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The wonderful sound of birds chirping

Here's the scene. I'm sitting in the driver's seat of my car in the shadiest spot possible at Costco's parking lot. I've not started the car's engine yet — I'm reflecting on what just happened to me.

Instead of an automobile packed with open-top cardboard boxes containing enough groceries and household items to last us a month or more, I have one small white bag sitting on the seat next to me.

Something else is different, too. In and behind each ear, I have a hearing aid. It took me almost 14 months from the date of my initial appointment for a hearing evaluation to this moment of actually acquiring hearing aids.

I usually make decisions fairly quickly, but I kept putting this one off. After all, I told myself, a mild to moderate hearing loss justifies waiting. And then there's the cost to be considered. Hearing aids are an investment. And caring for them seemed like just another thing I would have to remember to do.

I've been awash in reasons for procrastinating. I had a difficult time envisioning tiny plastic and wire contraptions attached to my ears. I recalled the difficulties my mother had getting batteries into her aids. But perhaps the biggest reluctance was the bold and highly public statement they make about getting old. Not that I think acknowledging age is a bad thing — I do it every week in this column, after all. But hearing aids are things your grandparents wore. Wait, I am a grandparent.

As I sit in my car, using the rearview mirror to determine how visible these lightweight devices are in my ears and checking to ensure that one did not already fall out, I feel exhilarated. Yes, that's the word. Mission accomplished. New horizons.

After all, I was having trouble hearing questions after I taught classes or gave presentations, and when my soft-voiced granddaughters visited, I kept asking them to repeat their comments to the point I was fearful they would stop making them.

So here I am, minutes into a new way of engaging the world. I'm aware of the cacophony of noises around me. I'd become totally adjusted to my hearing loss, and now I am realizing there are sounds I'd not heard for years. The crinkling of the paper bag containing all my hearing aid paraphernalia is incredibly loud (the hearing specialist said that would be the case and perhaps the most difficult sound to adjust to), but the birds chirping in a nearby tree are a delight. And there's the joyous sound of children laughing as they pass my parked car.

I start the car's engine and back out of the lot. As I make the turn and exit onto the highway, I am struck by a loud clicking sound. No wonder people riding with me always kept asking that I turn off the blinker. My hearing aids are allowing me to hear something I'd never heard before (and our car is six years old!).

Notice how possessive I have already become — I just referred to them as "my" hearing aids. Onward, joyously.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.