When Thomas Maye wasn’t flying up and down the coast with Irish Helicopters, he was spinning discs in his role as disc jockey at youth discos in his native Cork.
But life for the father of four, although hectic and fulfilling, was having a devastating toll on his hearing.
“I was with Irish helicopters for 13 and a half years in the 1980s and 1990s, going up and down the west coast to the oil rigs and fish farms and with the Search and Rescue.
“Most of the time we just wore an ordinary headset, which wasn’t worth tuppence but in those days you would just get on with it.
“It was the same when I was a DJ throughout the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s. You wouldn’t wear the headset half the time and the music was blaring.
“The louder it was the better. Everyone was out dancing and enjoying themselves and you didn’t even think how loud it was,” he recalled.
The 73-year-old remembers his late wife, Josephine, remarking on how loud the television was as far back as 10 years ago but it was nine years before he addressed the problem.
In the meantime, he became expert at compensating and covering up.
‘I was vice-chairman of the southern region of the Active Retired group and assistant secretary of my own local group. I was also chairman of the local GAA club and president and captain of the Mahon Golf Club so I was at a lot of meetings and I was finding it difficult to hear what was going on.
“I would study people’s lips but I used to get embarrassed because sometimes I would be asked a question and I would say ‘yes’, or ‘no’ or nod my head and I would be worried that I might have said the wrong thing.
“I remember one night I was out at dinner with a party of eight and I was chatting to the man who was sitting beside me but there were people across the table who started speaking to me and I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
“I was trying to nod and smile when someone else was nodding and smiling but I hadn’t a clue what was happening,” he confesses.
Even on the golf course, Thomas came up with techniques to disguise his hearing loss.
“If there was three of us going out, I would have to get into the middle to know what the other two were talking about,” he says.
About a year ago, he ended up sitting beside the manager of Hidden Hearing in Cork, Philip Cornwell, at a dinner party. They got chatting and he agreed to go for a hearing test.
“He put in a set of hearing aids and walked around Cork City with me.
“I couldn’t believe the difference.
“He stood me inside the Old English Market where people are buzzing around all the time and walked in a circle around me, about three or four feet away from me, and I was able to hear him even when he was behind my back .
‘Before that I had to be looking at a person straight in the face or leaning over to try to hear them. They have made a big difference to my life.
These days when his sons call around, they are the ones telling him to turn up the television.
“It is the opposite to the way it used to be. They say ‘God dad, turn up that television, I can’t hear it,’ and I can hear it perfectly. I can even hear clocks ticking,” he said.
He added that once the hearing aids are in, he hardly notices he is wearing them.
“The very odd time if I am rushing out the door and I forget to put them in, the difference is unbelievable,” he said.
Thomas, who is currently compiling a photographic history of his hometown of Carrigaline, has resumed enjoyment of his extensive music collection, ranging from Elvis and Sinatra to heavy metal, as he works at his computer.
But the songs that have particular poignancy are those of Andrea Bocelli, a love of whom he shared with his late wife Josephine, who died of cancer over six years ago, after 41 years of marriage.
– Anita Guidera