The troubles with my ears, both my real ones and my fake ones, seemed to pick back up the week I left Chicago. I thought at the time that the crossing of mountains and changing of altitudes had messed with my inner ears, displacing pressure and unbalancing sound more so than usual. The week after I moved, I had the worst summer cold I’ve ever had. I was out of commission lying on the floor of an unfurnished apartment, talking to no one.
It wasn’t until after I recovered and began talking to other people again that I could not help but notice things were all around quieter to me than usual. Still, our brains can let us sit in denial for longer than we ever think they can, and I ignored it a while longer.
Then my right hearing aid started eating up batteries like candy. They’d last less than a day, instead of a little more than a week. I simply stopped wearing that hearing aid. It wasn’t the first time. For those who know me well, you know I don’t think much of that right ear anyway. No one can walk on my right side and expect to carry on a conversation with me. It’s been that way since 1997. And on top of that, that right hearing aid was never quite right. The man who sold it to me three years ago failed to adjust it properly and I, an irresponsible almost grownup, failed to get it set right by anyone more capable.
Finally I made an ear appointment with an ENT in my neighborhood, one that also had an audiologist on staff who could look at my hearing aid. One morning at the end of August, I went in to see both. The audiologist conducted the standard hearing test, and while she was flabbergasted at how terrible my right ear is, I was more concerned with whether or not the left one had gotten any worse. I stared at the chart she printed out, trying to tell from memory of seeing past charts.
After the test I went in to see the ear specialist. He too was more preoccupied with the worse ear. I tried to explain that I have all but written that ear off — I was there to see if they could fix my hearing aid.
But also, I was there that morning because I needed this doctor to tell me that my worst fear was not currently being realized. I needed him to tell me that the tumor that had been discovered on my left eardrum in 2012 had not come back. I needed him to tell me the answer to this thing I was afraid to ask out loud.
It has been almost a year since my last check-up with my Chicago specialist, the doctor I trust more than any doctor I ever had as a kid. He found the tumor back then and removed it in a two-part surgery I wrote about at the time. It was a dark period and a terrible, isolating recovery.
This new doctor in Portland didn’t see a tumor. I breathed a sigh of relief, and that is when he told me he recommended I have surgery conducted on both my ears, starting with the right one. I stared at him and tried to see things from his point of view.
Too many ear doctors have seen my right/worse ear as some kind of challenge. I am so sick of it — All I care about is preserving the hearing I still have. The Chicago doctor did what he could to improve my better ear, and that failed. If he can’t do it, I don’t think I trust anyone else to go in there, poke around, and give it the old college try.
I politely told the Portland doctor I would be seeking a second opinion with my old Chicago doctor at the end of September, when I will be back in the city for a work trip. I made an appointment immediately and have been waiting impatiently ever since for October 1 to roll around.
This past week, my left hearing aid, the one I depend on every day in every interaction with another human being, stopped working. I am not sure why, but I do think it’s been through more wear and tear than usual in the last few months, mostly thanks to roller derby. My new audiologist can’t fix them herself, but she can send them away to be fixed far from here. For $200 each, they can be gutted and re-fitted with brand new inner workings. $400 for refurbished hearing aids isn’t bad, really.
“How fast can they do it?” I asked on the phone.
“They do it pretty quickly,” she assured me. “We always get orders back in within seven to 10 business days.”
I held the phone, silent.
There will never be a 7-10 business day window during which I don’t need to interact with another person.
Tomorrow I will go and drop off the left one at her office, and ask her to send it off alone. I’m keeping the right one, the one that has been killing batteries by the day, and using it on my left ear even though it’s programmed completely differently. It’s a flawed back-up plan, but it’s the only one I’ve got. I leave for Chicago in a week, and after that, I’ve got visits from friends planned and a trip to Ohio for a wedding I’m in. I can’t not hear during that time.
The doctor here mentioned that my good ear’s eardrum appears to be sinking — the one that had a the tumor. I am pretty sure that was the case this time last year, but I won’t know until a week and a half from now when I see my Chicago doctor if this is cause for concern. It’s almost all I’ve been able to think about since the end of August, and more so this past week.
With my ears, there is either peace or complete turmoil. There is so infrequently middle ground.
2012 was my year of ear surgeries, a year of depression and futility; but at least I had support. My ex-boyfriend and Christina got me through the first surgery, and my dad traveled to be with us all for the second one. When I made my plans to move, it never once occurred to me what it might be like, or how scary it would be, to have to deal with it all over again on my own from across the country.
Hopefully that never has to happen. I guess I’ll find out when I’m in Chicago.