The Hearing Thing – an Update

Toward the end of July, and as it happened, also toward the end of our visit to Ireland, the hearing in my right ear started to diminish, and within hours I had basically no hearing at all in that ear. It was very strange.  And along with that, I noticed that when changing from a horizontal to a vertical position, or vice versa, I felt dizzy.  This has something to do with the fluids that regulate equilibrium.  Mornings when I first rose from bed were most noticeable.  It usually took an hour or more before I was able to navigate comfortably without nausea.

As soon as this cropped up, we found a clinic in Galway that specializes in weekend hours, and had an exam from a very thorough and very approachable G.P., Dr. Mary McGarry.  She got me referred to a local ENT in Galway.

Under the care of the ENT specialist, I was given a hearing test and MRI. The hearing test indicated normal hearing in the left ear (slight hearing loss – normal for someone my age), and in the right ear, moderate to profound hearing loss, depending on the frequency of sounds.  The MRI, I was told, was “completely normal,” and I am still waiting to hear back from the ENT clinic as to just what ‘normal’ means in terms of this condition.  The ENT also used the term “nerve damage” to describe what happened.  This was a bit of a surprise, since I had assumed it was merely a blockage caused by excessive fluid.  This is apparently not the case.  And would it help to point out that I didn’t order this??

The ENT put me on a 10-day treatment of steroids, which is just about finished.  My hearing has returned just slightly since the beginning of the treatment.

In addition, each day Patrice and I conduct an informal hearing test, in which she speaks in each ear at normal volume, to see if there is any change in the right’s ability to pick up sound.  The procedure is simply to plug the other ear, and listen to Patrice’s voice.  So far, the results have varied with (a) the time of day, and (b) how tired I am.  Because hearing is a rather complicated thing: we not only receive sounds, but we interpret and parse them.  When hearing is very faint, as it is with the right now, I have to concentrate more to distinguish what is being said.

This weekend we did our big performance at the Festival Fringe, and it was fascinating to be able to do what I have been doing all of my life — singing and playing trumpet — but basically with only one ear.  My friend and voice teacher John Macurdy has always told me that we singers don’t really hear ourselves the way an audience would, and it certainly is true in my case.  Patrice has assured me that not only did I sound OK, she says the trumpet playing is as good as it has ever been!

But performing like this takes its toll.  It takes extra energy to do the trick of projecting the voice or horn, listening for cues from the accompanist, and keeping it all rolling.  Doing so with reduced hearing further complicates things.  At the end of the performance I was quite spent, and all I wanted to do was schlepp our stuff back to the flat, the trumpet case slung over my shoulder, backpack slung on my back, and umbrellas ready to unfurl.  After a good night’s rest, I was much improved; ready to do it all over again.  This year we did only one performance, but next year I feel we will want to do three or four, or ten.

The hearing thing is a constant presence.  When we walk through the streets of Edinburgh, I generally stand to Patrice’s right, the better to hear her.  Today I started testing my ability to hear with the bum ear, to encourage it to respond to improvements.  I find that higher frequencies come through better than lower, and when Patrice speaks in the right ear, there is a slight crackle, but I can hear most of what is being said.

It’s not certain what’s next at this point, as I have not heard back from the ENT’s office.

So how do I feel about all this?  I have managed to get through 67 years of life with very little contact with the medical profession, apart from the usual cold a couple of times a year, and the odd bump or scrape.  So it is a bit weird at this point, to have something rather significant come up.

What I will say at this point is stay “tuned” as this story unfolds.

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