Hearing loss can be an emotional topic for many people.
But when the patient is a child, it is especially so.
We had identified a 4-year-old boy with a significant hearing loss. It was bad enough that he could barely hear conversational level speech. As a result, he had very poor speech clarity. Once we finally confirmed that the child did indeed have a hearing loss, we counseled the parents about the loss and what options they had for their child. We discussed hearing aids and the parents agreed to proceed with a hearing aid fitting. We took molds of the child’s ears and scheduled a fitting for three weeks ahead.
The parents may still have had some doubts about whether the loss was really as bad as we had said it was. They did not doubt he had some loss, but I think they thought it was something he might grow out of. But they did keep the appointment for the fitting. We went through the initial stages of the appointment. We showed the parents how to put the hearing aids in their child’s ears, how to take them out, and how to clean them. We fit the aids to the child’s ears.
We made sure the child was comfortable with them, and did a little testing with them to make sure he was actually hearing better with the hearing aids than he did without them. Mom had brought a video camera with her for the appointment and she had filmed most of the time she had been there. We were finishing up the appointment and Mom and I stepped outside of the booth to talk about a few more things. Her child was sitting in the booth with the father and another clinician. All of the sudden, the mother said her child’s name. He turned his head and looked at her and smiled. Mom immediately started crying. She told me that he had never been able to do that before. He had never responded to her when she said his name like that. It was enough to make me start to get a little teary eyed myself.
As they left the clinic, the child decided he needed to use the restroom. I walked them down the hall to show them where it was. I was waiting outside when I heard the funniest thing. I could hear the child, from inside the bathroom, singing “la, la, la, la” and laughing. He was hearing his own voice clearly for the first time! When they came out of the restroom he had the biggest smile on his face. He then proceeded to stomp his way up the steps to leave the building.
I was invited to attend the child’s progress meeting at school 2 months later. The teacher reported that she could not believe how much progress the child had made. She had always known he was an intelligent child. But he had difficulty following directions. He was always the last child to the carpet for story time, or the last child to get in line. Now, he was among the first to follow directions. And his speech had improved tremendously. He had gone from having multiple speech errors to having age appropriate speech. Just because he could now hear normally due to wearing his hearing aids.
Most days are fairly typical. You meet some interesting people, have some good conversations, help people to live better lives. We sometimes get to hear about these improvements, but it is rare that we get to really see these changes. It is profoundly moving when we do. And enough to move some of us to tears.