What if your world suddenly went silent? You could no longer hear? I came dangerously close to finding out what that might be like this week. I’m still not out of the woods.
I awoke Monday, December 9 and could not hear out of my left ear. Nothing. Nada. I also felt like I’d just stepped off one of the merry-go-rounds I loved as a child and my playground continued spinning. Only this time it didn’t delight as I stumbled to find footing around my bedroom.
I had a full day but as I was driving to a collaborative session in Grand Rapids, I phoned a physician friend. What the heck I asked him. David Grellmann suggested I go directly to an urgent care center or emergency room and insist on an ENT consult. I could do that at noon I told him. “I’d cancel your morning appointments and go now” he gently advised. Grace Note #1 to have such a good friend who talked to me after working all night.
Grand Rapids has a fine medical establishment so being scheduled in my Grand Rapids office that day was Grace Note #2. The audiology test wasn’t such a blessing. Great hearing in my right ear. Profound loss in my left. On a scale of 0 to 120, where less is better, my left ear was in the 110 range, depending on the tone. The good ear? 5. Prognosis was guarded. Hearing loss was so profound, the Mayo trained, ENT specialist gently told me, that a hearing aid couldn’t help. I could tell by his sympathy and lack of options that this was likely a permanent condition.
I had insisted that the first physician I saw that morning put me on steroids, the best treatment, if done early, David had told me. I had already started on them by the time I saw the ENT early that afternoon. Grace Note #3.
But I knew it was just a desperate grab to try anything. The profound loss had very little chance of recovery according to the ENT and all my Internet searching. I also knew it was likely the new normal because the same thing happened to my mother at a somewhat older age than I. I’d watched her position herself in a room or car so her good ear was turned toward others. I’d talked to her so many times only to have her turn her head the other direction and say, “What?” I’d seen her frustration at being left out of the fun the rest of us were having at a noisy restaurant. I’d heard her sadly say hundreds of times, “Oh I missed that.” When we talked on the phone, she’d often plead, “Say that again.” That would be me from now on I thought.
I cried. Then I put on a brave face in the office (and concealer over my red nose and under my eyes) as I tried to come to grips with not being able to hear anything else going on when the phone covered my one good ear. I’m a multi-tasker and I couldn’t hear when someone tried to whisper to me while on the phone. I felt old as I turned my head when people talked so the sound would travel to my right ear. I’d get up out my chair at my usual fast clip only to grab the desk and wait while the merry-go-round subsided. I felt tentative. Weak. At the restaurant that evening, the ambient noise was deafening and I had no clue that the waiter, who’d approached on my left, had just shared with us the specials that night. “What did he say” I had to ask. Oh God…how often would I be uttering those words now? More tears.
Through it all my rock, my John, encouraged me. And talked louder! And gave me a card I’ll never toss. Grace Note #4.
By Tuesday evening I was getting a grip. I might have a profound loss of hearing in my left ear but thank God for redundancy and a right ear! Grace Note #5. I have several friends who are coping with cancer as I write. As rock singer Melissa Etheridge famously said after recovering from breast cancer, all problems in her world now are looked at through the perspective of, “It ain’t cancer.” This ain’t cancer. Grace Note #6.
Also by Tuesday evening, while definitely conceding that it might be my imagination, I thought I might have the slightest bit of hearing returning. Oh please God. I didn’t want to get my hopes raised but by the time I went to bed, I could hear John’s muffled voice and even make out some words when I plugged my good ear. I was almost giddy and sang around the house that evening.
I got online and searched charities dedicated to hearing loss. Approaching the end of the year, I had been asking friends about worthy causes so I could apply the funds I’d set aside for charitable giving before December 31. I’d reviewed all the many requests that pour in around this time and although often choosing to contribute, nothing had deeply “spoken” to me. But among the good and worthy causes I’ve researched, The Starkey Hearing Foundation who operates “So The World May Hear,” stands out. Their mission statement is:
“So the World May Hear,” is about bringing understanding between people through caring and sharing. We believe caring develops trust and by sharing, we find our humanity. We believe by growing engagement in this cause that we can increase tolerance and respect for life. Our goal is to pursue our mission with commitment so that future generations can live in a world with more caring and Peace.”
Could anything be more up my alley? Caring, listening, understanding and peace? Yeah, this one “speaks” to me and thanks to what I’ve been through the last few days, I’m hearing. Grace Note #7.
This morning I can’t fully listen on the phone with that ear but I can hear muffled sounds. Right now I’m hoping and praying for complete recovery but will be thrilled if it improves enough that amplification (a much better word than “hearing aid” don’t you think?) is an option.
I’ve often been grateful that my own experience with divorce and co-parenting gave me a professional mission and focus for my career. I’ve resisted the battle mentality that the adversarial legal system imposes on families because I’ve “Been There, Done That.” It’s no way for families—which continue, albeit restructured, post-divorce—to build a foundation for co-parenting. I’ve looked for several years now for a project or mission that I felt called to support in my personal life. While I’ve written often about the importance of listening as the precursor to understanding and reaching a resolution, only through this journey would I have stopped to contemplate what it means to physically, actually hear. To be part of your world because you can hear it.
Can you imagine the wonder at being fitted for a device that turned on music and laughter and words for the first time? I’ve been terrified at even the partial loss I’ve experienced. It’s not over. I don’t know how much of my hearing in that ear will return. But I’m grateful for a focus for my financial and personal resources and if you’d like to join me in supporting this organization, you can learn more about them at http://www.starkeyhearingfoundation.org.
All of us at Berecz & Associates wish you happy holidays, full of the sounds of joy and laughter.