Hearing aids, golf, and life itself. How could those three be related, you ask, except maybe in the mind of an aging audiologist who has fit too many hearing aids and spent too much time in the sun on the golf course? Let me explain the relationships I see and then perhaps you, like me, will appreciate even more this unusual and interesting profession in which we practice.
There are two sayings that often surface in golf chatter: “If you really want to get to know someone, play a round of golf with them.” and “Cheat at golf; cheat at life.” On the golf course, you learn very quickly how an individual reacts to success, failure, challenges, and unexpected outcomes.
No one, not even Tiger Woods, can hit every shot well. In fact, most of us hit only a small percentage of our shots well, so less than perfect performance is a fact of life in golf. The more challenging the shot, the more likely that poor performance will result. Sounds a lot like hearing aid performance in noisy situations, doesn't it? Those with sensorineural hearing loss will never have perfect speech understanding, and the worse the signal-to-noise ratio, the poorer their performance.
When poor performance occurs on the golf course, usually on the first hole or two, you typically get an immediate hint of how your playing partner is going to deal with it. The initial reaction can range from optimism (“I'll get those bad shots out of the way first”) to slight frustration (“I never seem to hit it well on the first hole”) to moderate frustration (“I can't believe it, I've sliced it in the woods the last 20 times I've played this hole”), to extreme frustration (“I hate this game! Why do I keep playing?”)
GOLFERS AND NEW HEARING AID WEARERS
Our patients also have a similarly wide range of reactions to their first experiences with hearing aids. The ones we love to see say, “I'm doing pretty well. They aren't perfect, but they're definitely helping and I'll get used to them.” Then there is the common first statement of “I didn't think it was going to be that big.” Moving up the frustration ladder, you hear, “What's that noise I hear in the room? Am I going to have to listen to that all the time? And my own voice sounds horrible!” Occasionally, you run into someone who actually refuses to leave the office with the new hearing aids.
As the golf round goes on or the months pass with the new hearing aids, new behaviors and coping strategies often emerge. The initially optimistic golfer usually develops in one of two ways. He may continue to have a good attitude, focusing on his successes, dealing with the ball in the water or the muffed sand shot, and enjoying an afternoon on the golf course. This is the guy you want as a playing partner.
The analogous hearing aid users are a delight. They deal realistically with their hearing problems, enjoy life despite their hearing loss, and appreciate the help you have provided them.
But another person may emerge from this originally positive partner/patient. Sometimes, optimism dissipates, attitude sours, and the person realizes his or her expectations were too high.
The golfer begins making excuses, often blaming a physical problem (sore back, tender shoulder), the weather (too windy, too hot), or the clubs, and refusing to accept personal responsibility for his own limitations. Things can go similarly with the formerly optimistic hearing aid user who starts to realize that hearing aids do not restore normal hearing. The patient blames the aids for poor speech understanding (“They make speech louder, but not clearer.”) rather than the limitations of his or her own auditory system.
Then there is the highly frustrated, often Type A personality, golfer who desperately needs to read Bob Rotella's book Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect (Simon and Schuster, 1996). This is not someone you want to spend Saturday afternoon on the golf course with. To him, golf is not a fun game, it's a grim battle, and every missed shot is cause for excuses, thrown clubs, or loud profanity (of course, I've never done that!).
When people like this enter our hearing aid clinic, they bring with them highly unrealistic expectations and a low tolerance for frustration. They view life as a trial, and hearing aids just another part of the problem.
So what is the final word? It is that in golf, hearing aids, and life, you don't find “perfect.” As clinicians, we get to know our patients very well, just as we do our golfing partners. We learn how they approach life from watching their reactions to success, frustration, and, sometimes, failure. As we lead our patients on the journey to better, but imperfect, hearing, I believe it is the counseling we do that has the greatest effect on how they tolerate, adapt to, and accept the imperfections that come their way.
Simply dispensing hearing aids will not lead a frustrated perfectionist to accept less than perfect hearing. But good counseling and aural rehabilitation that emphasizes better communication strategies can lessen that frustration and help the person handle another of life's imperfections.
We are lucky to be in a profession that lets us interact with people in this way, to be part of their lives, and to help them. It's almost as nice as a 170-yard six iron stopping 2 feet from the cup.