Last night I watched Sound of Metal on Prime and I have to say it was excellent. As someone with pronounced single-side hearing loss I could relate to what the main character, Rubin, goes through when he first realizes he’s losing his ability to hear.
He loses it simultaneously in both ears. I was fortunate to only lose it in one ear. So for me, while it was troubling, challenging, annoying, and required me to adapt, it wasn’t traumatic once I was assured the other ear wouldn’t be impacted.
But the feeling like you are hearing under water, buzzing, ringing, learning to adapt, and accept, going through word-hearing tests and being told that no matter how much a sound is amplified, you still can not understand the words – all familiar. All things I experienced. That it would never get better without surgery. A surgery not covered by insurance, costing upwards of $40K and something I have not been able to afford.
I first noticed I couldn’t hear in my left ear one day when I put the phone up to my ear, always my left ear back then because if I have to write, I’m right handed. It sounded tinny, high pitched, and like the person on the other end was far away. Just like in the film, I contacted my doctor and got the, “He can see you right away.” I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting the, “We can get you in next month.”
Apparently, when you all of a sudden can’t hear, it’s a pretty big deal. And they don’t mess around. Within a day or so after seeing my primary care doctor, I was in with a hearing specialist, getting tested. I had an MRI to rule out a tumor. And I was put on a round of steroids to try to repair the nerve damage.
The diagnosis? Acute permanent nerve damage causing near total hearing loss in the left ear. Why? How? They couldn’t say. They just knew what did not cause it. They knew it wasn’t a tumor. It wasn’t due to my years working on airports because the other ear was perfect, and aviation-related hearing loss is usually slow, not sudden and severe. It was not likely genetic. All they could say was that I probably had a virus I didn’t know I had that had destroyed the nerve. They also said it wouldn’t get worse. But it did. A year later, my hearing test results were worse than the year before.
The closest I could come to when I had had that mystery virus was that I had only very recently been in Washington D.C. I was, at the time, living and working in Colorado at an elevation of close to 8,000 feet. Going down to sea level usually just means you can drink like a rock star the first few days. Going up in altitude is what makes you sick. But those first few days in D.C. I felt like was not only hearing under water, but actually under water. Had I known it might have been more than just coming down from the mountains, I might have sought medical help. Too late now.
Since then, I’ve learned the best place at a restaurant table to sit so I can hear the server and other people in my group, and not the entire restaurant behind me. Although round tables are nearly unworkable. I’ve gotten used to loud restaurants, but at first it was nearly impossible. When you only hear out of one side, you can’t regulate as well as when you hear in stereo. But that got better. I can’t lie on my right side and watch TV.
I still have trouble knowing where a noise came from if I can’t see where it came from. (It’s your brain that actually does the hearing.) I think my dog knows this, because she has a habit of barking her, “I gotta go!” bark from another part of the house. I then wander around looking for her only to find her lying behind Mom’s bed. She’s kind of a little shit in this way. It’s a pain in the ass to talk on the phone without the speaker on if I have to write. I once nearly got T-boned by an ambulance from the left because I didn’t hear it until I saw it. That sucked.
But, I can now literally turn a deaf ear to someone who is bugging me. If the windows are open and some guy decides he just has to mow his lawn at the crack of dawn, I can roll over to my right side and go back to sleep. So, you know, silver linings.
I would like to get the surgery, someday. If for no other reason than a bone anchored hearing system means I get a surgically implanted device that is essentially an input plug that integrates with my skull. I would then have an external device, a removable microphone and sound processor. (It can be plugged in and out, like a freaking Borg from Star Trek. You gotta admit, that’s cool.) The processor circumvents the inner ear, and processes noises that vibrate off my skull. Way cool.
I’m not disabled or handicapped. Although every year when that exemption for being deaf comes up, I wish I could actually click that box. I’m eternally grateful, and know how lucking I am, that I never experienced the very real fear and challenges that Rubin in Sound of Metal does. Or that of real people who really go deaf or blind, or lose an ability. I just have an occasional irritation.
If you have Prime, watch Sound of Metal.