Friday, October 18, 2013

Sudden Deafness in One Ear

Last week I dropped into full silence on one side.  But let's take a look back first...

I've been losing my hearing now for 35 years.  It has been a slow and steady loss; the kind that goes unnoticed over weeks and even many months.  But over the years it has been like becoming a senior citizen many times over.  A cycle in which I must realize (or more accurately, admit to myself) that I have lost an appreciable amount of hearing and I either need to have my hearing aids adjusted or replaced.  A cycle that requires me to "learn" how to hear again because, after getting the aids adjusted or replaced, my world sounds drastically different than it did the day before.

My first cycle occurred in my mid-twenties, as I entered the work force.  I realized in large meetings that I was missing an awful lot of what was being said by coworkers.  People, when they are not confident in what they are saying tend to be quieter, and well, some people just have small voices.  Nonetheless, I decided to turn my back on vanity and focus on utility, so I got my first set of hearing aids.  It was a dramatic change to be able to hear things that I may have never possibly heard before in my life, or maybe it had just been so long that I had forgotten what these things really sounded like.

I have since gone through a few more cycles of hearing aids, but I have also done something in the last seven years that has changed my life forever.  I made a connection with my local Deaf community.  I started learning ASL seven years ago, and have since become mostly fluent.  I made friends and built a support network.  I saw how my Deaf friends live and it inspired me by their confidence and perseverance, and took away any notions that I was isolated in my experiences.  Along the way, we had a son who also cannot hear normally, and with that ASL has been integrated into my family also.

My hearing up until last week was pretty dismal.  My thresholds were about 90dB in my better ear and 100dB in my worse ear.  But thresholds rarely tell the whole story, because sound needs to be clear to understand words.  In my better ear at perfect volume, I was able to understand about half of the words being said, while my worse ear I could comprehend about 10% of words being said.  Again, dismal.

So last weekend, without any warning, my hearing simply disappeared in my better ear.  Not to say this was a quiet event, though.  I "heard" quite a lot of ringing and such, which is apparently not uncommon.  Unlike the last 35 years, this was no gradual event.  Poof, and it's gone.

So at this point, I'm waiting to see if the prednisone I was prescribed by my ENT will restore any or all of that lost hearing.  I am also moving forward on an accelerated timeline with a cochlear implant on my worse side.  I realize not all Deaf agree with CI's, but we live in a Hearing-dominated world.  I like my career, and my career requires me to interact quite a lot with people outside my company and frequently outside my country.  People still just don't understand the limitations that Deaf and HoH people face, why we need captions and not just louder volume, why we cannot lipread everyone, etc.

I feel pretty lucky, though.  I have ASL.  I have a family who is pretty fluent in ASL.  I already know how to use interpreters, caption phones, IP relays, VRS, and videophones.  I already have an alarm clock capable of waking me up in the morning, or when someone at work needs me in the middle of the night.  I feel lucky, and at the same time, I become aware just how disabling it must be for someone without these resources to continue functioning if they were to experience sudden hearing loss.  As always, part of the reason I write here is so I can share my insight, my experiences, and my resources with other people in similar situations.  We're not alone.

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