“How long has it been since you could hear?” The doctor stared into my ear. “A long time?”
“Years,” I said. “But this weekend it was really bad.”
And it was. I could not even hear myself urinate. My wife had her birthday party and I muddled through as I often do, nodding and guessing at what people said. It was bad but it was nothing new. Just a little more severe.
It’d piled up over the last two weeks. I lost hearing in my right ear. Then my left. Both at the same time. And it wouldn’t come back. I tried drops, hydrogen peroxide, warm water flushes, everything the Internet recommended and a few things it advised against. None of it worked.
This was nothing new. It’d never really worked. I’ve been hard of hearing for years.
Usually, I lost hearing in only one ear at a time. I often awoke more or less deaf in the ear I slept on. After a few hours of fiddling with it, I was usually able to coax some function out of it. I once spent a week, stone deaf in my right ear, feeling the entire time I like was leaning to the side and having trouble balancing.
My hearing had been degrading for a long time. Since my early twenties.
I’d not only become used to it but had altered my life to suit it. I avoided parties because I couldn’t hear what people were saying. I didn’t eat with people because I could not hear over my chewing. I was standoffish because it’s easier than death by a thousand pardons. It all happened so gradually that I accepted all this as normal.
People wrote it off as misanthropy or quirkiness. I cultivated that. It was easier.
I’d sometimes tell people I was close to: ‘I’m not actually in all that bad of a mood a lot of time, you just need to understand, I have really hard time hearing and social events are physically hard for me.’ But I always got the sense that they thought I was bullshitting them. That’s what being a good faker does for you.
So I’d generally just shut up about it. And turn up the volume. iPod always on full so I could hear it.
Sitting alone, aloof and ears full of cotton.
Shutting up about it wasn’t my problem. Not seeing a doctor was.
This weekend, it got to the point when I couldn’t hear cars and was almost hit by one. I had to announce my deafness to my wife’s friends at her birthday party so they would not think me rude if I ignored them or suddenly started speaking gibberish — replying to my mishearing of their words rather than what they said.
Once again, I found myself just getting used to it.
Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have done a thing.
But my wife was getting sick of shouting at me. The volume I needed on our electronic media grated on her. When she came home, unexpected, when she heard the tv turned up to 58 and saw some of the stuff I’d pulled from my ears, black and tar-like and disgusting as anything you’d ever want to see come out of a loved one, she insisted I see a doctor. Marvelous how loud a spouse can be. Sometimes.
It took over a week to convince me.
“We’re going to need to soften this for three hours.” He dripped drops in my ears and shoved them deep. I shuddered and went dizzy. “Don’t take these out and come back at one.”
“Pardon?” I said.
In the end, it was a simple problem with a simple solution. It was also a disgusting one. Hard compacted earwax. If he had of told me my eardrum was ruptured, I would not have been surprised. I’ve experienced sharp and sudden pains in my ears for years. Sometimes they felt like they’d exploded. I was hoping for earwax.
They softened it with drops and flushed it out with water. They tried again. They needed another tool. A much more heavy duty one. They tried again. They needed metal tools. They yanked and pulled. They flushed and yanked and pulled again. The doctor loosened something and gasped. He actually stepped back and gasped.
“I heard that,” I said. “That didn’t sound good.”
The doctor said he’d only seen one other guy with this much wax, hard compacted to the drum before. He came in screaming. I’m not a screamer. As perverse as it is, I’m proud of my stubbornness and stupidity.
I really shouldn’t be. It’s fucking idiotic.
But when they’d finally pulled out the six toy cars, the family of earwigs and the beehive from my ears, and I could hear like I don’t ever remember hearing, I felt like the whole world was screaming at me.
PUT IT BACK! IT’S TOO LOUD.
My voice sounded like a recording of my voice. At the grocery store, I completely lost focus. It sounded like I was in a club. Everything was vibrant and close. Too close. I couldn’t focus.
“Enjoy it,” the doctor said. “The sky is blue again.”
And it was.
But I am not me.
In the street, I spoke to my wife. Waiting for her reply, I leaned in and cocked my head towards her, aiming my good ear, so I could hear. She replied. I flinched backwards. It was so loud. My body language was wrong.
I laughed and wondered if I’d lost my charm. Most of my mannerisms were caused by covering up my lack of hearing. My natural scowl was a result of trying to hear. My leaning in to listen, the same. Rather than appearing concentrated and interested, am I now going to recoil away from people, eyes wide and horrified? Fucked if I know.
But my whole body feels different.
I woke up today, thinking it was pouring rain. The kettle was on.
My world is a little less interior.
So, like I don’t know if any of this has a moral or is just a gross story that highlights how ridiculous of a person I am, but there it is and it is what it is. I’m just pretty happy that I can hear clearly out of both ears for the first time in years.
If you have a similar problem, go see your doctor, I guess.
I’m not your momma.