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When Pretending to Hear Is No Longer Acceptable

Robb Boss believed he was doing “just fine” coping with his conductive hearing loss. A successful oncology sales representative with a leading pharmaceutical company, Robb’s personable and intelligent communication with colleagues and clients has led to much success and satisfaction for the 41-year-old. But, a brief conversation with a co-worker helped Robb see the downside of his untreated unilateral conductive hearing loss and take action.

After “pretending” to hear nearly his whole life, Robb decided that improving his hearing would improve relationships at work and with the people who matter the most– his family. “I was living my life pretending I could hear, Robb says. “It started hindering communication within the family and professionally. We have five girls and they all have tones of voices that I just couldn’t hear at all.”

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Robb Boss: Let Go to Overcome

Written by Robb Boss

“Cholesteatoma” – just hearing the condition name without an explanation could make any adult scared for the future. Then, finding out it causes hearing loss adds a whole new layer of fear. But, I was 14 years old. And, even though Cholesteatoma did cause my hearing to deteriorate, I adapted.

At the young age of 14, I learned to stay on a certain side of people so I could hear with my good ear and that just became the norm with me – a natural way that I coped.

Over the past ten years, my hearing in my right ear drastically decreased. It began to affect my personal and professional life. I’m the father of six kids, five of them girls with gentle, soft voices. Conversations and all types of communication were becoming very difficult and exhausting. Not to mention, we all know how important it is for young ladies to be “heard.”

All relationships are built on clear communication. More and more, I didn’t always hear what was being said. I would assume things and fill in the gaps to compensate for what I didn’t actually hear. It got to the point where there was a lot of miscommunication on my part. I would think I heard the whole story and I didn’t.

I discussed my issues with my Otolaryngologist in 2008 and he encouraged me to think about a bone anchored solution. There was something about the permanent nature of that option that made me hesitate. I wasn’t concerned about the surgery, which I knew would be minor. I suppose it was about accepting the fact that I was no longer able to adapt or overcome my hearing loss as I had in the past. Only a handful people knew about my hearing issues. It was very humbling to realize that I might need help that would be so permanent and so visible. I still wasn’t ready to take that step.

Instead, my doctor tried to manipulate the bones in my ear to see if that would improve my situation. It didn’t, and I became increasingly frustrated and exhausted trying to hear people. It was especially difficult communicating with my oldest daughter. She has a tone of voice that I couldn’t hear at all. After asking her for the third time to repeat, she would say, “Never mind.” I realized it was frustrating for me, but even more so for my wife and kids.

My Turning Point

My turning point came while attending a sales conference. My wife and children had come along and were outside at the pool. I went out during one of the breaks and my wife was chatting with a woman who I didn’t know. I walked up and joined the conversation. The woman was actually someone who was with my company but in another division. I thought the conversation was going well. At one point, I couldn’t hear exactly what she said and guessed that she was asking me about my job.

After we had talked for a few minutes, she looked at me and said, half humorously but with a clear message, “Are you in sales? If so, you need to take listening 101.” I was surprised and a little shaken. I had never told anyone at work about my hearing loss. Only my family and close friends knew. I had always managed to overcome and adapt. After that conversation, I began to reconsider the possibility that I might benefit from a bone anchored hearing solution.

My doctor had used bone anchored hearing solutions for his patients for years and was very confident that they could make a positive difference for me. His office was actually converting to the new Ponto System at the time. I considered acting on his recommendations. He had many positive things to say about the Ponto System as “the next generation” of bone anchored solutions. I realized I was a patient that could choose to go with the newest technology.

I did some research online and I liked what I saw. I talked to my audiologist, who was really excited about Ponto Pro’s new technology and Oticon Medical’s experience with hearing instruments and track record of innovation. It was exciting to be one of the first to experience the new innovation in that practice.

In November of 2009, the surgical procedure went well and the recovery was easy. I was ready to experience all of the good things I had heard about Ponto. I have to say that the fitting was pretty amazing. It is almost hard to describe what it was like being able to hear so much more clearly than with the trial band. I could even hear the background noise that most people probably hear all the time, but I hadn’t been able to before. It was truly an incredible sensation.

It was raining on the day I was fitted with Ponto Pro. When I drove home, I could actually hear the ping of the raindrops on my windshield. It was amazing!

A week later I attended a sales meeting in a large boardroom. The door out to the lobby was right behind me. I could hear what was going on in meeting and what was going on behind me in the hotel lobby. It’s really amazing.

Now, I catch myself sitting in a certain spot so I can hear the whole table and then I remember that I don’t have to anymore. Before I had to position myself carefully, and even then I would be staining to hear, old habits are difficult to break. With the directional microphones in my Ponto, I am hearing even more clearly at meetings and larger, noisy gatherings. It is also easier to hear when I’m driving the car and the kids have the radio going and my wife is speaking to me. Now we can talk easily and the experience is more enjoyable for all of us.

I have gone back to my audiologist to fine tune the sound processor to my individual preferences. I like that you can customized the processor for my individual hearing loss and that, if my hearing changes in the future, my Ponto can be readjusted.

It probably took a couple of weeks to really get used to the uniqueness of hearing all of the different sounds. Now I put my Ponto on in the morning and I don’t pay attention to it all day. I’ve actually gotten into the shower by mistake and then remembered I had it on. Wearing my Ponto has become so natural. It almost becomes part of you – and now I know that’s a good thing.

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