By Robert Martin, PhD

This month’s Blog Page is from the May 7, 2013 blog entry by Dr Robert Martin that can be found at his and co-editor Judy Huch’s Hearing Health blog at: —David Kirkwood, HearingHealthMatters editor


Audiology is a wonderful profession! We get many opportunities to help people hear better, and once in a while we get to work miracles. My story today is about a miracle.

To appreciate the beauty and depth of this story, it helps if you have seen My Fair Lady, the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical that was made into an Academy-award winning movie in 1964. Based on Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw, My Fair Lady tells the story of a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, and his friend, Colonel Pickering.

These London gentlemen get into a debate about whether it is possible to teach Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl with a strong Cockney accent (played by the beautiful and talented Audrey Hepburn), to speak so elegantly that she can pass for a duchess.

While the story of my “fair lady” doesn’t have the music, costumes, or actress of the film, it is even more grand and more heart wrenching.

Her name is Maria and she was about 16 years old when I first saw her. Maria had never attended any type of school because she could not hear. Her speech was limited to about 10 words. She lived with her brother and his family who were very poor. Our hearing tests indicated a flat 80 dB hearing loss in both ears. We fitted her with hearing aids.

The joyous part of my story happened whenever Maria returned for an office visit. Each time, she could hear her family members better than the last time. She was able to hear the cars on the street and understand people on TV. Her speech improved quickly and her vocabulary expanded massively.

Maria is a delicate, soft-spoken, sweet woman, who learned to talk and interact with the people in her life. The miracle of language development—usually seen in very young children—happened to her as a teenager. The family was thrilled and said, “She can talk now.”

I looked forward to my office visits with her with great anticipation. There was always something new she had heard. Her language development was astounding, quickly moving from single words, to three-word phrases, then multiword sentences.

“I heard a cat,” she once told me. “It makes a funny sound.” I can still see the smile on her face when she said that.

The Greatest Gift of All

We don’t appreciate the vast contribution hearing has in our life until we work with people who cannot hear. This young woman’s life changed from hearing not at all to hearing well. Before she heard, she lived with a family, but was not really part of the family.

My gift of hearing and hearing aids to Maria was huge. But her gift—of showing me what my profession was all about—was perhaps even greater. I am very proud of our profession and what we do. So much of what enriches our lives comes to us through our ears.

I have seen Maria for many years. Some flowers and trees take a long time to bloom and grow only more beautiful with age. Maria is without question such a flower. Now, sadly, she has lost her vision and is blind. The last time I saw her, she held my hand and told me, “Thank you for my ears.”

The love Maria receives, the jokes she hears, the connection to her children, the music that entertains her, even the silly cat she hears, all come through her hearing aids. Words cannot fully express what this story means to me. She is “my fair lady.” I am her_______…fill in the blank: hero, doctor, knight in shining armor. When you give a life-changing gift, it comes back to you in the form of joy.

Robert Martin bio For a quarter century, Robert L. Martin, PhD, has been providing hearing care providers with practical, down-to-earth advice, mixed with humor and passion. After 23 years of writing his popular Nuts & Bolts column for The Hearing Journal, he joined where he now shares his insights as a regular contributor to the Hearing Health blog. In his writings, Dr Martin draws upon over 40 years as an audiologist—most of it spent as a private practice owner in the San Diego area. After completing his master’s degree in audiology at Arizona State University and PhD at the University of Tennessee, he joined the faculty at San Diego State University. But Dr Martin quickly decided that he wanted to focus on patient care. He began dispensing hearing aids in private practice in 1975, and remains active to this day. In addition to writing a monthly column since 1989, Dr Martin contributed a chapter to the NIHIS text Hearing Instrument Science and Fitting Practices. His book, The Best of Nuts & Bolts, was published by Williams & Wilkins in 1995. Dr Martin notes that nothing in his career has been more rewarding than the time he spends every year as a volunteer providing hearing care to children in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. To this end, he’s always on the lookout for used BTEs, so if you have any, please email him at: [email protected]