Going Deafer

by Tina Blue
January 4, 2004

          I am fully aware that Meniere's disease, the condition that causes my hearing loss, is progressive, and certainly my deafness has gotten worse over the years.  But the progression is variable, which means that sometimes my hearing will stabilize for months or even years at a time.

          Sometimes, though, my hearing loss will progress very rapidly, even drastically, so that I realize with dismay that I can't hear things that I was able to hear just a few weeks earlier.

          But usually, even though my deafness gets worse, it deteriorates so gradually that I am unaware of how much deafer I have become until someone who hasn't seen me for a while comments on it, because those who see me all the time are as unaware as I am of the gradual progression of my hearing loss. 

          In the absence of revelatory visits from those I seldom see, I can go along for quite a while blissfully unaware of how much deafer I am becoming, until a failure to hear something I really should be able to hear suddenly exposes the fact.

          That is exactly what happened to me recently.

          Now, my left ear is far, far deafer than my right ear.  My right ear doesn't hear well at all, but the left ear is almost useless. Therefore, like most hearing-impaired people, I have a "good ear" and a "bad ear," though even my "good ear" is pretty bad.

          One thing I cannot hear at all with my left ear is the ringing of a telephone.  I can't hear a telephone with my right ear, either, unless I am within a few feet of it and the right ear is turned in the proper direction, but if those conditions are met, I can tell the phone is ringing.

          Well, this past June, my brother who lives in Texas had a severe stroke, and we were all waiting by our telephones to hear if he had come out of his coma or, as we were all afraid might happen, if we had lost him.  As it turned out, his coma lasted several weeks, but at the time we didn't know whether there might be a drastic change--for better or worse--in his condition at any time.

          My telephone is in the dining area of my tiny apartment.  I can only hear it if I stay in that area, with my right ear aimed toward it.  I stayed like that for a couple of hours after first getting the news, afraid even to go to the bathroom or into the kitchen to wash dishes, since I might miss an all-important phone call.  At one point, I called my best friend, Michael, to tell him what had happened and to lament that I couldn't move away from my phone for fear of missing a call.

          My friend really is a friend.  He lives about 40 minutes away from where I live, and just about an hour after I spoke with him, he showed up at my door.   He had come to comfort me and to offer support, of course, but he had also come to bring me something.

          On his way in he had stopped by Radio Shack and bought one of those super-ringers with flashing lights, the kind of ringer that is so loud it could wake the dead.

          He set it up in the bedroom for me, and because it is so loud, I could hear it from anywhere in the apartment except for the dining area and kitchen.  But those areas are close enough to the telephone that I usually can hear it ring from there.

          I am not a terribly social person.  In general, I am quite willing to miss phone calls.  But of course I did not want to miss any calls that might come in with information about my brother, so until we were certain that there would be no change for a very long time, I kept my super-ringer on all the time.  That meant of course that I was often awakened early by calls I didn't want to take--including telephone solicitations, since this was before the no-call list was instituted. 

          After a while, though, I turned the super-ringer off, and turned it back on only when I was expecting a call I didn't want to miss, like one from my son or daughter who go to school on the east coast.  If I was in bed, I could still see the flashing light if I was turned in the right direction, so I could check my caller-ID to see if I wanted to take a call. 

          I loved that thing.  I especially loved the fact that I could hear it with my left ear.  See, if I am in bed reading (which is where I do much of my reading), I could never hear anything unless I stayed on my left side so my right ear was unblocked.  But that ringer was so loud that even if I happened to be lying on my right side, I could hear it with my left ear.

          A couple of weeks ago, I was lying on the bed reading--lying on my right side so my left ear was up. After a while I turned over, and as soon as I did, I heard my super-ringer going off.  The reason I had it on was that I was expecting a call from my friend Michael, so as soon as I heard it, I leapt up to answer the phone.  Michael asked if I had been in the shower or something.  "Why?" I asked," Was the phone ringing for a long time?"

"Yeah," he responded, "I let it ring for about 4 minutes, in case you were in the other room.  (That's one of the ways he accommodates my deafness.  He knows I might not be in a room where I can hear the phone so he lets it ring for a long time to give me time to notice it. His thoughtfulness is one of the reasons he is such a good friend.)

          Suddenly it dawned on me.  The super-ringer had been going off loudly for several minutes, no more than 5 feet from where I was lying, but I hadn't heard it because my right ear was down.  I asked him to call me right back, so I could test this out.  I hung up, turned my good ear in the wrong direction, and plugged it with my finger.  I watched as the light flashed, indicating a call, but I never heard a sound.

          In other words, the super-ringer that I heard so well this past summer, even with my left ear, is now outside the range of hearing in that ear.  I hadn't noticed that the hearing had deteriorated so much in that ear, but obviously it had.

          Now I notice that even my right ear doesn't hear the super-ringer as well as it did.  For example, I no longer can hear it when I am in the bathroom, even though my right ear is aimed toward it and the door is open.  A couple of months ago, I could hear it from any part of the bedroom or bathroom, and even from the part of the living room that is close to the bedroom.  But now I can only hear it when I am in the same room with it, and if I am not close enough, I have to be turned in the right direction, or I will still miss it.

          Sigh.  One thing that is definitely worse than going deaf is going deafer.

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