Most people had no idea how much hearing I’d lost, before I started talking about it a few months ago. Partly that’s because I like my privacy, and because in the grand scheme of things, a little hearing loss didn’t seem to me to be as worthy of mention as the other tribulations so many people go through. Partly, it’s also because I didn’t realize how deaf I had become, until I got some of my hearing back this weekend. I tend not to focus on the negative parts of my life, because my life has always been hard one way or another — whatever I overcome is just replaced by the next thing to be overcome. That’s life, for me: a series of growing pains and teachable moments and relished victories leading to my eventual awesomeness and world domination. (Or, you know, my ability to generally actually like myself, which I have now, and I know most people don’t.) But I live how I was raised, with the basic idea that it’s better to stop complaining and start fixing, when presented with a problem.
When asked, I’ve explained that losing my hearing was a lot like how you cook frogs.
(Yes, that face you’re making right now — that’s the same face everyone else made; my ENT surgeon, surgical nurse, coworkers, etc. How is it that no one knows the old story about how you cook frogs?)
When you cook a lobster, you boil a pot of water and you drop the crustacean in. You’ll hear a terrible, piercing whine that you might think is the poor thing screaming, but you’ll be assured that no, it’s just the sound of air escaping its shell very quickly. Regardless, the lobster isn’t going to be able to do anything about its situation, and soon enough it’ll be cooked.
Frogs are a bit smarter, or at least equipped with the ability to escape. Drop a frog into a boiling pot of water, and it will immediately jump back out. In order to cook frogs, or so they say, you need to put them in when the water is still cold. Then, bring the temp up slowly. They’ll get used to the changing temperature, getting warmer and warmer, until it’s too late and they’re being boiled without realizing it. I lost my hearing over several years, slowly getting used to the adjustments I needed to make to get by. It wasn’t like waking up deaf one morning all of the sudden. Not only did I find my way through, but I actually loved that my life was so peaceful. I didn’t know, until now, that was because I couldn’t hear.
I wish I had known what I was giving up by agreeing to this surgery. We talk about things like this in terms of side effects and recovery time and how much you’ll gain when you have your stapes replaced, which is all important and valid. But no one that I found ever spoke about what it’s like to lose your ability to find a quiet moment in a day.
I went to WalMart this morning. 9 am on a Monday morning, should have been empty. It was, for the most part. No crowds. No lines. No screaming children. And it was still unbearable. Outside, there was a flock of seagulls screeching. The cart made a wobbly, dragging noise the entire time. Doors beeped when I went through them. Every few aisles, people were conversing: store employees, other customers, and I could hear them talking. Worse, there are video screens all over the store, every couple of hundred yards, advertising some product or another; built in commercials, blasting at a volume I can’t ignore now but never noticed before. Bags rustling, freezers opening with a whoosh and sealing closed again with a sickly smack, metal clicking against plastic and feet scraping against the floor…
Leaving didn’t help much. More seagulls. Car noises. Getting into my house just to find that the heater makes a loud blowing air noise and the computer hums and the keyboard clacks and it’s all everywhere and it won’t ever go away again.
I’ll get used to it, sort of. Right now, what makes the everpresent sound harder for me is that I don’t have a sense of direction for it. It sounds as if everything is inside of my ear, even sound from the other room, so that the world is perpetually sitting on my shoulder and yelling at me. Eventually, my brain will sort that out, and give sound in my right ear the same sort of distance it has in my left. I’ll once again know how far away a noise is, where people are in the house. I’m not 100% certain about this, but I have to hope, because I can’t live forever with what I have now. This has to be temporary, because it’s too much, and I haven’t even done the other ear yet.