A little over a month ago, a Friday, I was sitting on the couch with Toby when I told him to turn the TV down. “It’s too loud. It’s going to wake up the kids.”
“It’s at 13, Michele.”
“Thirteen?!” I asked, shocked. “Are you kidding me?”
Earlier that day, I’d been to the ear doctor. I don’t like visiting the ear doctor. It’s the only medical professional who consistently gives me bad news. My ears have been a problem since I was a baby.
We went over my history. I have a long one. We did the usual song and dance. I tell him what I’ve had done. He looks into my ears and comments about how damaged they are. There was so much wax in the left ear, he couldn’t even see my eardrum. So he suggested he clean it out with water. I said NO WAY. He tried to suction it out. That didn’t work. That made my ear feel funny, which he took to mean that the previous operation had worked and the hole had indeed sealed shut. He convinced me to clean it out with warm water.
I haven’t ever willingly let water into either one of my ears. Ever. Every time I’ve accidentally gotten water into one of my ears, I’ve ended up in pain and with bloody pus coming out of the sides of my head. So, no. No water. But I let him. And it felt AWESOME, like being touched for the first time after spending decades on a deserted island talking to nothing but a soccer ball.
After he cleaned out the left side of my head, I went in and failed my hearing test. I’m used to that. But this time I failed terribly so.
“You need a hearing aid.” He told me. “Soon.”
“Really?” I wasn’t convinced.
“Yes. It’s time.”
I’ve been saying no to hearing aids for over a decade.
Here’s the thing about hearing loss: it happens over time. You adjust. You read lips. You turn the TV up so loud your neighbors bang on shared walls. It’s a slow deterioration. You adjust so well, you don’t know how bad it really is. I know I am hard of hearing, but I can hear, even if it’s just a little bit. It’s easy to pretend it’s not that bad.
But now I know how bad it is. I’m terribly hard of hearing. And all it took was a piece of rolling paper to make me realize just how much so.
Let me explain.
After we went over my test results, he suggested a temporary fix for the right ear, the one still with the hole. There’s a technique they use for people who have accidents where their eardrum is suddenly punctured, they go from hearing to not hearing in an instant. Their hearing is still there, and will return once the eardrum heals, but they need a temporary fix, basically a band-aid. (Whereas the hole in my eardrum won’t heal because it’s surrounded by scar tissue.)
“I’m going to put a tiny piece of cigarette paper over the hole.”
“Like, actual rolling paper?”
Some might find this odd, raise an eyebrow or two. But I’ve been hearing about strange aural procedures all my life. This? This was just another possible cockamamy procedure in the long list of procedures. The difference this time was there was no general anesthesia involved, it only took a few minutes, and it couldn’t cause any more hearing loss. So what if it’s temporary and the moment the paper slips away from the hole, I would lose any hearing I’d gained? Why not hear for a few weeks or months?
Now, this next part is crazy still to me. But I could hear! INSTANTLY. I mean I could actually hear! Like a normal person! I could hear the fan above my head, the hum of medical equipment. I could hear his staff breathing. I could hear the traffic outside. I think I even heard outer space, which is weird since I don’t think sound travels in outer space. But it did for me!
What’s more? I was totally and completely freaked out.
I am not sure when I stopped being able to hear like a normal person. Maybe I never could? But, this little piece of cigarette paper put my hearing loss into great perspective. For the first time ever, I realized just how much I couldn’t hear. And if this is what it was like to feel normal, I am very hard of hearing.
Once I hit the Midtown street, I became even more freaked out. I had NO IDEA how loud New York City was! My thought: Why aren’t even more New Yorkers going crazy from this?
I called my mom. “I finally understand cats!”
“You’ll get used to it.” She reassured me.
Thirteen, y’all. Which is, incidentally, my favorite number. The TV volume was at thirteen.
Normally it’s at 25.
I stood at the kitchen sink, my back to the TV. House Hunters International was on.
“I can hear what they’re saying. The TV is on 13 and I can hear them.” I began repeating what I was hearing to Toby Joe. “I can hear them! And I’m not looking at them! You have no idea how insane this is.”
“How do you normally hear people?” He asked.
“I usually hear a bit and fill in the blanks, like a puzzle. And I do a lot of guessing.”
“My god.” He whispered. “You must be exhausted at the end the day.”
I’ve since lost that temporary hearing boost. And it was great while it lasted. I could hear things I never knew were there. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wept that night.
(Man! I’m wordy! If you’re still reading this: I’m sorry!)
Anyway, I’m finally getting a hearing aid. After thoroughly making fun of the Widex naming convention, I chose the Widex Clear Passion. I am only getting one, because I’m not ready to give up on my right ear. Knowing all it takes is one tiny piece of rolling paper to fix the hearing in my right ear, means there is still hope.
And, yeah. I do hope I’m less exhausted, not that I was aware of how much work I’ve been putting into just getting by. But I reckon I might be able to put that brain power toward more important things—like talking to Saturn.
And I hope I’m able to hear better, and that I don’t totally freak out and dart into oncoming traffic. Because, I learned something recently: THIS CITY IS LOUD!