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Falling Upon Deaf Ears, Part I

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At the age of twenty-one, you think you’re immortal. I was very healthy with the exception of the occasional ear ache when I was a child, so when I started to have some fullness in my ears and feeling like I was talking in a tunnel, I thought maybe it was sinuses or some sort of ear infection.

I visited an Ear Nose Throat Doctor (ENT), who diagnosed me with Meniere’s Syndrome. There’s no known reason or cure for it and can last anywhere from a few days to almost a year. The first time I got it, it lasted about two weeks. As quickly as it has appeared, it just went away. I didn’t worry much about it, but I do remember the doctor telling me that because it’s medically a “syndrome,” it will never go away and there will be opportunities for it to resurface at some point. But, when someone is twenty-one years old, I really didn’t care. All I cared about was the fact that I was back to normal and could resume my young adult life.
In my mid thirties, Meniere’s struck again, although this time it lasted about six weeks. The symptoms were more severe: Bad vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and exhaustion. Once that episode was over with, six months had passed, and I began to get tinnitus in my right ear.

Does anyone reading this have tinnitus? The noise at first was deafening. Now I know how dogs feel when those silent whistles blow to get their attention. The high pitched white noise made it difficult to sleep at first, but you gradually learn to tune it out. I tried the homeopathic remedies like ear candles. If you’ve never tried ear candles to clean out your ears, I highly recommend it for first time users. It’s amazing what gunk is really inside your ears. 

I tried herbal supplements, oxygen treatments … no help. About a year later, tinnitus attacked my left ear. At this point in the game, my hearing loss started to become an issue. I kept having to ask “What?”, “Can you repeat that?”, and “Excuse me??” The high pitched ringing affected my ability to hear things normal people would hear. The stuff you take for granted like birds chirping, wind blowing, leaves rustling … I couldn’t hear that any longer, but didn’t realize it because … well, you take it for granted. I only realized what I missed until much later on during my travels on the road to silence.

Rather than having people repeat what they said all the time, I did myself and my friends a favor. I graduated to hearing aids.

At 35 years of age, it was a tough pill to swallow, but I had a position at work that required me to have good listening skills (what job doesn’t?), I had to raise a small child who needed my attention in case his fingers got slammed in a door and I could hear him scream at the top of his lungs. So, I got fitted for small hearing aids to amplify sound so I could hear things better.

It wasn’t a bad situation. But the following year I had to graduate to the grandpa hearing aids (the kind that go behind your ear). These were more powerful than my first set, and I really hated these … A LOT. Trying adjust to not being able to hear like you used to began to bang on the door of reality and I didn’t like it. Noisy places weren’t so fun anymore. You couldn’t get hearing aids wet, and when it got windy, you REALLY heard the howling go thru your hearing aids. And, the plastic piece that fit inside of your ear didn’t allow for any air to get in, so my ears itched from the moisture to the point of bleeding.

These hearing aids worked at first, but if you are familiar with hearing aids, they only amplify sound and do not assist with speech articulation. After I retired from my Telecom job in 2008, I decided to go to school full time to get my degree in Web Graphic Design. Two months after retiring, I woke up one morning and couldn’t understand what anyone was telling me. The analogy I provide to people is that of an old dial radio:  The dial is in between stations -you can kind of make out what people are saying, but not quite.

That’s when I started reading lips, and couldn’t use the phone any longer. My communication with anyone from that point on was either thru lip reading, text messaging or email. This went on from June of 2008 until March 2009 … a LONG time without using the phone!

At forty-four years of age, I was reading lips, and was not able to participate in group conversations, talk on the telephone, and hear music among other things. When Lady Gaga’s song “Poker Face” came out, I thought she was singing, “Cherry Pie.” I started putting on the closed captioning for the television, (talk about driving your family crazy), and communicated with family and friends either with text messaging or email. My husband acted as liaison for doctor appointments which required phone use.

I became my own island. Communicating with people was frustrating – not only for me but for them as well. I had to teach my family to talk directly at me and not while they were walking away from me so I could read their lips to understand what they were saying. I still had hearing aids at this point, but the problem wasn’t hearing what they were saying. It was understanding what they were saying.

After seeing several ENT doctors, who claim it was Meniere’s disease again, I simply wouldn’t accept that as an answer. This time it was different. The symptoms were different. How I felt and had to alter my life because of what’s happened had never occurred with previous Meniere’s attacks. So, I was given the name of a hearing specialist at the Chicago Ear Institute, Dr. Robert Battista.

While waiting in his office, I saw a pamphlet on Cochlear Implants. While reading who a prime candidate would be, I could have sworn they were living in my home for the past several months and monitoring my every move. This was me. I needed these implants to start living a normal life again.

Read what happens in my next installment of Falling upon Deaf Ears, Part II.

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