Emily's Hearing Aid Fund

The short version:
I may only be 23, but I have mild/moderate hearing loss across all frequencies, in both ears.  I work outdoors where hearing faint sounds is vital, both to my job and potentially my life.  I hate asking for money, but I must, if I am going to afford hearing aids which will allow me to continue working outdoors safely.

The long version:
Those of you who have known me for any length of time should know two things by now: 1) I’m obsessed with owls, and 2) I say “what?” and make you repeat yourselves a lot… I also stare at people’s lips during loud situations to make sure I understand you correctly… and sometimes I still think you’re saying “shit” instead of “ship”, “house” instead of “mouse”, and “death” instead of “deaf”, or vice versa.

My obsession with owls began in 6th grade, and has led me to where I am today: a 23 year old, recent college graduate, trying to begin my future as a newly fledged wildlife biologist.  I have wanted nothing more than to work with owls for the past 10 years of my life.  I have an interview in a few weeks with a long-term spotted owl study, and I am extremely hopeful.  However, owls are elusive and rarely seen, but more frequently heard.  A good portion of my potential future job relies on the ability to hear owls from far away.  I can’t hear distant owls on a calm night, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to try to hear them on a windy night.

Also beginning well into elementary school has been my noticeable inability to hear quiet people, and I am therefore the loudest whisperer I know.  Staying up attempting to watch movies so that our parents wouldn’t hear us being up so late, I frequently could only hear the dialogue if I had my hands cupped to my ears to amplify it, and even then missed some of the quietest parts.

When asking people “what?” they had just said, it was often repeated to me in the same volume as before, or rushed the second time, or while looking away from me.  I was usually unable to hear them the second time around, and would ask yet again for them to repeat it… frequently, the responses quickly degraded into “oh nevermind” and much annoyance (with copious eye-rolling) at my inability to have heard them the first two times.  That led to me pretending to have heard people for several years, and just nodding, smiling, and saying “yeah” as if I knew what they were talking about, often while not having a clue.  That worked fine most of the time, and I could put off facing my reality for a few more years.  I’ve finally been telling people, “what?  I didn’t hear you, I have horrible hearing” and/or just ignoring people altogether until they finally speak loud enough for me to hear them clearly, then using “oh sorry my hearing sucks, I didn’t realize you were talking to me” to get out of any awkwardness that comes along with ignoring people in public.

I got a reminder of just how important my reality really is this summer, when a black bear quite easily might have snuck up on me and my PB&J if not for my coworker, who heard it long before it was close enough to see.  I, on the other hand, couldn’t hear it until I could actually see it.  I am now acutely aware of how much I don’t hear when I’m in the forest… something that is potentially dangerous.  Ignorance really is bliss, I guess.

A rude awakening in the form of that same coworker with great hearing made me realize that I might not be able to hear owls, meaning I might not be able to ever work with them in the wild.  Upset that my lifelong goals might have just come to a screeching halt before they even started, I finally went to an audiologist to look into my predicament last week.

Unsurprisingly, my hearing test results revealed that I have mild, bordering on moderate, hearing loss in both ears, across all frequency levels.  Could be genetic (aka: lucky), could have been the result of a long forgotten childhood target practice session without earplugs.  The good news is that I have something called “flat” hearing loss, which is apparently really easy to correct, with the right hearing aids.

I’ll never know the cause, but now I know the cost: $2000 for a pair of hearing aids from Costco (so still LOT cheaper than private places, by nearly $1000 per ear) that will bring my hearing up to normal.

Now faced with this price tag, I’m once again facing the possibility of being unable to study owls in their natural habitats due to my inability to hear, and the fact that I am an unemployed, uninsured, recent college graduate in debt with student loans.  There is absolutely no way I myself can pay for these without a job, and it’s possible I may not be able to find a job in my field without being able to hear well.  I am now asking you, my friends and family, to help me get out of this vicious cycle.  I am asking for help in order to not only allow me to pursue my passion, but to help me spend time in the great outdoors without having to worry about anything potentially dangerous (bi- or quadrupedal) sneaking up on me.

Any amount you may be able to conveniently donate (no matter how small!) would be incredibly appreciated, and  no matter if you can donate or not, please share this and my story to your friends and families as well.  I believe in the good of people, and I know I’ve got some amazing friends and family out there.  Thank you all so much in advance!


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Emily Culhane 
Arcata, CA
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