Wednesday 13 April 2016

deaf aid

Since the turn of the year, I've been spending Sunday night to Monday morning with Pat the Salt I - II, my esteemed and antient father-in-law. One of the rituals we go through each night is the Changing of the Ear-furniture (not so many red-coats for us) where he removes his hearing-aids and I flip the batteries to 'disengage' before putting each into its little box. Each morning the process is reversed.  What's peculiar is that, after removal of the hearing aids we often sit together complaining about the TV . . . and never complaining about how he can't hear. Here's 90, he's doing waaaay better than Helen Keller.  The batteries have to be small (you can't have a 12v car-battery on each shoulder if you're old and frail) and on for 12+ hours a day so they need to be replaced every 4-5 days.  A six-pack costs an indicative €4.95 at Boots-the-Chemist. The maths suggests [365/4 = 90 / (six-pack/2ears) * €5] the batteries will cost €150/year. There's a markup: Boots will sell you a second pack half-price and still turn a profit.  Because we live in a socialist paradise [for which Padraig Pearse died on the cross in 1916] society that privileges old people over { the mentally ill | single parents | the homeless | refugees | women | blacks | Uncle Tom Cobbley | take your pick} the cost of Pat's hearing aids and the batteries is taken up by the state.  And proper order too: hearing loss is associated with social exclusion, depression, dementia, death.  We-the-tax payer already support Pat to the tune of €230/week plus free-travel, so an additional €3/week for the batteries doesn't seem excessive. The argument is made, especially by those in the market for selling hearing aids, that these devices prevent further deterioration of the ear-works but, according to Johns Hopkins Medical School, this is just not true.  But I can see I'll have to do some more critical thinking research on that one.

The Go To source for solid medical research is the wonderful Cochrane Index.  They give you the parameters of slight hearing loss in decibels but also in normal speak: can catch all the words when spoken in a normal voice from 1 m distance; moderate hearing loss is when you can only hear a raised voice at that distance.  I guess normal hearing is when you can hear your wife muttering to herself "Jaysus, can't he even wash his own tea-cup . . ." in the kitchen; so there may be social benefits in slight hearing loss? Appointments were made for the audiologist after Pat and Souad started to annoy their children with too many "Wha'?" responses to simple questions. Pat was easily pleased: satisfied with a set of beige-coloured hook-over-the-ear external 'National Health' hearing aids.  The beige blended into his ear-line so you could hardly see the join. Back in the days around when I was born in England, the UK National Health Service NHS was ensuring the wellness and dealing with the sickness of 54 million people in a cheap-and-cheerful functional way. Pretty much anyone could go a get an eye-test and if a deficit was revealed, you could get a set of tortoiseshell plastic frames that would enable you to read or drive or maximise your social inclusion. As anyone / everyone could get these spectacles they became associated with poverty, austerity and council housing . . . and the concept of spectacles as fashion accessory was born. I've ranted about the cost of reading-glasses before. This week in ALIDL there is a regular special on reading glasses for €2.95, but you can spend €295.00 on glasses to the same spec with a minute Nike go-faster swoop on the legs..

Souad, ever elegant and well turned out, dignified and proud in the nicest possible way, was never going to wear beige hearing aids to the shops when she could "hear perfectly well, thank you", so alternatives were investigated. They didn't have far to look: Specsavers, feeling the market in glasses slowing down, have moved into hearing aids as well and the first 4-5 hits on Google enquiries about hearing loss is advertisements. A short-list of suppliers was made and eventually, she surrendered to the blandishments of the nice man from Lennox who offered to drive 125km from Cork to interview and test her in the privacy of her own home . . . and fit her with a microscopic internal hearing-aid. Not only could you not see the join, you often couldn't see the the device: they got swept into a tissue once and disappeared for a couple of days - could so easily have finished up in the trash. Whatever about elegance, giving teeny tiny devices to very old people with, say, slight vision impairment and a bit of arthritis is prima facie a dumbass solution to a problem. The engineers and designers had better be working on a solution that is fit for purpose rather than fit for winning prizes at tech fairs.

This personalised service from Lennox naturally came at a cost . . . in excess of €2,000!  That pill was sweetened a little by the assurance that it included a lifetime's supply of batteries and tuning / servicing.  It was also supported by the implication that the technology was better, that the engineering quality was German and her life would be immeasurably improved. And it was so . . . but so was Pat's with his yellow-pack beige functionals.

Souad died before Christmas last year, which was very sad, before she'd gotten a full year out of her new equipment. It was also sad because the loan from the Credit Union, taken out for the hearing aids, still needs too be paid off. Dang!

You'd think that there might be some residual value in such high-tech devices, but there isn't.  The Beloved is still picking up the pieces from the death of her mother and last week got round to contacting Lennox to see if the plugs could be returned for re-conditioning. But the nice man from Lennox was abrupt enough in declaring that they were no good to him or the company "Medical devices can't be re-used without invalidating the warranty etc." In our mad consumerist world that is true even for walking sticks and zimmer-frames. You can imagine what high impact accidents, "compromising the structural integrity", might have led to a zimmer-frame being no long required. Somehow, the injury was insulted by The Man adding that Lennox would be prepared to ship the aids off to the Third World. There's something repellent in the idea that something that is not good enough for white folks can be sold on to a chap in Africa.  As I pointed out at the time, I'd be happy to drive from Cork to Waterford if I was going to secure a sale worth €2000. The batteries and servicing is like a Victorian annuity.  The company undertakes to pay a fixed amount each year from an initial investment.  They have an actuary employed to work out the average life-span of deaf old people and sometimes they make out like bandits when the punter pegs out early.

I'm saying "Wha'?'" to my students a lot nowadays but I'm not going to buy into teeny-tiny hearing-aids. I spend enough time each day trying to locate my glasses! All too often discovered on top of my head.

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