For years, I knew my hearing was going downhill. At first, I was able to deny the deficit because, as I repeatedly told my wife, “I can hear what you’re saying; I just can’t understand all the words.”
I even jokingly told her I had an auditory processing disorder, which is a real thing, but it typically isn’t solved by purchasing a hearing aid. So, I was able to continue to fake it, or at least fool myself.
Despite my moderate hearing loss, I was able to function. I talked to my coworkers and friends with only the occasional, “Would you please repeat that?” My wife needed to repeat herself more often, but she was willing.
Until she wasn’t, and that made all the difference.
We were watching something on a streaming service not too long ago and, as I so often did, I asked my wife: “What did he just say?”
And she wasn’t willing to repeat it. She wasn’t mean about it. She had just had enough. She wasn’t going to be my enabler anymore. She was going to make me face my hearing problem.
I had for so long resisted getting help because I thought this was the final step in being officially certified as old. And yet I was only 54. Now 55. I refused to believe that was old enough to need help with my hearing. And then I started looking into hearing loss.
It is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States, behind only arthritis and heart disease. In fact, more than 15% of adults in the United States report having hearing problems. (And that’s above and beyond the “selective recall” that wives accuse their spouses of having.)
Looked at another way, one in five men and one out of eight women report having at least some trouble hearing. In fact, the prevalence of hearing loss is twice as common as diabetes or cancer.
Finally putting my pride behind me, I googled “Kodiak audiologists,” only to find there wasn’t one on the island. I was told that an audiologist came to Kodiak from Anchorage on a regular basis before COVID. So, I called that audiologist and was told they had no trips to Kodiak planned, and didn’t know if they would resume service to our island.
I thought about what not having local access to a service with as much potential demand meant for Kodiak and our need to “stop the bleeding” so we can keep more of our economic destiny in our own hands. And then I made an appointment with an Anchorage audiologist.
That was the easy part.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about not being able to get such a basic level of care in my own hometown. And I continued to think about that as I boarded Alaska Airlines heading to Anchorage. I ended up missing three days of work after deciding to tack on an extra day as long as I was already going to be there. I used airline points to get my airline ticket, and then spent another $475 on hotels and meals. That’s money Kodiak will never see, and money I much rather would have spent in my hometown.
I wish I knew how many trips Kodiak residents make to Anchorage on an annual basis in search of medical care. I bet that number, along with the economic multiplier for money spent, is staggering. Whatever it is, it’s a number that isn’t flowing into Kodiak’s economy. It’s all about restaurant meals not purchased here. It’s groceries, clothes and that precious discretionary dollar that could rev up Kodiak’s tourism business but instead is helping to bolster the Anchorage economy.
I pushed those thoughts aside, at least temporarily, when I received my first pair of hearing aids this week.
So far, they have been a mixed bag. They have added greatly to my quality of life, even if there was something special about asking my lovely bride to repeat the lines of our favorite shows or tell me what the waiter just said.
I guess I’ll have to find another way to keep the conversations flowing at the Bumgarner household. With a twinkle in her eye, she has assured me she won’t mind trying something new. Meanwhile, here’s hoping that the Kodiak medical establishment can find ways to keep more of our medical dollars in the place where they will do the most good — at home.
If you have any ideas about how to make this happen, please feel free to contact me. After all, I can hear you loud and clear.
Kevin Bumgarner is publisher of the Kodiak Daily Mirror print edition and kodiakdailymirror.com. He and his wife, Melanie, have three grown kids and a beagle named Sadie. They moved from Florida to Kodiak during the summer of the 2020 COVID pandemic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.