Dr. Austin Black knows exactly what his patients mean when they talk about living with hearing loss.
Black, an audiologist at Beltone Hearing Care Center, has had hearing difficulty since childhood and still wears hearing aids.
Early on, a doctor determined that Black’s hearing was reduced by about 50 percent in his left ear and about 20 percent in his right.
Black’s hearing aids seem to have done the trick. He converses freely without having to ask you to repeat anything.
The discreet hearing aids he wears now look nothing like that one hearing aid he wore in the fifth grade. It helped him hear better, but it turned the shorter-than-average 10-year-old into the butt of relentless jokes and pranks.
“I hated being different,” he recalls.
So he stopped wearing it. Since he couldn’t quite make out everything his teachers said, he made his way through school with mediocre grades.
He could still hear well enough to enjoy music though, so he joined the school band. He didn’t know that the trumpet section behind him was actually damaging his ears further.
At 15, doctors told Black there was nothing they could do to correct his hearing.
“I just remember feeling very, very defeated,” he says.
At 18, he finally got another hearing aid. By that time, Black was a freshman at UK, majoring in physical therapy.
“Back then, I wanted to be in a rock band,” he recalls with a smile. “That was my thing. I was going to go to college to make my mom happy because she was a teacher. So I mean, looking back on it, it’s a funny road that I’ve taken.”
Black had always wanted to go into a field where he’d be helping people, but it had never occurred to him that he’d be capable of medicine.
“Because I had so much trouble in school, I didn’t think that I was really that smart. And so I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m not smart enough to go into medical school.’”
But now that Black had his new hearing aid, things were different. He heard about the university’s communication disorders degree program and, for the first time, believed he might have what it would take to become an audiologist.
After graduating from UK, he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in audiology from UofL.
It was shortly after beginning his audiology studies that Black started wearing two hearing aids instead of just one.
“They said you have to practice what you preach,” he recalls. “You can’t say you need something if you’re not doing it yourself. And so I’ve pretty much worn just about every hearing aid – except for maybe one or two companies – over the past 17 years. I think it helps me to connect with my patients.”
And connect he does. He calls it “the empathy factor.”
People can usually get an appointment with Black within two or three days, and when they come, he takes time to listen and understand each patient’s unique challenges.
What’s most bothersome about hearing loss varies from person to person, he explains. For some, it might be the fact that they can no longer enjoy movies or music. Others worry that someone dangerous could approach them without their knowledge.
“Instead of looking at it like a lot of people might – there’s an angry patient or an angry customer – it’s kind of like, well, if this happened I would probably be frustrated in the same way.”
But Black knows his patients don’t have to just live with their hearing loss, like he did for so long. There’s help, and there’s no reason to delay getting it.
Black is primarily based at Beltone’s St. Matthews location, 970 Breckenridge Lane, Suite 102. He also sees patients at 4802 Dixie Highway and 3840 Ruckriegel Parkway in Jeffersontown. VT
Beltone Hearing Care Center
970 Breckenridge Lane