Communication as a tiring chore
About a month after I suffered a sudden left-sided deafness accompanied by a hefty vertigo attack I headed back to work. However, the inpatient pharmacy of the rather humongous medical center that had never been an island of peace now turned quickly into a living nightmare. Oh, the fatigue! The extreme stress! The utter exhaustion!
A tremendous amount of brainpower was spent on hearing and listening against the backdrop of department cacophony, which greatly interfered with the demands of concentrating on the details of the job. Oral communication had become a full-time, tiring chore. How on earth was I ever able to hear and understand anything at all in this atmosphere, let alone focus on patient data, make decisions and answer questions? Ah, the magic of Mother Nature!
The brain in slo-mo
Just like everybody else, I had taken my healthy auditory system terribly for granted. Normally, the brain automatically sorts out all kinds of sound dynamics and allows for zeroing in on what is important at that moment − speech, music or any other ancillary noise. In this respect the world had changed forever as my sound processing capabilities had become seriously hampered. It felt like the brain was operating in slo-mo and sometimes I thought that the hearing aid made things worse.
As those with hearing loss well know, background din is the enemy. The more diverse and intricate the noise challenges, the less speech we understand, the more we struggle and the faster we tire. Also, highly noise-confused environments tend to overwhelm the processing capabilities of hearing aids, which remains an ongoing challenge for manufacturers and a set-back for clients.
According to the audiologist my case was not unusual. People with hearing loss often succumb to fatigue related to “Listening Effort. ” The expression describes the intense, sustained amount of concentration needed as people strain to hear and understand speech in noise. The physical and emotional components of this stress-inducing issue can bring the affected to the brink of sheer exhaustion.
And so I was introduced to yet another underrated and often ignored challenge of hearing loss. At least the audiologist understood the problem and that in itself was already comforting. We would work on it, she said. And in so many ways we still are.