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A guy can get used to a lot of things as he stumbles through late middle age. Malfunctioning ears is not among them.

My hearing aids conked out a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been working without an auditory net while I wait for the manufacturer to fix them up. That means I’m once again navigating most conversations by contextual guesswork, as I did in my pre-amplified days. This can lead to somewhat complicated interactions:

Barista: “Hi! What can I get you?”

Me: “I’m good, thanks. And you?”

Barista: “Uh, good. Good. What would you like?”

Me: “Yeah, I rode over on my bike. It’s a beautiful day.”

Barista: “Um . . . would you like a coffee?”

Me: “That’s funny. I was just thinking of a latte. How did you know?”

Barista: “Just a wild guess. To go or for here?’

Me: “Ha ha. You’re right about that. Way too early for a beer.”

Barista: “Um . . . flavored or plain?”

Me: “It’s Craig. What’s yours?”

Barista: “I’m Alice. So . . . a plain latte for here?”

Me: “I’m sorry, what?”


Me: “Sure.”

Barista: “Would you like a receipt?”

Me:“Yeah, looks like there’s a seat over by the window. Just give a holler when it’s ready.”

Now I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible that these sorts of interactions may have nearly as much to do with my mediocre listening skills as my hearing loss. I’m not always tracking under the best of circumstances, and I seem to have adopted an annoying habit of anticipating what people are going to say before they say it. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to have a pair of functioning ears. They might keep me out of the hospital.

No, I’m not worried about some irate barista flinging a cappuccino in my face before reaching across the counter to throttle me. It’s just that a couple of recent studies suggest that my auditory limitations may result in something a bit more serious than humiliation. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, analyzing data from the National Health Interview Survey, found that hearing-challenged geezers like me are more than twice as likely to fall prey to accidental injuries than folks with highly functioning ears.

And a University of Michigan study reported that older adults equipped with hearing aids were less likely to have been admitted to a hospital in the past year than those who tried to navigate without them.

So, I’m hoping to get a working set of hearing aids sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, I think I’ll pedal over to the doctor’s office in a few days to have somebody flush out my ears. That usually clears things up a bit.

Then I might stop on my way home for a coffee. Maybe Alice will be working.

Thoughts to share?

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