“I have Meniere’s Disease,” I told the receptionist when I called Strong Audiology in Rochester, NY a year ago. “I used to be your patient, but recently I’ve seen someone closer to home. I’m a little desperate. I need an appointment with the best, most experienced audiologist you have.”
“Oh,” she said. “Please hold a moment.”
“I’ll give you an appointment with Dr. Orlando, Head of Audiology,” she said when she got back on the phone.
Bullseye! Sometimes it works to plead on behalf of our bodies the way we plead for a sick child.
Dr. Orlando was round and smooth, a man who looked like he enjoyed a glass of red wine with his pasta. He looked in my ears with an otoscope, gave me a hearing test, and checked over my hearing aids.
“Your hearing aids don’t need reprogramming,” he said, “but that earbud is too small.”
He changed the tiny plastic cone that nestles into the ear canal. I went from 40% word comprehension to 80% in one minute. Magic.
“You mean I came all the way to Rochester to see a doctor with your experience to have the earbud changed?” I teased.
Last week, I hoped for a second miracle in my struggles with the auditory world. Dr. O helped me once. Why not twice?
The history update and hearing tests were done by his attentive intern. Dr. O hovered in the background. The two of them spoke for a few minutes on the other side of the soundproof glass before joining me in the testing room. I sat in the patient chair. Dr. O gestured toward the only other adult chair to let the intern know she should sit there. He curled into a sturdy child-sized wooden chair meant for young patients.
I looked down on him. He looked up at me. An unusual geometry when talking to a doctor.
“Your hearing aids don’t need adjustment. You detect the same volumes as last year. Unfortunately, your word comprehension is worse, down to around 70%.”
The word comprehension test is a recorded voice speaking one syllable words, so I can’t assist my ears with lip reading. Without lip reading, I can’t understand many simple, clearly spoken words even when there is no background noise. In complex hearing situations like a restaurant or on a city street, I’m lost.
“Yes,” I said. “Sound is more distorted. That’s why I’m here.”
“There is nothing I can do to help you,” he said. He held his hands up to show they were empty and gave an apologetic shrug. I felt stricken. Stabbed.
“You can increase volume in your hearing aids with the control buttons you have, but volume doesn’t help with comprehension, does it?”
“No,” I said. “More volume makes me dizzy.” Vertigo is one of the unpleasant symptoms of Meniere’s Disease.
“Inner ear damage continues to distort everything you hear. It’s getting worse,” he said.
“Yes, there are. Yours are three years old. Unfortunately the technological improvements won’t help you. They can’t address this distortion.”
Tears pooled in my eyes. Nothing. Nothing.
Then Dr O said, “You’re a writer, aren’t you? What do you write about?” Instead of hustling me out the door, he asked “What’s the name of your book? Do you teach?” I mentioned the dreams, mythology, and grief workshop I’ll co-lead March 11-12 for the C.G. Jung Society in Sarasota, Florida.
He looked straight at me so I could read his lips. I heard every word.
I felt damaged and helpless, but he listened to my answers as though I were the most fascinating person in the world. Despite his inability to fix my hearing, he wanted to know what mattered to me. He assured me I’d be fine with the use of microphones.
He looked up into my eyes from his low chair.”How fortunate that you’re a writer,” he said.
Although he couldn’t heal my body, he still took time to speak to my soul.
Have you had physical losses that force you to change the way you live and think of yourself? Despite media denial and those cheery AARP covers, aging and loss are part of being human. My hearing loss began twenty years ago. It stabilized before my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and remained stable for nearly five years after his death for those who wonder if it was associated with grief. For other articles about my adventures with hearing, see Whispers and Roars: Surviving the Turmoil of Tinnitus and I Want to Understand You.