When Pennsylvania College of Optometry, my dear alma mater, expanded to offer the doctorate program in audiology, I thought it was a stroke of genius.

PCO (now Salus University) had enough sense to realize that optometrists deal with aging patients who have many ailments, such as hearing loss and driving 10 miles under the speed limit. I actually encourage all optometry schools to consider adding special educational programs geared toward all aspects of the aging process, especially since my whole life is now geared toward all aspects of the aging process.  

So, Ive come to believe that hearing loss can be more devastating than vision loss. I know, thats heresy! But the hearing-impaired patient presents a special (read: horrible) challenge to any doctor.

Now, Im generally loud. Ask anybody who knows me. I eat, drink, brood and basically YELL at the top of my lungs. In the office, Im so excited to be with the patient that before he or she even has a refraction, I make certain the patient is completely educated about such important optometric information as the fact that I was born in Harvey, Ill. and that my dad was in the FBI at that time and that my mom lived in New York City during the Great War and that Im in a rock band and that my acoustic folk CD Cellular just came out and that I invented the semi-famous astigmatic contact lens line The better you feel, the worse you see and Well, you get the picture. I just chatter on and on. 

So, when a patient comes in with some hearing loss, they miss the most salient half of the examination! Thats right: the part about my dog, Tia. I have to REALLY slow down and enunciate clearly.

The only thing that is constant is my volumealways around 8.5 on the Richter scale.

My loudness may seem like an advantage, but most patients who come into my office with hearing problems are already wearing hearing aids. Not wanting to be embarrassed, they often reach up and crank up the input volume before I storm in. My first words, about something critically important, such as how my wife made me clean one thing or another over the weekend, hits them as if they stuck their heads into the business end of a solid-fuel rocket booster.

The hearing aid (or whats left of it after my entrance fries its circuits) starts squealing uncontrollably or perhaps thats the whimpers of the now aurally-damaged patient.

This makes for a very interesting start to any eye examination. Very.

Anyone, not just the elderly, can have hearing problems. A couple of years ago, I started experiencing a constant ringing in my ears. And, a couple of times a week I was playing guitar with the band at decibels typically reserved for crying children sitting next to me at the movies. So, I had my hearing checked. The good news is that I had normal readings for every frequency but one. Coincidentally, that is the exact frequency of my wifes voice. Go figure.

So, when you are with your hearing-impaired patient, be sure to talk calmly and enunciate. Dont get impatient. In my case, some of my most satisfied patients cant even hear a word I say. Lucky them.

Want to hear more from Dr. Vickers? His new acoustic CD, Cellular, is now available at www.CDBaby.com. Download songs at www.digstation.com (search Cellular). Or e-mail mvick236@aol.com$15 includes shipping and handling in the continental U.S. A donation will be made to the Lance Armstrong Foundation for each copy sold.

Vol. No: 146:02Issue: 2/15/2009