I always thought it was the refrigerator or a computer or the television. Then one day I realized the constant humming was coming from inside my ears. I can’t remember how long ago that day was.
I think I first noticed my difficulty hearing when I taught English 106, but I blamed the students. I thought they just mumbled a lot, even after I caught one of them saying, “She can’t hear anything.” I heard that.
But Amanda is the one that really brought it to my attention. She could always tell when I was just smiling and nodding because I didn’t really hear what she said and she would call me on it. Every. Single. Time. But I was still in denial. I thought I was just really good at focusing my attention on one thing. Or that people just needed to speak up more.
I still can’t remember how long my ears have been humming. I can’t remember not hearing it.
When I was little, I remember hearing soldiers marching in my ears. At least, that’s what I pictured. They would stomp along for a few minutes late at night, but their march always receded. I used to secretly wonder if I had some sort of dog mutation (I can’t believe I am confessing this online) because every once in a while, I would hear a high-pitched whistle that no one else seemed to hear. I thought maybe I was hearing a dog whistle.
Sometimes the humming is comforting. I bring my own white noise with me wherever I go. And sometimes it drives me a little crazy. I think it’s getting louder, now that I know what it is. Sometimes it’s all I can hear because I’m so conscious of it.
Slowly I’ve acknowledged it more and more over the years. I finally feel more comfortable asking people to repeat themselves and will say, “I’m a little hard of hearing.” I did a little research online and ordered a bottle of herbal remedies that smelled like vanilla and were almost one-inch long. I was supposed to take 2 every four hours. I would remember every once in a while. I didn’t really have faith that it would work. The humming seemed like such a part of me.
Finally, I was ready to talk to a doctor. Of course, I used another malady as an excuse. I’ve had a congested nose for what seems like a few years now. It started in New Orleans, and I was hoping that it was just the change in humidity and that once I moved back to my arid homeland, my nose problems would go away. I decided to kill two birds and see an ENT for my nose and my ears.
I did that yesterday. The doctor took a look at my nose and told me it was the smallest nose he had ever seen. And then he gave me two bottles of different nose spray and told me to squirt each one twice once a day. Then I went for the hearing test. The audiologist checked my ear drums (normal) and then she put in a room by myself. She put headphones on me and handed me a trigger to press every time I heard the beeping. She sat in a separate room across from me, but I could see her through a window. I heard various pitches and frequencies. Then she put on a headset that checked the nerve in my left ear (my bad ear) and played white noise in my right ear. She read words to me that I had to repeat. When she was done, she told me that I was definitely below average in the lower tones and she thought it was my middle ear and that the doctor would tell me more about it.
When the doctor came in, he asked, “How old are you? 32?” I corrected him (because 33 is so different from 32), and he said, “Well, you have horrible hearing. Your hearing is even worse than mine and I’m twice your age!” And then he told me that I needed hearing aids. HEARING AIDS! And I started crying. Because that’s what I do. I told him that I didn’t think it was that bad, and he said, “Oh yeah, it’s pretty bad. But don’t worry. Hearing aids will change your life!” And then he told me to make an appointment for hearing aids. As he escorted me out the door, he saw the audiologist who had administered my hearing test and told her that I would be coming back for hearing aids.
She told me to follow her, took me into a side room, closed the door, and told me to get a second opinion. She didn’t think I needed hearing aids, but she does think I have something called otosclerosis. It’s treatable with surgery. I did some reading about it today, and I started thinking about what it might be like to live without that constant humming. What would it be like to experience true silence? It sounds kind of heavenly.
Of course, I can’t get in to see the specialist she recommended until the end of next month. So I won’t know for a while what the truth is. Hearing aids might still be in my future. Although, that wouldn’t be so bad either. It sure beats the smile and nod.