A View from the Hill: Wait ’til you hear about this new public health measure

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The dream: I was stuck on some dismal island somewhere. The island came under attack from some very mean people. (I guess it was actually a nightmare.) We were rounded up for evacuation. It was chaos. Very dark and crowded. 

Wait, it got worse. Much worse. After a lot of mayhem, I put my hand to my ear and…oh God, one of my AirPods was missing! 

Andrew MarstersI trace this late-night misery to a recent upgrade of my AirPods.

I upgraded because Apple recently added a cool feature that allows them to be used as hearing enhancers. Apparently I say “what” far too much, according to people who get annoyed far too easily.

This isn’t my first brush with hearing deficit. About 18 years ago, when my daughter was in labor with my grandson, I was sent out of the birthing room for a little while. In the hall I encountered a friend and I asked him what he was doing there. He said something that I heard as very good news.

“That’s terrific!” I said.

Another of my kids, who witnessed this, kicked me in the shin and told me what he had actually said, and it wasn’t terrific at all. It was tragic.

My wife dispatched me to an audiologist the next day. He did some tests and told me that I had mild to moderate hearing deficit. I said, “What?” He wrote a prescription for some extremely expensive hearing aids, which of course he sold, and which couldn’t be bought without the prescription.

I put them on and went outside. Birds screeched. Insects whistled. Leaves moving in the wind grated. Inside, people talked more loudly than necessary. And it all had the tone of an old pocket transistor radio with the crappy earpiece.

I took them back and got my thousands of dollars back. I’ve been saying “what” way too much ever since.

What? What? What? Drives people bonkers. I really don’t enjoy it myself.

So now I’m back in the hearing aid market, and my timing is perfect, even if my hearing is not.

On Oct. 20, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids. The ruling allows to be sold directly to the public without a fitting or exam by an audiologist. That is huge, especially for people of a certain age.

It means a market that once belonged to audiologists is now open for competition. You can walk into a Walgreens or Best Buy or whatever and walk out with a nice pair of hearing aids for about $600. You can even try them out for a few weeks and if you don’t like them you can take them back for a full refund.

It’s as if there had been a law that bike shops could only sell bikes to people they wrote a prescription for and charged them $12,000. Then the law was lifted and anyone could sell a bike and the price dropped to $800 or even less.

It’s the type of program that Republicans hate because, like college debt forgiveness, it goes a little way toward leveling the playing field — which is so not a GOP thing.

I’ve already got my new hearing aids picked out.

I’m a little self-conscious about it. It’s never fun to learn that your body is beginning to fail you and to wear something that announces your infirmity to the world. At least adult diapers are an invisible undergarment, not that I would know anything about them.

It’s going to be a fun experiment, and before long everyone my age will be wearing them. The hearing aids, I mean.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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