About the Time I Went Deaf

I had a great post all ready to go on what it’s like to be deaf. For the past year I couldn’t hear anything with my right ear. I could only hear out of the other ear if you basically yelled into it. I could barely talk on the phone. Everyone sounded like they were mumbling.  At night when there were no noises I could close my eyes and hear this static that would get louder and louder. That static was the only sound I could hear. I was convinced I was going deaf. What a great blog post this was going to be, I thought.

(I was starting to learn to read lips)

I liked it. My kids would talk to me and I could ignore them. Sometimes Claudia would start to say something to me in the other room and I could vaguely hear but I would pretend not to. I was tuned into my own static. It was a wonderful feeling. I felt like the static was all over me, comforting me.

Then yesterday, after three months of delay and at Claudia’s insistence, I went to the doctor. “Ugh,” the doctor said after she spent some time peering into my right ear, “you should see what’s in here.” Then she started squirting hot water in my ear.

She got some tweezers and pulled something out of my ear. I swear to god it looked like someone had taken a shit in my ear. I said, “ugh, is that shit?”

“Ear wax,” she said.

“Yeah, but what is ear wax? Is it made out of the same stuff as shit?” I vaguely remembered Claudia telling me on a few occasions that my head smelled but I always thought it was my hair or something.

“Well,” the doctor said, and like doctors do, she had to figure out how to say something amazingly complex in layman’s terms, “the cells in your ear have secretions.”

“So it’s cell shit?” I said.

“Let’s just check the other ear,” she said. And that was that. She kept showing me what was pulling out of there. It was like my entire brain was being shat out of my ear.

But then suddenly I could hear. I think it had been about a year or so since I heard properly. Everyone’s voice sounded different. It was like when you play with the car radio and you turn it all the way to treble from where it was previously all the way at bass. I didn’t like it.

“I can hear things now,” I said.

“Isn’t that nice?” she said.

I went outside. Claudia was waiting for me. “I can hear things now,” I said.

“Really?” she said. She was disappointed. Later, she told me she had gotten used to talking about me behind my back with my daughters and laughing because they knew I wouldn’t hear it. She tried testing me. While she was in the kitchen and I was in the living room she started whispering. (As she proofread this she said, “we weren’t making fun of you! Well, just a little.”)

“I can hear you,” I said. “Darnit!” she said. She doesn’t curse. I felt like a superhero. If I wanted to I could charge up my superhearing and hear conversations miles away, particularly if people were talking about me.

Later that night I woke up at three in the morning. I couldn’t sleep. There were no sounds. I missed my static. I tried to listen for it but it was gone. Sometimes I had let the static rock me to sleep. I could almost feel it on my body it had been so loud. But now there was no static there. I also heard Claudia snoring.

A few months earlier I had told my youngest daughter that I was going deaf. I think that scared her because she then asked Claudia if I was going deaf. I think I would’ve been scared if I were nine years old and my dad told me he was going deaf. The only deaf person I had ever read about at that time was Helen Keller. If my dad turned into Helen Keller the other kids at school would’ve made fun of me. Just like they made fun of me because of my mom’s polio.

Howard Hughes, probably the richest man ever, inflation adjusted, was mostly deaf. He could only hear people if he was talking one on one with them and they were close. This made him shy in groups. It also made him intensely good at focusing on whatever he was interested in. No distractions.

(Howard Hughes began going deaf at an early age)

He only really enjoyed going on dates with women when he could take them up in one of his planes (he owned, among other things, the airline TWA). The roar outside the plane was so great that there was no point in having a conversation. Instead he would romance them with his abilities as a pilot, the beautiful sunsets he would fly through and of course, his money, which didn’t require conversation or hearing.

There was one aspect of being partially deaf that had me nervous. I was afraid I was talking too loud to people. Also, at dinner parties, I couldn’t hear people who were sitting to my right so I started saying “no” to more invitations. If someone was sitting to my right I would have to look directly at them, even behind their left ear a little, which made it a bit awkward. And when I gave talks I always used to enjoy Q&A at the end but I couldn’t hear anyone now unless they had microphones on at the loudest volume.

But the aspect of potentially talking too loud worried me. Already my kids were telling me to keep the volume down, particularly when their friends were around. I was suddenly “that dad!”

Monday I’m starting a radio show. I’m going to be on at 11am EST on about 15 different stations. I was worried I would be screaming into the microphone. Most people don’t like to listen to someone screaming at them on the radio. I’m hoping now that won’t be a problem for me. Now, if someone chooses not to listen to me, it will be totally my own fault. And then they can slightly change the dial and fade me out and listen to the only other sound worth listening to – the static that I now miss.



PS. There’s a post-script to this. Over the past few months, because of my increasing deafness, I’ve become fond of the song “Everybody’s Talking” by Fred Neil. Part of the lyrics are “Everybody’s talking at me. I can’t hear a word they are saying. Only the echoes of my mind”. He eventually retired and disappeared to live in the woods. Harry Nilsson then redid the song for the movie “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969.  The song was then sampled by “Paul Oakenfold” in a version called “Starry-Eyed Surprise” about the great effect MDMA / Ecstasy has on people. That song was then re-done by a tiny soft drink company called Coca-Cola when they were advertising their Coke Zero drink. Funny how things go.

Two posts I did were inspired by the song:

The Greatest Musician You Never Heard Of (about Harry Nilsson)

7 Things Happen To You When You Are Completely Honest (Which includes the Coke Zero video)

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