What I Learned From Rolling Paper.

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!


  1. I’m so glad you are finding ways to solve your hearing problems, be it with a hearing aid or rolling paper!

    This post made me question my own hearing. For years my husband has been telling me I can’t hear anything. I tell him he’s crazy and I can hear just fine, but the way you described hearing loss being gradual and not even realizing it’s gone made me wonder if I am losing my hearing and just don’t notice it. I’ve had quite a few issues with my ears, water and wax… I guess I’ll have to start paying more attention and maybe even go get it checked out.

    Thanks for the more frequent posts – I really enjoy getting to read your writing more often :)


  2. Wow, congrats! Well, congrats on finally breaking down and getting a hearing aid. I have a minor hearing loss in my left ear and it’s great for drowning out loud sounds at night (just sleep on my right ear! Great for sleep training too–ha ha). So was it hard to sleep the first night you could actually hear?!


    1. Yes! So difficult. I kept wondering what it would have been like as a kid, being scared of everything? As an adult I just listened to everything, very difficult to sleep! Great question!

      It will be interesting having a hearing aid. I wonder what it will be like especially since my tinnitus in the left is so loud. This is supposed to help with that a great deal. I can’t wait to find peace from the ringing.


      Caitlin: get tested! Find a baseline now to see how bad it gets, or is getting.


  3. I hope the hearing aid helps!!

    My husband gets CRAZY earwax buildup in his ears. Every time we visit my inlaws, we make my FIL (he’s a family doctor) clean my husband’s ears out with water. Huge plugs of earwax fall out every time. It’s disgusting.

    I freak out if there’s water in my ears (I hate swimming for this reason), but my husband looks forward to the warm water going in his ears. I find myself…troubled by this, so I don’t go with them for the plug removal!


  4. You are going to ROCK that aid! It’s so hipster. People will think it’s an ironic hearing aid.


  5. I’ve got tears in my eyes :)


  6. What a brilliant little fix to let you know what the possibilities are. I’m glad you got to hear everything. I love the warm water cleansing but I prefer the suction. Somehow the suction makes me feel cleaner after.


  7. Also tearing up… wow. Love that life is about to get richer and more aurally textured for you.

    When my grandfather died a few years ago we learned from his medical records he was legally blind in one eye and barely better in the other, though he told no one. He had to care for my grandmother, and he feared they would both end up in a facility if he revealed his eyesight problems. Unreal that he could function as well as he did for so long.


  8. My daughter was born without a right ear. (Called Atresia/Microtia).She has a cochlea & auditory nerve, but her ear drum was malformed, and her ossicles were fused together. She also didn’t have an ear canal. She had reconstructive surgery when when almost 4. (She is 9 now)

    Her hearing on that side is at a moderate-severe loss. Muffled. I read your post and I totally understand. School is utterly exhausting for her. We are still looking for the right hearing aid solution for her, but what I’m constantly astounded by is how many people just don’t really “get it.” Say, for instance, her teacher.

    So, I’m very glad to hear that you are getting what you need. I’ll look into the aid you posted the link for. Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Karen: definitely get her the help she needs. Not that you aren’t! Sometimes I wonder if all my troubles in school (testing, grades, etc) were related to my hearing issues and being too stubborn to ask for help, even sit up front which is what all my doctors told me to do for years.

      I constantly wonder now if I had gotten a hearing aid sooner would I have been a better student and therefore brighter? Perhaps things would have been different for me. I know teachers thought I was “slow” over the years, and I was too stubborn (lazy? Angry at them?) to prove otherwise. So I went along with it. And, of course, found art. Kinda wonder now, though…

      Not sure that makes sense. :)


  9. That is great that you’ll be able to hear. I’ve had my ears plugged up by wax and not been able to hear well. It is amazing how loud everything is when I go to the doc and get the wax removed! I imagine that it is a much larger difference for you.


  10. I hope you got the hot pink casing to show of your new ears :-)

    Seriously though, it must have been a difficult thing to have to realize. Good for you for taking the step to get that hearing aid.


  11. Congratulations on being able to hear!

    I found you through Babble’s top 100. Congrats!


  12. I loved reading this. Yes, it was long but you really gave me a wonderful understanding of how it must be for someone with hearing loss. I can be a lot more sensitive in the future.


  13. My mom has always had severe hearing loss in one ear and over the years began to lose her hearing in the other. I finally convinced her to get a hearing aid after mentioning that service people (the waitress, the checkout girl) probably thought she was rude since she never answered their questions. She was very freaked out by the first few weeks with a hearing aid; but after having it adjusted and getting used to hearing things she loves it. She can actually hear the birds sing again – oh and the girl at the supermarket seems much more friendly!


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