For the 35 years that I have lived in Maine it has been a kind of house axiom that by my birthday there would be a snowfall. Oddly, that seemed to prove itself more often than not, specially when I lived up in the central part of the state. Now that I live in the southern region of the state, this is not so common. I don’t even think about it. Until this morning.

It isn’t much. Only a dusting. The temperature is dead on 32˚. If the sun shines, and the rumor is that it will, it will be gone soon. But right now it’s there specially on elevated surfaces. What does it mean? Nothing much. A little precipitation is a good thing.

It’s more of an emotional ceremonial thing. It’s only late fall. Actual winter is a month away. But this is its harbinger. I have already moved the snow blower out of the cellar and into the spare garage for easy access to the work it will have to do. All I have to do is run the door up, crank the machine and head out into the white world of blowing snow. Whoa there Pard – Don’t get carried away in pre-season ecstasy. It’s highly likely that I’ll be cussing the stuff before the daffodils bloom. But for now, we have turned that proverbial corner. The holiday season begins now. Seek out the warmth of family and friends. Pay attention to the things that matter.

We’ll begin the season by climbing the local mountain later today. Then we’ll pick up a couple of live lobsters for our dinner by the fire. It’s entirely possible that there is a nice bottle of wine in the mix, all in celebration of 85 winters and that first dusting of the season.

This is a re-visitation of a post I wrote for my 79th birthday in 2010. It’s instructive for me to realize that for the most part, what I said then still holds some truth today.

Yet Another Birthday Rumination
21. November 2010 ·

I promised myself, a long time ago, that if I should become an old person, I would not ruminate about being old. The reason I made this promise was that all the old people I knew were always talking about being old and it was depressing and boring. Well, now that I am actually old, I find that the thing I know most about (and about which I have ample documentation) is the business of being old. Of course, I could just keep my mouth shut. Alas, though I have lived a long time, and though I have always dreamed of being one of those silent mysterious types, I have not learned the lesson of reticence, much to the regret of the few close friends I have left.

Hardly a birthday goes by that I do not mark the passing of another old friend. This is the hardest part. I have said before, that a high school buddy of mine puts u a web site and lists the passing of class members as that happens. I moved away from the old home town soon after high school and therefore do not have an on-going experience with these people who are hardly more than yearbook memories, but who were then friends and acquaintances – school mates. He posts pictures of their gatherings, which are more instructive than looking into a mirror. I want to say, “My god those people look old”!

The body is the world’s most eloquent professor of gerontology. You don’t even have to take notes: it’s a continually updating notepad. You just have to “read” it. I sometimes think I am being singled out as a kind of test bed for ailments. Then I walk through a modern drug store and see evidence that I am only one of millions who are falling apart. You can tell how things are going with your neighbors by looking at the size of the different displays. Pain relief is perhaps one of the biggest sections. Then comes the 3 C’s, coughs, colds and congestion. Close behind is irregularity. Although this doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of aging complaints, it’s instructive.

I’ve noticed that mature people don’t give a damn who sees them “shopping” for pain medicine, or a more effective laxative, or a cold medicine. It’s part of the life. By the way I never see mature people shopping the condom section. I’ve never seen anyone shopping the condom section. Remember when you could only get them by asking for them?

I met an old friend in the grocery store yesterday. As we talked, it became apparent that we both suffered from hearing loss. We compared hearing aids. I had just purchased a packet of batteries. Later in the evening one of my batteries died and I replaced it with a new battery and discovered that it was the wrong size. This morning the other one died. As I sit here I am stone deaf. I remember having hearing so acute that it kept me awake at night. I think that’s all I’m going to say about what I can remember doing, There’s no space for that.

I am a lucky men. I can walk without assistance, and eat most anything, still handle good liquor and, after several medical interventions, see quite well. I’ll get up in a moment and go downtown to exchange these batteries, and check, hopefully, for a possible breakthrough in the irregularity section.

Same time next year?

If you pressed me about what I considered to be the most valuable possession I have, I’d have to say it is friendship. I wouldn’t hesitate.

It isn’t money. I never had any and still don’t. It isn’t influence. I never had any and still don’t. It isn’t power – I don’t even know why that came up. Believe me – if I had power, I’d make a few changes. But, moving on, I can’t imagine life without friends.

That being said, over the past several years, I have experienced a quiet withdrawal from my “normal” active participation in a social life among friends and acquaintances. I can’t say it was unconscious, but it borders on that. I had become aware of how poorly we articulate our words and how seldom we focus on the process of communication – the art of being understood – not just understanding.

I found myself in the paradoxical position of being anxious around friends. It was tiring, frustrating and discouraging. This didn’t happen overnight. It took decades of slowly becoming aware of my disability and adjusting my life to compensate for that. Not altogether unlike a person bound to a wheel chair searching for access.

I have friends, of course, who “get” it and who understand what I need in order to participate in conversation. I also “get” it about others. You don’t change the way adults speak or behave as communicators. Most people do not see themselves as communicators. It is my opinion that most people think that being understood is somebody else’s responsibility. Of course, we know it’s a partnership – a two way street.

I’ve taken steps to treat my hearing loss. Over the years, I have had a half dozen sets of hearing aids, each a little more powerful than the last. In May of 2016 I received a cochlear implant on the left side. I now have frequencies I have not heard for many years. It is not perfect. It will never be perfect. It is better. I am still anxious around friends – wanting to understand and participate. I have a better chance at those goals now than ever.

Advanced Bionics, the maker of the device in my head, have a wonderful web presence. On that site there is a link to a forum called Hearing Journey, which you can find at: https://hearingjourney.com It is a journey. It’s different for everyone. No two stories are alike, but they all share one thing – the desire to understand. Check it out. You would be welcomed.

I’m not a dog type person. In my mind this is neither a good nor a bad thing.

I grew up in a dog free family. There were no dogs on either side. My mother had two siblings and my father had twelve. No dogs that I ever knew about. What would you expect?

I remember asking my parents about having a dog and without the slightest deliberation they said, “NO!” That was that. I also remember being quite afraid of dogs as a child. I think dogs knew that.

I actually had a dog back in the mid sixties. I knew this woman who had AKC miniature poodles. Out of a new litter there was one whose birth was not witnessed – apparently a big deal – so it could not be registered. She offered him to us. My kids were ecstatic!

I convened an executive session of all five family members and laid down the law about caring for the dog and received unanimous agreement that Sam – they named the poodle Sam – would be cared for by THEM! It should be said that I have laid down the law countless times in my life only to be disappointed an equal number of times. Nobody ever gave a rap about my law.

Sam was a short timer in our family for a variety of reasons, most of which clustered around the issue of taking care of a pet and an uncomnon level of ignorance about that. You can fill in all the blanks you care to.

I have long since concluded that my best experience with the canine crowd is when the dog of record belongs to someone else. In light of that principle, I can say that I have had excellent relationships – all tangental, of course – with a number of fine dogs over the years. Here are a few.

There was Daisy, a cocker spaniel, that barked ferociously upon my arrival and then settled down peacefully. As I recall, Daisy was a tad flatulent, and that made me feel right at home. Then there is Lilly, a standard poodle who takes me riding in her boat. She loves the boat. Also B, an Australian sheep dog who is in the throes of adolescence and may not survive that. What a beautiful face. She lives in Florida and may put me up when I am down there in the spring. Then there is Ellie over in Topsham. Lives in a new condo. Nice place! There are always good things to eat when I visit her.

My son, David and his wonderful wife Alice are dog people on steroids. It seems that over the years they have had dozens of “golden” type dogs whose life and escapades have been chronicled to me faithfully. They are my grand-puppies. Sometimes we do Face Time with them. Currently there is only Beauregard, but perhaps not for long as a companion is being aggressively sought as we speak.

There have been other dogs, but space, as well as your tolerance, is limited. Remember: Be kind – when out and about use a leash and pick up your poop.

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS – You go off to school or work sometime in your early life and discover opportunities where you never thought they were and as a result never go home again. Well, that describes my early life. I could cut to the chase and say here I am in a remote corner of America feeling as much at home as I ever did in the land of my birth.

It’s here that an interesting sidebar should be inserted. The pictures I have stored in my mind of my friends and my life in the land of my nativity are all dated and faded. Because I never see those people, I see them as they were not as they are.

For you who have lived your lives close to where you grew up it’s a different feeling and experience. You and your friends have grown up into maturity in a partnership of shared lives or at least a shared place. When you see each other the changes you see are gradual and you see yourself in the lives of others.

When my brother died photographs were posted of people I last saw many years ago. Suddenly, my own age was palpable. For a while there was a website dedicated to news and events of my high school class. They would have a monthly luncheon and I would look at those pictures in amazement. Hardly a one would be recognizable to me in a random encounter.

I have spoken to many natives who say they would love to have lived somewhere else. But the draw of the familiar, of home is powerful and usually overrides most other considerations.

I sometimes envy those of you who grow into old age among your people. I have friends for whom I am grateful beyond words, while my immediate family is gone and old friends are slipping away. But isn’t that the way it goes? Yet, there is an element of life that I missed and do miss. On the other hand, I feel sure I would not change a thing. Our histories are the culmination of countless choices which if only a few or even one were otherwise, none of this might be happening.

We take life as it is. Even if we want to change things – that change must begin where and as it is now. I like it the way it is.

I feel deeply indebted to and grateful for each of you who have a part to play in my life. Thank you.

Carry on.

I’ve been using an adjustable walking staff for a number of years as a precaution when walking on uneven terrain. I am now giving serious consideration to using two walking sticks and doing so on even terrain. My next step has never seemed so unsure.

CA, my partner in life, and I frequently talk on the phone. It avoids going up and down the stairs.

I often dream of living in a foreign country, then I remember I once lived in Dexter – so I already did that.

We drive a hybrid Ford. I think that means it can’t reproduce.

I have a rubber tip for my walking stick. That way I can use it when I am navigating the uneven terrain of my apartment that is strewn with piles of magazines, a treadmill, a bicycle, rugs and various pairs of Birkenstocks.

3:30, August 29, and the wood is in. Disclaimer: CA stacked most of it. Disclaimer #2: I love a woman who likes to stack wood!

Crickets! With my new bionic ear I can hear crickets, birdsong and wind in the trees while sitting on the back porch at that magic hour in the evening. Crickets! I haven’t heard crickets in years. How cool is that?

Speaking of crickets: I’m a regular participant on a forum about hearing loss and cochlear implants in particular. I said something about being able to hear crickets and this guy said that if you count the number of “chirps” a cricket makes in fourteen seconds and add 40 to that you come up with the current temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, I tried it and yes it worked. Well, it was one degree off.

I am surrounded by technology. I remember having nothing more technical than a box of strike anywhere matches. I’ve had a smart TV for a year and I still can’t figure out the remote. I have a smartphone that can do things I haven’t even thought about doing. I have a powerful laptop, a tablet and we have a car that always knows where it is. The question is: why is my body falling apart?

Don’t worry: I know why my body is falling apart. It’s time. I’ve lived way beyond my “Use By Date”. I’ve tried my best to use myself. Don’t worry – I’m squeezing out every drop. Don’t worry #3 – Life has been much faster but never as good. Hmm – I wonder what that means.

You gotta wonder: is anything really random?

Sometimes the most obvious things are the most hidden. When I was first confronted with my hearing loss, a friend said to me, “Jerry, you do an excellent job of lip reading”. I had never even thought about lip reading and surely I did not think I was doing it. That was nineteen years ago.

Practicing with my new cochlear implant has revealed my secret life as a proficient lip reader, after all these years. What that means is I don’t understand diddly without looking at the lips of the speaker. Carol Ann and I can have a CI only conversation for an hour and when she hides here face it’s as though she had suddenly switched into ancient Navaho. It’s distressing.

My friend John on Hearing Journey – an online forum run by Advanced Bionics, the maker of my device – has just received his second implant. He talks about working with sounds that do not remotely resemble speech – yet. He gently reminds me that working outside my comfort zone is the only pathway to making sense of ancient Navaho – so to speak. This is hard. Much harder than I imagined.

Having a forum, a relationship with people on the same journey as I am, is proving to be a wonderful and meaningful resource. These people are scattered across the continent. It’s unlikely we would ever meet. I do have a friend – a fellow Mainer – who had her operation on the same ear, on the same day in the same town but different hospitals. Her husband was a nurse and my partner in life CA was a nurse as well. With all those share points we decided that we should meet on one of their trips down to Boston. We are having similar experiences in our initial learning phase. We encourage each other and take nourishment from the knowledge that we are in good company, and are not alone.

This is a rather boring journal accounting of my beginning moments with a cochlear implant ( CI ) yesterday and this morning. Be warned. 🙂

Yesterday was a most amazing day.  CA and I are exhausted.  The trip down and back from Portland to Boston is easy but with all the emotional stress, it was real work.  When we arrived at South Station we decided to walk the ten or eleven short blocks to the hospital. It takes about fifteen minutes. It is almost a straight shot sort of through China Town down Kneeland to Washington and then you’re there. The walk did us good going as well as returning.

The activation was remarkable.  I was able to hear voices at once.  Understanding was iffy, but there was an immediate acquisition of my audiologist’s voice.  It was not a normal sounding voice but one that might have been produced by a computer. I suppose it was. It sounded like someone was talking from the other end of a large diameter pipe or culvert producing a bell like overtone that made understanding difficult. Some of this might be dealt with through programing in concert with the brain making “sense” of what information it is getting through the CI.

With the CI alone I was able to understand about 75% of what she said.  As we progressed with the configuration these results began to fall off, increase and then settle in somewhere in between. 

She gave me 4 programs that essentially gave increasing volume and one that turned on the T-coil, which allows me to listen to TV and audio books through my hearing aids and implant when I am inside my audio loop.

I go back in a week and in the meantime I am going to listen to children’s audio books.  I am told that this is a great way to grasp simple words and increase brain function as it seeks to make sense of what it’s hearing.  

As time passed after we left the hospital I noticed subtile changes happening.  For instance, with both the HA and Ci going I was understanding CA more than usual.   I guess this will be the case for a while yet.  New discoveries around every corner.

Upon waking this morning my ability to understand speech was a little better. It seems that there are subtile changes happening all the while.

With the Ci alone, I would be lost most of the time.  As time goes on I am told that will get better. When I go bi-model – using the hearing aid and the implant my hearing is greatly improved from before the implant. This makes sense as i was getting little to no useful information from the left ear.

I am so pleased with the whole experience.  I have been tied in a knot these past few days – more so than before the surgery.

It seems that wearing a hat is going to be a huge problem.  I’ll be working on that.  I do hats. But that’s a minor challenge.

One of he most difficult parts about having hearing loss is helping friends who have normal hearing to understand what I am experiencing and what I need from them. Without fail, everyone understands, and without fail their behavior briefly changes before reverting to previous patterns. So I had this idea … …

What if at the next dinner party, cookout or celebration where I – a person well known to have serious hearing loss – was invited, I brought a supply of ear plugs and asked everyone to wear them then try to communicate as usual? … . . Well, it was a thought.

I remember hearing perfectly. I remember waking up to birdsong and wind in the trees. I remember the nuances of music – the overtones in every aspect of life that flows on a bed of sound.

I am two days away from the activation of my cochlear implant. Friends have expressed some serious hope and expectations about this. The advise I get from the hearing loss community is, “High hopes and low expectations”. It’s a process, I am told. It gets better, I am told. I’m looking forward to the time when my mind is filled with other thoughts – or perhaps none at all. Sometimes, I think that would be best.

Coming up on two weeks post CI surgery and every day there is some noticeable positive change in regards to the incision and surrounding area which was affected with some soreness and sensitivity.

I am finding that waiting is the most difficult part of recovery. The device won’t be activated until June 9th, and at this point that seems like a long time off. Meanwhile, I have developed some worrisome vertigo/dizziness that is not that unusual and is mostly temporary. I can’t tell you how much I am longing for the “temporary” part to kick in.

I was released to “full duty” (whatever that means) and spent the better part of an hour cutting grass – walking behind a lawnmower. It was good exercise for me and the dizziness seemed to be helped by the effort. Then this morning it was back. I am reminded of the old principle of two steps forward, one step back. There is progress, but not without encumbrances.

CA, my partner in life, says I think about this too much. She’s right of course.

Here is an interesting sidebar to all this. What are the chances that two people in Maine were having CI surgery on the same day in the same city, on the same ear? What’s more, what are the chances that each of these people are partnered with a retired nurse, both of whom were involved in hospice work? What a hoot! We connected on a forum sponsored by the people who make the devices we are getting. When the coincidences became known we decided ti meet for coffee. It was one of those “I’ll show you mine if you will show me yours”, kind of things. It was fun and quite comforting to talk with someone who was going through the same experiences that I was having.

Since my vertigo seem to get somewhat better from being up and moving around, I’ll see if a little more grass cutting might be in my future. Let’s see now – where did I put that bug dope?

Be well, and stay tuned.