Why You Shouldn’t Trust a Free Hearing Test

Things are busy in the Warrior Household. Dog has received her third invitation to come and get her annual jabs/check up etc but I still haven’t go around to organising it. Daughter spent all of Saturday night putting up the Christmas tree, yelling at us to ‘come and help!’ while we ignored her, too intent on drinking egg nog and watching ‘Home Alone 2’.

I am still 25,000 words away from finishing my book but have got stuck on the ‘final act’ – ooh get me with my narrative arc – and am now in stasis. My heart lifted tonight because I got a message form the Divine Mr B saying I was writing ‘at a much higher level than before’ which made me scream with excitement. Mr B has been reading my stories since I was 11 so to hear him say something so positive is a real boost.

Rob is fed up with work, fed up with working on the kitchen all weekend, and looking forward to the Christmas break. I don’t know what is going on with Son. I occasionally see the back of his track-suited body as he whips to his bedroom having scoffed down his supper without speaking. He occasionally comes over and does that awful hand hold shoulder bump greeting young people do. I am sure he means it in a friendly way but I hate it. Surely there is a more appropriate way for a son to show affection to his beloved mother?

In the old days he would just come in for a hug, or sit on my lap, now he just seems to … well – bump against me, is the only was I can describe it. A shoulder scuff here, a hip bounce there… My wise American friend says it’s his way of keeping that connection with me, which is lovely. The trouble is he’s getting so big I can be knocked flying. It reminds me of when he was little and, out shopping and getting nattering with a mate, he would lean his full weight on my arm with the intent of physically toppling me out of the conversation.

I am coming very close to the year anniversary of my very first blog post and I am thinking hard what to write about. While I was thinking about that, I remembered a story I’ve been meaning to tell here for a while.

The story of the day Daughter and I went to get a free hearing test.

It was a while ago now, probably early spring. Daughter had received a recent assessment of dyslexia and ‘Irlen’s Syndrome‘ which was affecting her performance at school. The Learning Support Team also wondered whether there was a problem with her hearing as she often spelled words oddly, indicating she hasn’t heard them properly.

Within a week or so I was at the opticians trying (and failing) to find a pair of glasses that would take off thirty pounds and twenty years, when I saw a big advert on the wall.

‘Free Hearing Test! Get your hearing tested by a professional. Book your appointment now!’

Perfect, I thought; I’ll get Daughter in straight away..

A week later, Daughter and I are bundled up the stairs of the opticians to a rather bare room containing a table and four chairs. It is very drab, not nearly as posh as downstairs, but it has a big picture window overlooking the high street so we settle down ready to people watch for a bit.

‘I’m afraid Mr Pickle (not his real name) has been held up,’ the secretary says with  beaming smile as she settles us into the rickety chairs. ‘He shouldn’t be long.’

I like this woman. The last time I had bought glasses she had helped me choose them. The pair I am wearing right now in fact. When I put them on I turned to her, my face hopeful.

‘Oh perfect,’ she had gushed, adjusting them slightly – not realising one of my ears is a good deal higher than the left so they always look wonky – ‘they look great!’ she continued. ‘Ooooh they match your eyes, it’s giving me shivers!’ and she held up her arms, presumably so I could see her goosebumps. 

Sucker that I am I got them, learning too late they were the most expensive frames in the shop.

Back to the drafty upstairs office. Daughter is kicking her heels against the chair leg. She leans on me. ‘I’m bored,’ she announces. We both jump as there is a crash from the bottom of the stairs and Daughter and I look at each other as we listen to the sounds of someone racing up the stairs.

Mr Pickle finally appears, sweat shining off his brow, his hair ruffled and his grey suit looking like a crumpled and discarded sheet of kitchen roll. He was clutching a laptop bag under his arm. His nervous energy and barely suppressed panic made me sweat in anxious sympathy.

The next ten minutes were a farce. He had a strange, disjointed way of moving and being late had made him even more nervy. He knocked over his chair then couldn’t work out how to plug the charger into the lap top.

I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from grabbing the cable and going, ‘IT’S THAT HOLE THERE!’ for fear he would bolt altogether.

All the time he was trying to set up his equipment he kept up a constant gabble, apologising for being late, explaining he’d had to borrow someone else’s lap top, introducing himself and presuming I was Mrs X until I said no, I was Mrs Y.

Eventually the lap top was on and, after a brief struggle, as Mr Pickle couldn’t initially open the lap top lid, we were away!

In triumph, Mr Pickle cracked his fingers like a concert pianist warming up, and pulled all sorts of bits and pieces of electronic equipment and headphones out of his bag which he plugged into the lap top with a flourish.

Daughter and I leaned forward in our chairs, willing him on and we all sighed in relief when the screen glowed bright and everything seemed to beep together in harmony.

Then. Disaster! The password the Optician had given Mr Pickle for the shop wifi didn’t work. In agony,  I watched him slowly and methodically enter the password he had jotted on a piece of card. Two, three, four, five times it shot back ‘INCORRECT PASSWORD!’ Daughter cast me a level look – well beyond her years. 

I could stand it no longer. ‘I think maybe they’ve given you the wrong password? I could pop down and check…’

‘No, Mrs X! he shot back.

‘Mrs Y,’ I said.

‘No need! I’ll do it!’ With a brisk, martyred sigh, he leaped to his feet and loped back down the stairs, his long legs heading in all directional – an irate Basil Fawlty.

What felt like three years later, Daughter is finally ensconced on a chair with an enormous pair of headphones wrapped round her little blonde head. Having calmed down a bit, Mr Pickle seemed to regain some authority as he explained the test to Daughter.

He was going to play a variety of sounds to her and she was to lift her finger when she heard them and he would make notes.

The room was silent and still as daughter lifted her finger and Mr Pickle nodded and scribbled down notes. It took a long time before he gave a sigh, took off his reading glasses and indicated Daughter should take off the headphones.

‘I am afraid, Mrs Y, your daughter has a 30% loss of hearing in her right ear.’

My heart sank.

‘Oh my goodness. That’s quite a lot isn’t it?’

He nodded seriously and I felt tears spring to my eyes. ‘Would that impact on her schooling?’

‘I would be surprised if it hasn’t already had a significant impact on her learning.’

I turned to Daughter, ‘Darling, do you notice you sometimes can’t hear very well out of your right ear?’

Daughter looks mystified and shrugs, going back to pinging her loom band bracelet against her wrist.

My mind is in a whirl, I can’t believe she has such a significant loss in hearing and I hadn’t noticed. BAD MOTHER! I thought in agony.

‘I’ll write up a report and you can pass this onto her GP and school,’ Mr Pickle was saying. I nodded miserably and as he started writing I fired an email off to the learning support officer at Daughter’s school suggesting an urgent meeting to talk through these latest findings, and wondering what we could put in place to ensure poor, dear, Daughter didn’t have to suffer in a muffled world. I felt like my heart was breaking.

Just as we were about to leave I stopped. ‘Mr Pickle,’ I said, ‘I wonder if, while I’m here you could do a quick test on me?’ I’d always worried about my hearing which I felt had been damaged by years of being in a band and going to gigs with all the speaker set on 11. Also, I felt it had got worse recently.

Mr Pickle looked at his watch. ‘Yes, I suppose so,’ he said impatiently. 

Meekly I sat down and donned the headphones. I heard a range of low and high buzzes and would lift my finger and see Mr Pickle make his notes.

Finally it came to an end and I looked over at Mr Pickle. His face was grave. He resettled his glass on his nose.

‘I’m afraid you also have 30% hearing loss in your right ear.’

I knew it! I thought, I knew my hearing was getting worse. Bloody drums and bass guitars! I am shattered. I gather together my racing thoughts…

‘Do you think this is genetic?’ I ask.

He nods, ‘oh yes, very likely.’

‘My Dad has terrible hearing,’ I tell him, this is true, my Dad is as deaf as a post but refuses to accept he has a problem.

Oh God! It strikes me. I gave it to Daughter! Guilt weighs heavy in me. I feel sick. Mr Pickle and I have a long discussion about my options which include a hearing aid – HORRORS! – and rapid testing of Son in case he has it too.

I send a miserable text to Rob, letting him know. He is really upset, which makes me even more upset. 

Mr Pickle is comparing my and Daughter’s notes. ‘Fascinating,’ he mutters, ‘almost identical readings. The gaps match almost exactly. Strong genetic mutation perhaps?’ Or something along those lines.

I gulp. Daughter, oblivious, gazes out the window, sun flooding her little flower of a face, pinging her bracelet. ‘The poor thing!’ I think with a sob. ‘Will she need a hearing aid?’

I notice Mr Pickle is fiddling with the headphones. He puts them on and starts typing on the lap top. I watch him doing the test. He catches me watching him and his eyes are beginning to show a dawning realisation…

‘Have you got 30% hearing loss in your right ear?’ I ask. My voice is steely.

I watch the blood drain from his face.

‘Do you think?’ I clear my throat, take a breath, and try again. ‘Do you think… maybe the headphones are faulty?’

‘I uh, I er..’ he stutters. ‘Possibly… I didn’t check the equipment before I left… it’s usually all fine, although we are supposed to check them every day…’

‘You didn’t check the equipment?’ I say. Rage is starting to bubble through my veins. But Mr Pickle is ignoring me.

‘I’ve just  referred three people to their GP’s with 30% hearing loss in their right ear…’ He is talking to himself, his voice panic stricken.

‘So you didn’t check the equipment yesterday either?’ I say.

He shakes his head, dumbly. He looks horror struck and despite myself I feel a wave of sympathy.

‘You’d better get in touch with them immediately, do you think?’ I say.

Mr Pickle is beginning to pack up his stuff. 

‘Does this mean Daughter and I don’t have a problem with our hearing?’

Mr Pickle is packing up so quickly his arms are a blur, equipment vanishes back into bags and within seconds he is standing, clutching his bag to his chest. 

‘Ah.. well.. no. Probably not.’ he says. ‘Probably a good idea to have a proper test done, your GP can organise it if you’re worried.’

‘I thought this was a proper hearing test?’ I ask but my voice trails away as I realise he is rattling down the staircase and out the door. Daughter and I watch him through the window as he scuttles across the street – a grey-suited Daddy Long Legs.

‘Does this mean I can hear, Mummy?’ asks Daughter curiously.

‘Yes pops, that’s good isn’t it?’

I wearily pull out my phone to call the school and Rob to let them know that neither Daughter, or I, have 30% hearing loss in our right ears.


And this is why I say to you, dear reader, don’t trust a Free Hearing Test.







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