End Game: Sound of silence
Laurie Taylor waxes lyrical
I knew for certain there was something seriously wrong with my hearing when I went to my doctor to complain about not being able to hear very well and found that I couldn’t hear his diagnosis. Only when he finally responded to my anguished gestures did I learn that he was recommending an audiologist.
Audiologists sell hearing aids. And, as the waiting room brochures quickly make clear, there is a rock-hard correlation between the price of hearing aids and their relative size. At the cheaper NHS end of the scale was a behind-the-ear device which resembled an aural parking clamp, whereas at the top end I was cordially invited to spend up to £3,000 on a “virtually invisible” aid which offered more options than a domestic stereo system. Apart from the “adaptive directional microphone” and the “sixteen channels”, I was also promised “background noise reduction”, “wind noise reduction” and “feedback cancellation”. There was even a tiny control that allowed me to move between five situational modes: “Restaurant”, “Committee Meeting”, “Outdoor Event”, “Party” and “Intimate”.
My personal audiologist turned out to be a rather handsome woman with a quite unnecessarily loud voice. “WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO”, she bellowed as she slipped a pair of earphones over my head, “IS TO TELL ME WHEN YOU HEAR A SOUND BY PRESSING THE BUTTON ON THIS KEYPAD. READY?”
At this point my desire to have an accurate diagnosis was absurdly overtaken by a competitive instinct and a determination not to have to shell out a few thousand quid. So, although I couldn’t hear anything at all on several trials, I tried to beat the system by randomising my responses. “No. Yes. No. No. Yes. Yes.”
“Not too much wrong there,” she said in a noticeably more muffled tone as she removed the earphones. “Everyone at your age experiences some difficulty in hearing conversations in crowded pubs and unless you’re anxious to hear every word there’s really no need at this stage of degeneration to wear an aid.”
It was, I realised, as my hearing increasingly deteriorated over the following months, an absurdly hollow victory. Morning after morning I lay in bed, listening to the Today programme, ritually covering and uncovering one ear at a time until I was forced to accept the truth. I could no longer hear anything at all in my left ear.
What now? I could hardly return to my doctor or my duped audiologist. Perhaps I might find some help amongst the variety of health specialists who congregate around Harley Street in central London. But I’d got no further in my quest than Cavendish Square when I spotted a small bronze plaque announcing the presence on the third floor of The Clear Ear Clinic. Within seconds I’d secured an appointment.
My specialist in clear ears turned out to be an attractive man of such tender years that I found it slightly sad that he’d already committed himself to such a specific career. He was also fast and efficient. Within a minute he had me on the bed and was peering into my right ear. “That all looks fine,” he announced briskly. “Now how about the left?”
I was gratified to find that this was taking more of his time. A syringe was inserted, squirted and then inserted again. And again. He finally stepped back and reached for another instrument. With all the delicacy of a fly fisherman, he probed further and further into my ear and then suddenly gave a slight tug. A miracle! In a rush like a tidal wave, I found that I could hear the sound of the traffic in the square outside the window and even the repetitive gurgle of the water supply in the aquarium on the wall. I could hear again.
“Here’s your problem”, he said, tendering a large lump of waxily congealed tissue paper. “What made you put this in your ear?” I found I was burbling. “It would have been when I couldn’t sleep in Nottingham. About a year ago. When I had a talk to do next morning. And when I’d left my usual earplugs at home. That’s what I do instead. A squidge of damp tissue paper.”
I was so overcome by this compelling evidence that my deafness was not yet another sign of ageing to go alongside liver spots, creaking knees and an inability to remember the difference between Monet and Manet, that I began to babble hysterically. When he asked me for fifty pounds to cover the cost of the treatment I took out my credit card and plunged straight into the story of the man who went into a shop with sixpence in his ear. And when the shopkeeper said, “Excuse me, sir, but did you know you have sixpence in your ear?”, the man said, “I’m awfully sorry. I can’t hear you. I’ve got sixpence in my ear.”
Wonderful place, the Clear Ear Clinic. Next week if I have time I’m planning to search for the Clear Eye Clinic and then in later months I’ll be straight on to the Clear Lung Clinic, the Clear Liver Clinic, the Clear Memory Clinic and, most yearned for of all, the Clear Conscience Clinic. With a good run I should be able to get myself into almost perfect physical and spiritual condition just before I die.