Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Miracle of the Hearing Aid

My mother wears hearing aids to assist her with a profound hearing loss which was caused by a case of adult mumps.  I don’t know whether she had the mumps when my brother and I had them, or how she, second to last child of ten, could have escaped them at an earlier time of her life.  I do know that my brother’s nickname for her was ‘Mumpy,’ an affectionate term which may have had nothing whatever to do with her having had the mumps.   I do know that her case of mumps was so severe that she was swollen from head to chest.  On her diminutive and elegant frame, the mumps must have been a horrific sight.

The hearing aids, which she has worn almost as long as she has worn glasses for reading,   have been a source of blessing and irritation to her from the beginning.  Fortunately the age of miniaturization was well advanced and she was spared the indignity of trailing wires and large battery packets.  The aids have always tucked conveniently into her ears, well hidden by beautifully dressed hair.  The necessity of changing the aids from time to time as technology improved has been a trial.  I suppose that one gets used to an aid, the feel of it, the size and weight of it.  Over time any given aid must become just a body part, without which one feels vaguely incomplete.  Adjusting to tinier and tinier and more and more efficient aids has been, in recent years, quite confusing and complicated.

This is why I am trying to see that her present aids work for the rest of her life.  She really couldn’t adjust to new ones.  I take the aids in for servicing by turn.  They were manufactured by a wonderful firm which will keep rebuilding them and providing warranty on new parts as long as they are needed.  

The hearing aids are seldom in my mother’s ears.  They migrate from pill cup to paper  tissue.  They rattle about with her fine watch in a drawer.  I panicked to find one under the bed.  It had been stepped on and needed a major repair.  “Cheap at half the cost,” as my father would have said somewhat enigmatically.  I was so grateful to have been able to have it repaired.    

Recently I needed to take an aid in for cleaning.  My mother announced:  “I DON’T THINK I REALLY NEED HEARING AIDS ANY MORE.  I CAN HEAR JUST AS WELL WITH THEM AS WITHOUT THEM.”  

This was reminiscent of the time, almost five years earlier, when she had declared that she didn’t think she really needed her glasses.  “I see just as well with them as without them.”  Quite possibly she does.  From time to time she discovers the glasses in her bedside table and wonders who they belong to.

“They are yours, mom,” I say.   She tries them on wonderingly and offers, “I should try to wear these more often.”  She doesn’t wear them.

So it was with considerable concern that I heard her shouted declaration.  Her aids are a last post of communication.  Conversations are repetitive, confusing and difficult as it is.  Without the hearing aids, we would be lost.  I took the offending aid away.

This morning Rob and I took it back.  It was a very good day.  My mother received the aid like a long lost friend, and tucked it instinctively into the appropriate ear.  I retrieved her other aid from the drawer and she fitted it in place.  “I’ll be glad to get my other aid back,” she said.  That statement gave us pause.  “Mother, it’s in your left ear right now!”  I could hear a rumble of hilarity issuing from Rob.   I laughed, unable to prevent myself.  

And here is the miracle, a moment of sharing the divine absurd.  My mother felt the truth of my words in the instant and joined me in laughing.  We roared on.  She giggled, touching her ear and her mouth and throwing back her head.  Tears of laughter rolled happily out of the corners of her eyes.  “Imagine that.  Imagine that,” she gasped.  We laughed on, stretching out the moment.  

Alzheimer’s dementia can be a sad disease.  A lengthy dying.   It is almost as confusing and difficult for family members as it is for the one whose self is disappearing by degrees. This morning we crossed an undeclared boundary.  It was permissible to laugh at the unthinkable.  It was permissible to look mortality and frailty in the face and howl with humour.  

“This will make a good memory,” my mother said, and that set us off again.  I could see she didn’t quite get this one, but it didn’t matter.  She chuckled anyway.  For a few minutes we shared emotion, were companionable and whole.  That is today’s miracle and it is more than enough.        



bobbie said...

oh connie, what a gift. what a beautiful memory - she was right you know - laughter is truly the best medicine known to man.

thank you for sharing this, it lifted me there!

Barbara said...

I know how uncomfortable alhzeimers can be for family members of the one who is sick, thus making the one suffering from the disease uncomfortable too. To be able to move past that barrier and laugh is indeed a wonderful memory. (Even if it will shortly be forgotten.) Words and actions may be forgotten, but not the feelings kind ones generate. Grandma is lucky to have a daughter who is not afraid to walk along side her in her journey. I pray that when you think of the times you have had to help her to remember something or help with her activities of daily living or become frightened or frustrated with the process of alzheimers, try to remember all the years she held your hand to help you walk, and got you dressed, helped you to remember, rejoiced with you in your sucesses no matter how little and comforted you when when you were hurt or confused. You are a remarkable woman,daughter,sister, mother, and friend.
Love, Barbara

(and I don't care what anyone else says!! I think you are a great driver)

Len said...

Sister o' mine . . . how dear and beautifully eloquent is your miracle day story . . . and will be an inspiring additional chapter in The Book.

Bar Bar A said...

Hey, a friend of ours is celebrating his 39th birthday on Saturday, March 11! Please stop by and wish Jeff of “So I Go” a Happy Birthday and remind him what a wonderful writer/blog friend he is.

wilsonian said...

I was thinking the same thing as Bobbie... what a gift!

And I think she was right... it'll make a great memory. For you.

Fred said...

The Missus wears digital hearing aids. They've been a huge improvement in her quality of life.

When she's not wearing them, though, it's a hoot. We can have two different conversations going at the same time. I should record it some day.

steph said...

You write with such tenderness about your Mom or your Dad and this always speaks volumes to me.

What dignity comes from these moments of laughter together.

Deb said...

yes...a gift indeed!

annie said...

Oh, Connie. Yes, it is a gift to be able to laugh, a gift to walk on shaky and unfamiliar ground with a smile on your face.

Blessings, Connie, on you and your mother in these days.