After my worst fear, that of going blind (a fate I’m not sure I could endure), my second-worst fear has been that of going deaf. After decades of farming, loud engines, shooting guns and riveting bombers during and after the war, my father lost most of his hearing. Wearing ear protectors was virtually unheard of back in that time. It was embarrassing, demoralizing, and caused him to miss most of the things going on around him. It was socially isolating in a major way, almost worse in some ways than blindness. Going shopping became an ordeal. He missed greetings, friendly questions, TV and movies, singing in church, deep discussions, phone conversations, and the sounds of nature. We were all embarrassed as well, having a family member who couldn’t engage in conversation. Hearing aids helped a little bit, but the damage was too permanent, besides, he only bought bad ones that made a buzzing sound that you could hear from across the room, plus they looked really bad. Jokingly, I always thought losing his hearing might be the only way he could gracefully tune out my mother’s nagging voice. Nevertheless, it was a cruel fate for him.
Which, over the past 6-12 months, was what has been happening to me. In addition to the decades of excessive sonic barrage I’ve exposed myself to, numerous rock concerts, front row at First Avenue, powerful stereos, guns, tractors, private aircraft, motorcycles, loud cars, chainsaws unmuffled lawnmowers, thousands of firecrackers (cherry bombs and M-80’s were legal in Kansas and all boys love them), I have recently been losing hearing in my right ear. It had gotten to the point where 98-99% of my hearing there was gone. Almost every day, I’d say to Rebekah “quit mumbling!” or “what’s wrong with your voice?”. Even worse, when asked questions from the audience after or during a lecture, I’d have to walk to where the person was sitting and have them shout the question to me again. That’s bad. Most people were incredibly polite, but I know that was a stretch.
So, I finally copped to the notion that it was time to go in. Bryce Hamilton had given me the name of his audiologist, Kim Fishman in St Louis Park, and although it took me several weeks to build up the courage to go, I made the appointment last week. Mostly I was afraid that I was going to get horribly bad news, like "permanent loss”, “it’s too far gone”, “brain cancer…". After filling out the forms and some small talk, Kim began with a pre-exam. Using the otoscope as a prelude to the actual hearing test she peered into both ears. Immediately, she said “well, I see the problem…” Wait? What? Within 20 seconds or so, she extracted a thimble-sized dark mass of something from my right ear! (no, it wasn’t a tick that had crawled into my ear at night or some African insect).
She said, that’s your problem right there. I wondered, how could that be, I’ve used every type of wax solvent on the market with zero success?! As miraculous as that was, I still couldn’t hear very well yet, so she went back in. Apparently, some of the mass was adhered to my ear drum which caused knee-jerk pain that made me shout out. She said that the very point of pain was as far as she can go, so she gave me an ear syringe and told me to go home and rinse my ear with hot water until the rest comes out. Which I did, and which almost immediately returned approximately 100% of my hearing, just like that. The “miracle” part of the story!
Turns out I had misdiagnosed myself, being sure I had “water on the ear” (swimmer’s ear). I had even begun using a hair dryer to try to dry things out, as much heat as I could stand, only turning what was in my ear into rock. Then I remembered the actual and original source of my problem! About 6-12 months ago, I had been using a q-tip vigorously because that same ear had gotten super itchy, so itchy that I was almost ready to use a Black & Decker to drill into my head (exaggerating here). That repeated reaming and over-vigorous swabbing I had done had not only increased the itching (!!), but worse, had opened up some capillaries which then turned into a blood clot which, along with normal ear wax, had begun the process of totally blocking my ear.
I’m going back next week for the real audiological test (she said she can’t do it unless she can literally see the eardrums) so I’ll probably find the ranges of high notes that I can no longer hear, but at least I feel freed up and alive again. The constant blockage was like a weight, a burden on my thinking and doing. I can now ever feel the breeze and wind blowing against that ear, which helps somehow with balance and a sense of motion.
All this return to the beauty of sound merely with one simple treatment. So, my plan from now on, (perhaps the Moral of the story) is to avoid the q-tips and just use nothing but hot water blasted into the ears (gently) with an ear syringe. And so, in gratitude, life goes on, one little hurdle at a time…