The Air-Conditioner in My Right Ear

by Tina Blue
June 1, 2003

          I seldom wear my hearing aids around the house, because I usually don't need to hear anyone speak, or if I do, it is someone who knows how to speak so I can understand him or her even without my aids in.  But for the most part, when I am at home I am reading or writing (or sleeping), so my hearing aids would be more of a nuisance than a boon.

          I don't like wearing my aids generally. I didn't get them until 1994, at age 44, and I never have followed the audiologist's recommendation to wear them all the time.  To me, wearing hearing aids is like having my fingers forcefully stuffed into my ears all the time.  Not comfortable, really.

          Besides, the hearing aids amplify ambient noise, and I hate
noise.  There is something to be said, after all, for the peace and quiet of life with a severe hearing impairment.

          One evening about two years ago I had three friends over right after we had gone to see a movie.  I don't usually visit with more than one person at a time, because it is hard to follow conversations when other people drop their voices or turn their heads to speak to each other.  It is just easier to understand one person at a time.  But we had just seen a neat movie and we wanted to talk about it.  With three other people to talk to, I left my hearing aids in instead of removing them as I usually do after exiting the theater.

          It was in the middle of summer, so I had the air-conditioner on.  At the time I had a box unit in the living room, although I now have central air.

          I was amazed at how noisy that little air conditioner was!  At first I didn't even think it was the air-conditioner.  I thought something else must be making all that racket!

          But my friends assured me that all that noise really was coming from my air-conditioner.  It was so loud I actually had to take out my hearing aids.  I couldn't hear the conversation over all that noise anyway.  Once the aids were out, peace returned.  The gentle hum I heard from the air-conditioner after removing my hearing aids was the sound I was used to, the sound I had always assumed was its "normal voice." 

          I couldn't help wondering how my friends could stand the noise, but I do realize that hearing aids often amplify such mechanical sounds to a degree that goes beyond what normal hearing people are subjected to by the same appliances.  Still, they do hear a fair amount of noise--far more than I would be willing to put up with on a regular basis.

          A few months after this incident, I began to hear the loud whooshing hum of an air-conditioner.  It wasn't as loud as what I had heard with my aids in, but it was quite pronounced.  So I went to the air-conditioner, to see if I had accidentally turned it on, (even though by this time it was late November, and I would not have purposely turned it on).  But it wasn't on, so I checked to see if I had left a fan running somewhere.

          Nope.  I hadn't.

          Then I realized that as I wasn't wearing my hearing aids, there really was no good reason why I should be hearing any appliances at all.  I hadn't made that connection at first, because all the sound was in my right ear, and that is the ear that I "hear" out of anyway.  (I don't hear very well out of it, but since my left ear hears far, far less, I consider my right ear my "good" ear.) 

          Since then, I often "hear" that phantom fan or air-conditioner, even when nothing of the sort is running in the apartment.  I frequently check the air-conditioner (the new central air unit my landlord had put in this winter) and all the fans in the apartment, just to make sure.

          But I know that nothing is making that noise.  At least nothing out in the world.  It's just a new form of tinnitus that I have developed in my right ear.  The whistling, ringing, and humming forms of tinnitus that I describe in "The Sound the Universe Makes Is Really Just Tinnitus" are all in my left ear.  But the air-conditioner I hear is only in my right ear. 

          Perhaps because it is a new form of tinnitus, or perhaps because it sounds like something that might be coming from the real world, so I have to check to make sure it's not, this new tinnitus has taken me a bit longer to adjust to than my other forms of tinnitus did.  I have gotten to the point, though, where I have finally "made friends" with my new tinnitus, as I describe in both "The Sound the Universe Makes Is Really Just Tinnitus" and "The Sounds of Silence." I'm not quite as friendly with it as I am with the other tones, but I am getting there, I think.

          But there are still times when I am rather taken aback by the air-conditioner in my right ear.

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