Weeks earlier, my hearing loss was manageable with a small decrease from the year before. I couldn’t handle noisy environments or enjoy music, but conversations and phones worked. Then, I noticed faint rumbling in my head—first muted, then louder. The rumble intermingled with clicks, roars, and echoes. Tinnitus? Yes, tinnitus.
“Why are you yelling, Mom?” my son David asked on the phone. I wore my Bluetooth streamer that sends the sound of the phone directly into my hearing aids, but couldn’t hear the volume of my own voice. David’s words banged and sloshed against the walls of my echo chamber filled with vibrators.
“I’m sorry, David. I can’t hear myself or you.” My silent tears threatened to erupt into moans.
“What’s wrong, Mom? Tell me.”
“My hearing is worse every day, David. I’m OK when I can read lips, but I can’t hear on the phone. I’m seeing the audiologist and the ear specialist tomorrow.”
“It’s an inner ear pressure problem,” Wayman said. “A mild form of Meniere’s Disease without dizziness, imbalance, and nausea. It often goes away, sometimes with hearing loss, sometimes not.”
“What can I do?”
“You already have the lifestyle and diet we recommend, so let’s hope it improves on its own. If it gets worse, you can try diuretics.”
Ten years ago when I began losing hearing, Dr. Wayman said, “Don’t worry. You can get a cochlear implant.” But my hearing still isn’t bad enough for a cochlear implant. You have to be helplessly deaf and I still hear tones at normal speaking decibels if there is no background noise and the acoustics are right. But tinnitus drowns out the subtle sounds that distinguish “picks” from “fix” or “lose” from “choose.” So I rely on lip reading.
I’m seeing an osteopath who does cranial sacral work and will try a chiropractor I’ve known since 1973. I hold off on acupuncture because it didn’t help in the past, and if I try too many things, I won’t know what works. Dr. MacDonald hopes that a new hearing aid model to be released this winter will improve things. I hope so, too.
The isolation of deafness alarms me, but maybe this bummer can be useful. Before tinnitus began, I vowed to finish and submit my book this winter. Tinnitus forces me into isolation, and isolation brings days alone with my manuscript. On my hilltop in the Finger Lakes, tis the season to stay home and finish my project.
I’ve created a meaningful life in my new widowed world, but I am a social being. I crave sound and relationship. But for now I can survive on email and text messaging with phone calls when the tinnitus hums instead of roars. I’m grateful my agile fingers still know how to type.