Tag Archives: audiology

Field Trip!

I love audiology.  Every day, I go to work, and I get to have fun.  I get to meet people and connect with them.  I do hearing tests, I help people select appropriate hearing aids, I fit and program them.  One of my favorite kinds of appointments is what we call the “HAP”.  That’s a “Hearing Aid Problem.”  It could be that someone’s hearing aid needs cleaning, or a tubing change, or maybe they are having feedback, or maybe their aid isn’t working anymore and they don’t know why.

Twice this past week, I’ve had to play detective in order to solve a hearing aid problem.  In the first case, I had a man come in complaining that sometimes he hears the ocean in his right hearing aid.

“Do you ever hear it when you’re not wearing your hearing aids?”

“No.”

“Do you ever hear it in your left hearing aid?”

“Never.”

“Is it there all the time, or does it come and go?”

“It comes and goes.”

“Is it happening now?”

“No.”

Drat.  If it were happening now, I could listen to it and see what it sounded like.  I realized that his hearing aids were under warranty, so I thought it was worth sending it in to the company.  There was probably something wrong with the amplifier.  I selected and programmed a loaner hearing aid for him – we have a few that we can set up for people when their own aid has to go in for repair.  I set it exactly like his hearing aid was set, and sent him on his way.

I was about to take my next patient, when he comes back in, pointing to the right loaner aid.

“It’s the ocean!”

He said it started happening as soon as he got outside.  I called out, “Field trip!” grabbed my listening scope and we headed outside.  I listened first to the loaner aid.  It sounded a little odd, like there was too much low frequency gain for his loss.  Then I asked to listen to the other one.  BIG difference.  When I listened to them together, the right hearing aid was clearly giving him too much gain in the low frequencies.  So we trundled back inside, I hooked up his hearing aid, decreased the low frequency gain, and voila – problem solved.

The next day, I had a lady come in with a very old hearing aid.  Maybe 9 years old.  She said that since the last time she had had it cleaned, she had been hearing a very odd noise when she was riding in the car.  It was so odd and loud, that she had to take her hearing aid out in the car.  She couldn’t even wear it.  I asked her if anyone else complained of a strange sound in the car, and she said no.  I asked if it happened in other people’s cars, and she said no.  I asked if it happened ONLY in the car, and she said yes.  So I said, “Um, can I sit in your car?”

So off we went.  I climbed into the front seat, put the hearing aid on my listening scope, and signaled to her husband to start the engine.  Lo and behold, an extremely obnoxious screech came out of the hearing aid.   I whipped the scope out of my ears, and sat quietly for a moment.  There was a very, very, very faint hum coming from the engine.  I could barely hear it.  I put the scope back in my ears.  Aaiiieeeee!  It’s that faint hum magnified a million times!

I left them in the car, saying, “Um, I think I know what the problem is – I’ll be right back.”  I quickly hooked up her hearing aid, adjusted the compression settings so that very soft sounds would not be amplified as much, and then brought it back out to her.  She put it on, the husband started the engine.  Voila.  Problem solved.  She was so happy she told me she was going to bring me chocolate the next time she comes in!

Working with hearing aids is kind of like being a detective.  You have to be a good listener, and sometimes you have to be willing to sit quietly with an old couple in their car.

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The Very Last Hoop

It was last summer that I started doing the initial background research for my Capstone project.  In order to graduate, I must produce a piece of original research from start to finish.  It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, until you grasp what the word “original” means.  It means, of course, that I have to design an experiment that will answer a question that no one knows the answer to.  This is a very difficult task.

So I had a spark of an idea in April of 2010 – how does cognition relate to how we hear?  I spent the entire summer reading everything I could lay my hands on about cognition and hearing.  I met with my advisor several times to talk about what I had learned and attempt to figure out what I could add to the body of knowledge about this area.  We settled on looking at how working memory capacity affects our ability to understand speech in noisy situations.

By the end of the fall, I had written my proposal, and by mid-April I had collected my data.  The plan had been to write up my results and defend in mid-May, but I got sidetracked by a little thing called my gallbladder.  I had wanted to have it all wrapped up and done before I started my externship, because I knew it would be really hard to get back into school mode once I was firmly in work mode.

Man, was I right.  I set a new goal to defend before the end of the summer.  Sitting down and starting to analyze and write was one of the hardest things I’ve ever made myself do.  Every time I sat down in front of the computer I had a mini temper tantrum.  “I don’t wanna!  You can’t make me!”  But, somehow, it got done.  I submitted my first draft about three weeks ago, and my advisor contacted me with a few notes, and a defense date of Tuesday, August 23rd.  Which is tomorrow.  Gulp.

So this weekend I was faced with the task of fixing everything that needed to be fixed in my report, adding a section that my advisor felt (rightly so) was missing, and making the entire thing into a PowerPoint presentation that won’t bore the pants off my Capstone Committee.  Here’s a sample slide:

After all this time and effort, the payoff comes tomorrow at 2 pm.  I’m curiously not too nervous – I know the material like the back of my hand, and I don’t think there’s any way that they would not pass me.  I’m hoping to walk out of the room tomorrow completely finished with school – and ready for work on Wednesday!

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Listening To Whispers

Thinking up a good blog name is really tough.  The easy ones that say exactly what you want to say are, of course, taken.  So you have to get creative, or cutesie, or weird.  But you also want to be able to tell people what your blog is called so they can find you, and you don’t want to have to spell it for people, or write it down so they’ll be able to remember it.  You also want it to somehow tie in with what you are writing about.  It can’t be completely off the wall.

So why Listening To Whispers?  I am an audiologist, so I think about ears and hearing a lot.  I should say I’m barely an audiologist.  In order to get my degree, I have to do three years of coursework, and work for a year under supervision.  I finished my coursework last month (I also blogged about my journey through graduate school), and two weeks ago I started my fourth year externship.  It’s an unpaid position, but at a great facility with wonderful people.  With any luck at all, it will turn into a paid gig once my year is up.

Anyway, it was at work this week that my new blog name came to me.  I was testing a two year old who just wouldn’t be quiet.  Kids who are two are the hardest to test.  They are too old to be interested with the form of testing we use for babies, and they are too young to play the games we play with puzzles and blocks with the three year olds.  They are at this awkward, in-between age.  So, I’m trying to test this kid, and he’s just talking and talking and talking up a storm.  We even gave him a lollipop, and he talked around it.  And I thought, “It’s really hard to sit quietly and listen to whispers when you’re two.”  And then I thought about how hard it is to sit and listen to whispers at any age.  Our world is so loud, our lives are so busy, we so rarely get quiet moments to sit and reflect and hear the important things.  We’ve made a cacophony for ourselves and completely drowned out the whispers.

So, my blog is going to be about listening to those whispers – trying to capture those moments that could so easily just pass me by.  I pledge to pay attention to the small moments, and be able to look back in my later years without regretting the little things that I let go by.  Is that even possible?  I don’t know, but I’m going to try.

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