As you know I'm currently not on a digital sabbatical. I've simply broken free from commitments and stepped off the treadmill for 3 weeks. We're now 2 weeks into it. If you need to get in touch please wait until I'm back from touring the UK with my friends The Swellers. You can follow our adventures by following them on twitter:@theswellers.
The problem with insurance companies is they don't want you to prevent illness, and then they bitch and moan when you get sick or injured. Interestingly, as much bitching and moaning as they do, many of them still manage to eek out tiny profits. (If tiny is billions of dollars.) In case that wasn't clear, these slimy bastards are pulling in ridiculous amounts of cash.
If insurance companies weren't imbeciles they'd require preventive care and make even more billions. (How? Charge the same premiums, but pay out less benefits since less people would go to doctors.) But this isn't an article about stupidity. This is about taking your health into your own hands.
The physical ailment I worry about most is going deaf.
It's right up there with dying. I'm not joking. Anybody who knows me knows I love music and my life would be markedly worse without it.
To illustrate my point: Last year I went to a show in Detroit and forgot ear plugs. I went roaming Woodward Ave, walking into liquor stores and anywhere else, asking if they had ear plugs. It was to no avail. Finally I called my friend Jessica and told her that she's not allowed into the show unless she finds ear plugs. (She was nice enough to do just that! Thanks Jessica!)
Music is important to me and I'd like to enjoy it forever. Hearing it is different than enjoying it. Hearing music with a ringing in your ear (or other ear damage) is not enjoyable. Additionally, once you learn an instrument you hear music differently than non-musicians. You know what I mean if you're a musician. You have no clue if your idea of musicianship is Rock Band.
The point is, ear plugs are a preventive measure that I take seriously. Lots of people think ear plugs look dumb and getting a ringing in their ears after a concert is a sign of pride. I guess this is an article about stupidity. ;)
Here's the problem with store-bought disposable ear plugs (which is what most people think when you say "ear plugs"): they muffle the music you paid to hear. Which is another reason lots of people don't wear them. It makes the concert going experience immeasurably worse.
I travel with lots of disposable ear plugs and use them regularly. I've never particularly enjoyed them, but I'd rather listen to a muffled concert than lose my hearing and never listen to a concert again. That said, I knew there were other options.
So I did what any normal person would do: I made an appointment with an audiologist to get a pair of custom non-disposable ear plugs made specifically for musicians and other people consistently exposed to loud noises.
Following is what that process is like ...
I met with the Doctor and his assistant Val (student studying to be an audiologist) and he explained 5 different types of hearing loss. One is genetic and the others can be prevented. (Did you know diabetes can cause deafness? Me neither!) He asked me why I want custom ear plugs, and where they'll be used. This is because you can get different inserts that have different levels of noise reduction. More on that later.
The Doctor left and Val conducted a hearing test. I hadn't done one of these since high school, although this one was a little different. I sat down in a sound proof booth and Val inserted ear bud headphones into my ears.
She tested the softest sound I could hear in varying frequencies. Any time I heard a sound I was to press a button. Then we did essentially the same test with over-the-ear studio headphones (the big cushiony can-like things).
The results of my hearing test were explained and it was onto the fun stuff ...
Making a mold of my ear canal!
First Val inserted a little foam piece with a string into each ear canal. This prevents the mold putty from getting into the ear canal and makes it easier to pull the mold out. She mixed up the putty, inserted it into a large syringe, and forced it into each ear. We waited 5 minutes for it to harden, she pulled them out, checked with the Doctor to make sure they looked right, and I was on my way.
I was told it would take up to 2 weeks to get the custom silicone plugs back, but I asked if they could rush it since I was leaving the city soon. It took 5 days.
Total time at the audiologist: 45 minutes
Total cost: $215. $150 for the plugs (including 1 pair of noise reduction inserts), $25 for hearing test, $25 for molds, + tax.
Additional interchangeable inserts, which come in 9db, 15db, and 25db noise reduction cost $70 each. The inserts are what actually reduce the noise and the custom plug simply creates a perfect seal in your ear. The Doctor recommended the 15db to me and explained this is 5 times quieter than normal unprotected sound and will be great for my use, so that's what I went with. I can still hear a lot when wearing them so I'm considering getting the 25db inserts for sleeping.
How they feel: When I first got them back I didn't have anywhere to test them. Meaning, I wasn't planning on going to any loud places. So I just put them in while working to get a feel for them. The left plug felt weird after a short while. Eventually it got unbearable. I went back to the audiologist the next day and they shaved down a bit of the plug. The process took another 30 minutes.
Since that time I've used the plugs extensively and they have been phenomenal. It's really fun to experience true-to-sound live music while knowing my hearing isn't getting damaged.
If you're a grown adult and musician or live music lover I highly recommend looking into custom ear plugs for yourself. Sure $200 sounds like a lot, but they last a long time and it's a small investment in your health compared to the benefits you receive.
Don't expect your insurance company to pay for your plugs because they don't care about your health. Do it for yourself because if you don't take your health into your own hands nobody else will.
By the way, I asked on Facebook a few weeks ago what preventive health measures you take. Here are those responses. Feel free to comment on that if you want to add yours.