December 23, 2004

Another Hole in my Head

Two actually. And not directly in my head but more specifically in my eardrums. That's what I treated myself to yesterday.

And for what? Those around me may have noticed that over the last few years there are times when my hearing goes wonky. Every time I get a cold or even just a bit of congestion, my right ear shuts down. With a bad cold, both ears go. For reasons unknowable, my Eustachian tubes have narrowed over the years and now they clog up whenever they feel like it. Fluid fills the tubes and builds up pressure on the inside of the eardrum which lessens its willingness to vibrate. Everything sounds muffled.

The end result is that sometimes in group conversation I talk over others because I didn't hear them start speaking. Or sometimes I'll mumble because I can't tell that I'm at the wrong volume. Lately I find myself saying "What?" a lot. When I can't hear what's going on, I get grumpy.

A Catholic childhood has left me with the notion that life on this earth is one painful trial after another, so I may be more willing than I should be to endure things without getting them fixed. But finally at my last checkup I squawked loud enough to win a referral to a specialist: an otolarygnolollapaloozigist, I think his diploma reads. And the solution he suggested for my intermittent hearing loss? A ventilation tube drilled through my eardrum, something most often done for 5 year olds with chronic ear infections. Ideally this will let the Eustachian tubes air out and not fill up. "I'll take it!", I said without hesitation. "Give me two!"

So yesterday found me lying in a dentist-like chair while my new favorite doctor peered and poked into my ears. First, a local anesthetic jabbed into the cartilage. I felt a sharp little pain, then a lot of vague intrusive probing as he jabbed some more. Once the anesthesia took hold, he made an incision in the eardrum and I heard a loud pop as the fluid bubbled out. For a few seconds I could hear high frequencies again, clear and angular, and I realized how much I've been missing and almost forgetting.

With the hole in place, the next step was to insert the tube, That involved a lot more poking and some pain, and the clear sounds I'd heard for just a few seconds got muddy again, as if I were swimming underwater. Then the same thing all over for my left ear.

When I got into the car and turned the key, I thought the motor hadn't turned over. But it had. My 1997 Taurus has never sounded quieter. I felt as though I was driving a Lexus. It appears that I've now lost the bass notes in everything around me, and the high notes are gone again, too. I've got nothing but midrange, like a stereo with the bass and treble turned all the way down.

I'm still clogged up and when I blow my nose my ears make a little squealing sound that June can actually hear from across the room. My body has never before been this entertaining. I'm hoping this is just a temporary thing.

3 Comments:

At 2:55 PM, Tamara said...

For some reason, your last paragraph cracked me up. Though what you have gone through is not funny in the least. I hope you are doing well and have a great holiday.

 
At 9:48 AM, Boogie said...

Hopefully your hearing gets back to better than normal. My uncle has a form of tinnitis, the same debilitating condition that all but destroyed Pete Townshend's musical career. Basically, tinnitis is a constant whirring or ringing in the ears that never goes away nor subsides. Hope this is a temporary condition and you have a happy holiday.

 
At 4:42 PM, David Warlick said...

Bernie,

I have exactly the same problem, though they explained to me that negative pressure sets up behind the ear drum causing the membrane of the ear drum to be pulled in so tight that the drum doesn't vibrate. So everything sounds like I'm on the bottom of a swimming pool. It always seems to happen at Christmas time, and I know about it's making you real irritable.

I tried tubes years ago, but they just kept falling out. So I gave up. There is a way that I have found to equalize the pressure, but I won't describe it here. It's real scary! I just take mega-doses of vitamin C.

Seems we have more in common!

-- David Warlick --

 

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