high and low pitches. “You don’t hear the sounds in between,” the technician told me. “It’s congenital. You’re a perfect candidate for hearing aids. Better sooner than later,” she chirped.

But hearing aids, especially the digital kind Huey Lewis wore on the front of the magazine she gave me and came in pretty colors, like orange, cost about three thousand dollars per ear. A hefty price not covered by insurance.

At least not then. Between the time I’d first looked into it and checking again in the summer, health reform had passed. My insurance company informed me they would now pay for hearing devices, as long as I went to a preferred provider. Thank you, Democratic Congress and Mr. President.

I call them ear mics because it’s like having little microphones in my ears that allow me to hear everything. I’m able to participate in the spoken world, not just that on the page or screen. But my ear mics also make me hear sounds I’d rather not: my dog’s toenails on the floor, unnecessary traffic noises, conversations behind me in a restaurant. So now I choose when to wear my ear mics. And like other items still being debated on the floors of Congress, I’m extremely grateful for the choice.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.