ThatMomentPat Linhares first started noticing some people were harder to hear than others when she was in her 50s and working at a clothing manufacturer in Massachusetts in the early 1990s.

It was her fourth job as a sewing machine operator since she was 16.

Linhares, now 75, had thought she was going to be a nurse. She went to vocational school in Fall River, where she grew up, because nobody wanted to go to the local public high school, she said. But when it came time to train in the hospital, she found out she had no tolerance for the sight of blood. So, she switched to sewing, something her mother had taught Linhares and her sister as kids.

You could graduate in three years then, if you had the grades, and Linhares did. Her principal encouraged her to go on to design school, but her mother, who had divorced her father, told Linhares she had to go to work and got her a job making frocks, marking the start of her career.

Over nearly 40 years, Linhares made expensive women’s clothing, bathing suits and bibs, all among the constant clanging of machinery.

It was at her last job that she went to her union’s health center for a hearing test that determined she had pitch deafness, meaning she could only hear at certain frequencies. She was told she needed two hearing aids, but could only afford one.

She wore it in her right ear for 20 years. Through the fall at work that damaged her nerves and ended her career two years after she got the hearing aid. Through the move to Mississippi to be near family. Through the hurricane, Katrina, that swept away everything else. Through her husband’s health problems that prompted them to find senior housing near her daughter in Saco four years ago.

Then, last year, the hearing aid died. She had to keep her television at the highest volume and learned to read lips. When her grandchildren came to visit and they talked all at once, she couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Pat Linhares, 75, of Old Orchard Beach, hugs specialist Karen Kirtani after being fitted for new hearing aids donated by Beltone in Scarborough.

Pat Linhares, 75, of Old Orchard Beach, hugs specialist Karen Kirtani after being fitted for new hearing aids donated by Beltone in Scarborough. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

She went to Beltone in Scarborough for another test that again found she needed two hearing aids, even more than she did before. She still could only afford one.

“I’ve got hospital and doctor bills like this,” she said Friday, raising her hand a foot above a desk. Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids, and her supplemental insurance doesn’t cover enough.

A CALL TO 911, FINGERS CROSSED

Her husband’s heart is failing and his kidneys have started to go, too. A couple of weeks ago, she became worried that his lungs were filling up with fluid and called 911. She asked for an ambulance and could only hope it would come, because she couldn’t hear anyone on the other end of the phone.

It did show up, and his lungs had filled with fluid. When he left the hospital last week, doctors told Linhares to start preparing herself. Hospice workers have started coming to their apartment in Old Orchard Beach.

Meanwhile, the hearing specialist she saw at Beltone had submitted an application to a foundation set up by the company that covers the cost of hearing aids for those who can’t afford them. Amid worsening news about her husband’s health, Linhares got a call saying she had been selected as a recipient. After almost a year without any hearing aids, she would get two new ones for free.

Her daughter, Debbie Linhares, drove her to the appointment in Scarborough on Friday where she would get fitted for the hearing aids and find out how much she had been missing.

Karen Kirtani, the specialist who had applied to the foundation for Linhares, took the two women into a room with a big desk and a flat screen at the front.

‘I DON’T CARE IF IT SHOWS’

Even after she was told she needed two hearing aids 20 years ago, Pat Linhares could only afford one, and she wore it until it stopped working last year. The 75-year-old Old Orchard Beach woman had been going without until Beltone Hearing Care Foundation selected her recently as a recipient of two new hearing aids for free. She was fitted for the pair last week.

Even after she was told she needed two hearing aids 20 years ago, Pat Linhares could only afford one, and she wore it until it stopped working last year. The 75-year-old Old Orchard Beach woman had been going without until Beltone Hearing Care Foundation selected her recently as a recipient of two new hearing aids for free. She was fitted for the pair last week. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Although Linhares had used a hearing aid before, the style and technology had changed a lot in 20 years, Kirtani told her. These wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone else.

“I don’t care if it shows or it doesn’t show,” Linhares told her. She just wanted to hear her grandchildren and to talk on the phone without a constant buzz.

Kirtani showed Linhares how to fit the devices in her ears and open the battery door so it doesn’t drain at night. She reminded her not to get them wet.

“Oh, I know that,” Linhares said. She knew to keep them away from pets, too, she said – her sister had learned that the hard way.

But other things about the new hearing aids would be different, Kirtani said, as she programmed the devices on a computer. With the new technology, there is no volume control. The hearing aids adjust to sounds depending on how loud they are and where they’re coming from.

Pat Linhares, a 75-year-old Old Orchard reacts after hearing the test tones of her new hearing aids at Belltone Hearing Aid Center in Scarborough. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Pat Linhares, a 75-year-old Old Orchard reacts after hearing the test tones of her new hearing aids at Belltone Hearing Aid Center in Scarborough. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

The biggest change, Kirtani said, would be the background noises, the hum of the refrigerator and the roll of tires on the street that Linhares hadn’t had to ignore in a while.

VOLUME ADJUSTMENTS, THEN TEARS

When it was time to turn on the hearing aids, Kirtani told her there would be a loud buzz. Seconds later, Linhares’ head jerked back.

“Oh!” she said, scrunching her face.

Too loud, said Kirtani, who adjusted the volume through her computer and asked Linhares how it was.

Pat Linhares hugs Karen Kirtani, a hearing aid specialist at Belltone Hearing Aid Center in Scarborough. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Pat Linhares hugs Karen Kirtani, a hearing aid specialist at Belltone Hearing Aid Center in Scarborough.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“Just talk normal,” Linhares told her. She was.

But Linhares quickly got used to the volume of her voice, and the conversation flowed easily as they talked about taking care of the hearing aids and coming back for a follow-up appointment the next week. When Linhares got up from her seat, she had tears in her eyes and gave Kirtani a long hug.

At the front desk, Linhares leaned over to make an appointment with the receptionist.

“I can hear you now,” she told the woman whose voice was out of Linhares’ range when she walked in that morning.

After scheduling the next visit, she headed to the front door. Linhares pulled the handle and the hinges squeaked. She turned back toward the receptionist.

“It needs oil,” she said.