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.

December 12, 2004

Names, Graphs, Ephemerality

If I were an elementary teacher, I think I'd have this in my back pocket as an activity to plug in when something else fell through. has a form that lets you type in a name and see how its popularity has varied over the course of the 20th century. The graph is based on social security records, so the names are strictly American. It would be interesting for kids to check out their own names and those from their families to see shifts across generations.

Some names rise, fall and rise again in popularity (e.g., Alexander); some peaked a long time ago and are no longer popular (Bernard, June); some are fast rising stars (Zachary). I'd have kids speculate on what famous people triggered changed popularity for names, and have them notice the slow rise of Latino names over the decades. Are three-syllable names becoming more popular? What's the trend in saint's names or Old Testament names versus all those Tiffanys and Crystals? Seems like a cool way to acquaint them with the subtle ebb and flow of style and the inevitability of what's hot becoming what's not.