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Beth Connolly, a young professional living in New York City, discovered she had hearing loss as a teenager. In this weekly column, Beth will chronicle her experience with hearing loss and hearing aids.

“Wearing hearing aids is less obvious than not being able to hear anyone!”

So read a sign in my audiologist’s office—but I didn’t believe it, yet. Even though I knew my hearing would improve with a hearing aid, I was extremely reluctant to get one.

I had seen people young and old wearing them and felt bad for them. I didn’t want to make my “disability” so obvious to everyone. Plus, in college, in Vermont, I didn’t have the time or energy to drive myself all over the state to find an audiologist I preferred over the one who diagnosed me.

In fact, it wasn’t until over a year after my initial diagnosis that I actually tried on my first pair of hearing aids. In the interim, I spent five months of my junior year studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Strangely enough, I felt that I could hear perfectly there! Italians tend to speak loudly, and they don’t mush together their words or drop off at the ends of sentences the way Americans do.

They stand close to you when they speak–they have a totally different concept of personal space than Americans. But the best part of being there was that if I struggled to understand, or asked someone to repeat themselves, they didn’t think I was hard of hearing or dumb–they thought I didn’t know Italian well enough.

As many of my American classmates walked around unable to understand what was said to them, I fit right in if I didn’t understand. The great thing was that because I did pick up Italian very easily, for the first time in my life I was able to be the one explaining to other people what was going on. Of course, it also helped that I had a great friend with me most of the time who “translated” for me when I didn’t hear something.

When I came home from Italy, I spent another semester unable to hear at college and decided it was time to choose a hearing aid. I was sick of not being able to hear my teachers in class, and my friends at meals and parties.

I didn’t even know about all of the other sounds I was missing, like forks hitting a plate, water running in the distance, or an oven timer going off in the next room, for example. When I came home from school for the summer in 2009, I found a local audiologist and made an appointment.

My new audiologist, Geraldine, was incredibly nice and much more professional than the Vermont doctor I had seen. In lieu of violent inner ear posters, her office walls were adorned with pretty photographs of her home garden.

I went through the hearing test process again with her. It was much more comfortable this time, and she explained every step of the way. When the results came in, she went over them with me so that they made sense.

I had 86% hearing in my right ear, and 92% in my left. When I share those numbers, people are often surprised that I even need hearing aids at all. However, my loss is much greater in higher frequencies. This explains why it’s much easier for me to understand men than women. It also explains why I can almost never hear anyone over background noise.

For example, when I’m in the back seat of a car, it’s very difficult for me to understand what someone in the front seat is saying, because of the noise of the wind against the windows. That background noise comes in strong because it is at a low frequency; by contrast, a human voice, male or female, is at a higher frequency.

Armed with this information, Geraldine was ready to fit me for my first pair of hearing aids, and so, I cautiously embarked on the journey.

by Beth Connolly