Many people throughout the world have dealt with varying levels of hearing loss. I am just one of those many and I would like to share part of my journey through life as a hard of hearing person.

In 1979, I joined the United States Marine Corps, 251 Thunderbolt Squadron. It was from working around F4 Phantom Jet aircraft that I became Hard of Hearing. The flight decks were extremely noisy from the jet’s engines as the aircraft were taxiing up and down the runways. And, it would not be uncommon to find Marines out on the flight decks without hearing protection for various reasons. One reason was there was a lack of adequate hearing protection to go around. And, I suppose if I were completely straightforward, some Marines believed they were invincible and did not need hearing protection.

It is from this experience that I suffered my initial hearing loss and started having ringing in my ears known as Tinnitus. Back then, a Marine never complained about such matters for fear of having their careers cut short. So, we just dealt with what was ailing us and forged ahead. At the time, my hearing loss was only a minor irritant. It was not until after I got out of the Corps that I really understood the scope my hearing loss would have on my personal and professional life.

Shortly after leaving the Corps, I began working for a cast iron foundry / machine shop manufacturer as a Quality Engineer. The inherent noises of the many machines in operation coupled with my hearing loss issue made communication between people on the shop floor and myself virtually impossible. Often, hand signals, trying to read lips, jotting down on paper what the other person was trying to tell me where just some of ways I communicated. Nothing really was ever said to me about how difficult it was for me communicate because I always got the done and done right.

I worked for that company for 17 years before I was recruited by a Japanese Automotive company located in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the reasons I accepted the offer was that after fighting my hearing loss in the very noisy environment of the cast iron foundry, I had started to become depressed. Working day-to-day in a high-level manufacturing environment and not being able to communicate sufficiently took a huge toll on me. Another reason I was becoming depressed was because my hearing was getting worse. It had been affecting all aspects of my personal and professional life for far too long.

Before I left the first company, my then wife made an audiology appointment for me. It confirmed that my hearing had gotten worse. So, with the persistence of my wife, I was fitted for hearing aids. They truly did help me and I felt some certain level of wholeness again. Even so, I could not shake the fact that I was a Marine and Marines were supposed to be invincible.

So, in 1998 I started working for a new company as their Senior Quality Engineer. I had no issues in being able to communicate, even with the limited English that the Japanese management spoke. In fact, they sent me to Tokyo, Japan to learn about the product and the Japanese quality philosophy and management style. What a grand time it was.

Although I had improved hearing with hearing aids and a new employment opportunity, the depression did not leave. Finally, in 2001, I was given an injectable medication to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, I had a severe reaction to the medication and lost approximately 90% of my life’s memories, including all I knew about Quality Engineering. I was forced into early retirement and moved back to my home town and began on the road to try and build a new life. In 2005, my wife passed away from genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis. In 2013 I moved to South Carolina to start yet another new life with a beautiful woman with whom I was having a long-distance relationship. We have been happily married since April 2014.

Since I have been in South Carolina, I have had three audiology exams. The first was in 2014, where I received a new pair of hearing aids, and the last in July 2017. There has been a fairly significant change since 2014. The 2017 exam showed that I have severe sensorineural hearing loss. I now have only 40% word recognition in my left ear and 92% in my right ear. Although my right ear has 92% word recognition, my left ear tends to cancel what I hear in my right ear and does not allow the signals to be sent to my brain. My audiologist said there is a term for this condition and it is “documented in the books,” but I did not press on to determine what it was. He also said I am basically deaf when I am around background noise. I have a very difficult time hearing with background noise.

My audiologist and I are currently working on our next steps, but I was informed I may be a good candidate for a Cochlear Implant, but that is another story.

– Sean

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