Hearing Aids Restore Nature’s Joyful Sounds

By Rich Patterson

Sometimes change happens as quickly as flipping a light switch. One moment it’s dark. A second later, brightness fills the room. Other changes creep up so subtly that it’s hard to notice them at all.

That’s what happened to my hearing acuity. It probably started years ago, when machine gun noise assaulted my ears during Army training. But running chainsaws, lawnmowers, and other machines didn’t help. Gradually, slowly, and pretty much unnoticed, I lost the ability to hear many of nature’s delightful sounds.

By age 60, my left ear buzzed constantly, with my right ear sometimes adding its own chorus of distracting noise. For several years, I could mentally disregard the tinnitus and pursue life normally. However, as the constant ringing increased in volume, it diminished my ability to hear. This impacted my relationships with others, as I could not accurately hear what was being said and would often respond incorrectly in a conversation or not at all.

I am a professional naturalist with 39 years’ experience as the executive director of nonprofit nature centers. Being able to hear nature’s gentle delicious sounds was professionally and personally important to me.

Early last May, a tiny bird and my wife, Marion, convinced me it was time to get my hearing checked. I was sitting on my back deck when a warbler landed on an oak branch about 20 feet in front of me. My wife commented on how sweet the song was. I could clearly see the bird singing, but I couldn’t hear it!  A few days later, I was at Heartland Hearing Center in Cedar Rapids. Audiologist Jennifer Reekers, AuD, positioned me in a small booth and tested my ability to hear sounds of varied intensity and wavelength. The test proved what I already knew: I could not hear many sounds well, especially high pitches.

“Hearing aids will help improve your ability to hear many sounds,” she promised. She fitted me with a few trial pairs until I found one that did the trick. Some long-forgotten sounds, like hearing my own footsteps and my pant legs swooshing together as I walked, were odd.

A year has passed since Reekers fitted me with hearing aids. She had predicted that they might lessen the impact of tinnitus by amplifying sounds. My tinnitus remains, but her prediction proved true. I can hear better with the aids, ear ringing is less intense, and I am more engaged with conversations.

An event happened on the one-year anniversary of my purchase of hearing aids.  We were sitting in our living room reading with the windows open when my wife, Marion, remarked, “Rich, listen!”  Wafting into our home from a nearby tree was one of nature’s most delightful sounds — the call of a wood thrush. For the first time in years, I could hear its melody clearly.

Following my long nature-center career, Marion and I founded a business designed to encourage and help homeowners create wondrous yards that provide beauty, solitude, education, and inspiration. We have transformed our yard from a sterile mowed lawn to a haven of blooming plants that attract a stream of wildlife. Where a lawnmower once roared, birdsong now greets our mornings.

My experience with the hearing aids has been positive, and, although they were expensive, it was money well spent. Through our website and in our speaking engagements, we now encourage people to protect their hearing from loud noises and to seek the help of a professional audiologist to improve their ability to enjoy sounds.

A graduate fishery biologist, Rich Patterson served as executive director of the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, IA, for 36 years. He and his wife, Marion, a professional educator, founded Winding Pathways in 2014. 

To learn more visit www.windingpathways.com