One Note Away

I love music, especially what I consider to be good music.

I can hear you now, “So what’s good music to you? Do you like symphonic, rap, country, folk, dance, jazz, what?”

My answer is always, yes, to which I usually hear: “Say what? or Huh?”

OK, so I’m eclectic (no, not electric, eclectic, look it up) in my musical tastes; there’s a crime in that?

I can remember years ago; many years ago, listening to the Sons of the Pioneers sing “Cool Water” and Mahalia Jackson do “How Great Thou Art”, the only song I got tired of was Kate Smith doing “God Bless America.”

In my teens, it was the Goldbriars, New Christy Minstrels, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead followed by Joan Baez and others of the “Hair” era. It really was the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” However, it was also the beginning of the one-note symphony for me.

I started working an orderly in the Emergency Room at Minneapolis General Hospital when I was just nineteen. Just before I turned twenty-one, Hennepin County took over the hospital and began an enlargement program. Part of that enlargement was the Ambulance Service. As I was known as a good worker, the Ambulance Service supervisor offered me a position as a driver on the service. Being the handsome young devil I thought, I decided I’d look great in the uniform. OK, I was thrilled to be on the service, and learn.

My symphony began with the first “Code 3” (Lights and siren) run I went on. The siren, the lights, the traffic, and the adrenaline were all flowing; it was a rush. What I didn’t realize was that my feelings of invincibility were masking a vulnerability – my hearing.

Unlike today, the sirens of those years were operated by the driver stepping on a floor button like the old high beam switch. You slowly pressed down on it and the siren gradually built up sound and tempo until you took your foot off. Often on long runs, my foot would get sore.

Now, if you’ve never heard a 1960s siren, know that they weren’t as loud as those of today, but they did affect the hearing. This was due to the fact that the only thing between your ears and the siren was the thin metal roof of the ambulance. Nobody thought to give us hearing protectors or earplugs, ergo, some of us had the beginnings of severe hearing loss.

When the new electronic sirens came out, they were great for traffic but worse than the old ones for hearing. I’m sure most, if not all of my readers have been close to an emergency vehicle with the siren going; loud, aren’t they a joy? Many of the doctors who rode with us complained about the noise, but no one I know of suggested that we, the EMTs at the time, have ear/hearing protection. Understand that we worked in a hospital with doctors, so it is a tad incomprehensible that they would ignore us, but they did,

After about ten years, I started to experience minor spells of dizziness, disorientation, tinnitus and diminished hearing. When I checked in at health services about this, they told me it was either the flu, aging or a simple inner ear infection.

I knew it was something more, but I had to believe in the medical staff I worked with. The only problem was, I was going deaf. I couldn’t hear clearly and words all sounded the same to me.

Eventually, this condition drove me out of EMS, and the teaching I was doing, mainly because I felt like a fool. I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me, especially women and children with high pitch voices.

As the condition had worsened over the years, rather than feeling like I was going insane, I decided to challenge it.

I was tired of saying HUH?, WHAT?, SPEAK UP, and only hearing buzzing, clinking, dinging and other weird sounds from the tinnitus, so I shut down and sought solace in the bottle. Rather than fight the demon, I surrendered – bad choice.

After a series of disasters and losses, I finally decided to face the issue that I was indeed a one-note symphony away from total deafness. I had to face my demon or die alone.

For those of you who have good hearing, and have never had an earache I say, lucky you.

For those of you that have hearing loss, I say, I understand your pain and loneliness. It is very difficult for us to help people understand that hearing loss is a soul-destroying event, especially when there’s is no hope for a cure or an improvement.

“WHAT” is a word I wish I could forget or at the very least, find a good replacement for. How many ways can it be said? How many times do we have to say it before people will accept the fact that hearing loss is a terrible disability?

Do we have to wear neon signs starting: Hearing impaired.?

“Oh, you’re just not paying attention!”

I wish that was all it is.

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.”

My favorite one is the person who shouts thinking his, or her roaring voice will overcome deafness.

One of my biggest problems is what I refer to as Audio Dyslexia; words sound the same to me; example: round, pound, sound, mound, town, etc. Add that to trying to understand people who like drop-off sentences. You know what I mean, the person who starts a sentence in a loud voice and ends in a whisper. I often want to yell, TURN YOUR DAMN VOLUME UP AND SET IT ON MONAURAL.

How about this, let’s throw accents into the mix?

I live in Missouri but still retain a Minnesota accent, or is the word dialect more appropriate? How about idiolect? (you talk funny). Whether we realize it or not, we all speak in different dialects (accents) and idiolects (our individual way of speaking). Our speech patterns are exclusive to ourselves; check out this page, it does a better job saying what I want to say:

Ever wonder how a person going deaf handles that? I drank, because I thought it was my mind going haywire. Well, it was, in a sense, because the hearing receptors in my ears were almost destroyed by loud sounds (think music and sirens fits nicely right here). I needed to be able to hear and, more importantly understand what I needed to know to do my job, and I couldn’t. I could no long talk on the phone, hear the voices nature or understand what women and children were saying. It got worse, no, it is getting worse almost daily. People I’ve known and lived with get irritated at me because they feel I should be able to understand everything they say; I can’t, the words are no longer there for me.

There were many times when I thought a bowlful of double edged razor blades sounded delicious. But, either through cowardice or stubbornness I could not give in. I lost my family, my job and even my self-esteem, however, I refused to give in.

Then one day I decided to defy my mother, and go to college. I seventy years old at the time and she was, and remains deceased but her words to me when I was only 16 still rang in my ears: “You’re not smart enough for college.” She was partially correct, I flunked math, but she was wrong about everything else, I did quite well in writing and Psychology.

It’s tragically ironic that I clearly heard the voice of a deceased person giving me the incentive to overcome by attending college and struggling in every class to hear and understand the professors.

I still struggle to hear but I realize the last note of my symphony will soon be played and I’ll be 100% deaf. I’m no longer afraid of it, nor am I willing to concede before the last possible nano-second.

So why do I feel compelled to write this?

I write because I feel communicating is the key to better understanding for all of us.

Hearing loss is what I call an invisible disability.

“He don’t look hurt or walk funny, but he sure do talk weird.”

FYI, the deaf cannot hear their own voices. THINK ABOUT IT.

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