Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Absence Of Sound - The Beginning

August 30th, 2012

I'm sitting at the computer patiently waiting for my 11 month old son, Chase to fall asleep for his nap.  I can hear thumping from above my head as he moves around in his crib.  A quick glance to the video monitor confirms that he is in fact, not sleeping.  Instead this beautiful boy is standing up playing with his blanket.  I know he is tired as he was rubbing his eyes and fussing in the car on the way home.  Such a wonderful sound, a babies babbling non-sense.  A sound I take for granted just like every other noise that follows me around during my day.  A sound I may one day lose altogether because...

Yesterday I was told that my hearing test showed moderate to severe high frequency loss in both ears and that this change happened in less than three years.

To put it bluntly, I went from normal hearing to that of a 66 year old in 72 months. 

During that 1095 days I spent 365 of them living as a single mother while my husband was deployed in Afghanistan.  9 months was spent cooking a very lively baby in my womb.  One month was spent grieving with friends and family over the deaths of 31 soldiers in Afghanistan, three of which were from our unit.  I spent one day crying over my seven year old, Carter's first day of kindergarten and I lost two of my grandparents less than a year apart.  I also buried my dog of 15 years.  So much had happend yet now, seeing how quickly my hearing left it felt instantaneous. 

Which moments will I hang on to the tightest?  What will change about my memories as time moves forward into uncertainty? 

Let's back track a bit to the beginning of this mystery. 

Tinnitus.  Basically the sound your ears make when there is an absence of sound.  I have had this ringing in my ears for quite some time.  It was my assumption that it was just a part of aging and nothing to be worried about.  Offhandedly I would admit to having said noise when I had trouble hearing something someone was saying.  It started out happening once or twice a month, twice a week, twice a day until finally almost twice an hour that I would have to ask someone to repeat themselves.  It was hard but I brushed it off to the sound of the ringing interfering.   So far, no one acted frustrated or put off by it and in fact the only one that mentioned it at all was Carter.  He would simply say I couldn't understand him very well.  My seven year old calling me out was enough to get me thinking that something might be going on but no where near what I needed to be motivated to have it looked at. 

The real change came as soon as my husband returned from Afghanistan.  Within the first few hours he was home he became very frustrated with my lack of hearing.  For a Chinook pilot to think my hearing was bad...well that was laughable only I wasn't laughing.   From the time he returned in March until October my problems just seemed to increase.  Both Chris and Carter began to tell me to get my hearing checked.  I promised I would and then never did. 

Personally I noticed a difference during my pregnancy and while Chris was away.  I struggled to watch TV at a low volume and follow what was being said.  That just seemed to get progressively worse until I pretty much just left it on as background noise while I used my phone or tablet.

Even after all of that I still balked.  In fact I started having trouble hearing my customers at work and my staff when they talked to me but I still thought nothing of it.  I always heard Chase crying I would reason with myself. 

The turning point came when one morning I was standing ten feet from our house alarm as it was going off and I could not hear it, not at all.  Not one tiny bit. 

Even though I saw Carter holding his hands over his ears while his lips said, "Turn it off!"  and Chase writhed in my arms to try and move away from the loud sound I stood oblivious to it all.

That was it.

That day I made the appointment still somewhat begrudgingly and felt like I was doing it to "humor" the boys. 

I will never forget the afternoon we were driving about two days before the appointment when I turned and said to Chris, "I guess I should be more worried about this hearing loss thing huh?"  Inside I was still cavalier and joking but his answer gave me pause...., "Yes."  I remember looking over at him surprised.  He was looking at me seriously and with great concern.   Inside my mind started to kick into gear but just as quickly my safety mechanism of repression took over and so I moved on.

So buried in denial was I that as the audiologist was giving me my test I thought I was acing it.  No, seriously I thought I was doing great.  I pushed and pushed the little button and even heard sounds I was surprised I could hear.  He came into the room several times and switched my equipment which at the time I thought was because he was finding no change and probably thought I was crazy.  Unfortunately when he was done he said that the reason for all the changing was because he could not believe the extent of my loss. 

Wow.  First gut punch of the day. 

I explained that sometimes all of the ringing I had interfered with my hearing and perhaps that was the reason I did so poorly.  He very gently explained that it was in fact the opposite.  That the more hearing I lost, the more ringing I would get. 

Gut punch number two. 

When the Doctor came in he checked over everything and then invited me to move from the exam table and sit on a bench.  He looked nervous as he told me that my loss was not only significant but fast.  That in three years my hearing had aged 30.  That he did not know what the cause was and that the only thing he could do was refer me on to a higher specialist than himself.  For an ENT the next step is an otological doctor, someone who only focuses on the ear.  His card says, "practice limited to diseases and surgery of the ear and related structures."  UGH.  He then repeatedly said um....um....um.... the reason they have no obvious cause was because my hearing had deteriorated equally in both ears.  Oh great.  And that his recommendation to help manage what hearing I do have was hearing aids in both ears.

Hearing Aids in both ears. (Keep breathing Tara)

Hearing Aids in both ears. (Just keep breathing)

Hearing Aids in both ears, no cause, aged 30 years in 3, hearing of a 66 year old, referral to an ear surgeon, the louder the ringing the more hearing loss, the Dr's voice repeating um....um....um...  these were the highlights that played through my head once I got to my car.  I was so shaky, so unbelievably baffled.  I still felt like I was watching a movie or that it was somehow not happening to me.  I texted my husband as I headed towards work to call me when he could.

Then I did my job which just happens to be running a fast casual restaurant.  And in that restaurant I found myself at the register and waiting on a deaf customer. 

I remember thinking, "Bring it on."  as my defiance and will took over.

When I asked what I could get her and she silently pointed, my pulse increased immediately and I began to get very nervous.  Luckily, I know how to spell in sign language and so I gleaned the needed information and sent her to wait on her food.  I then told my crew not to call her name as she was deaf and then I pointed her out to them.

I think I shook unsteadily all the way back to my office.  Was it a sign, was God preparing me?

Am I going to go deaf? 

And if so, how soon? 

This was the question of the day, the elephant in the room while I listened to the Dr, the hearing aid lady and the man who tested my ears.  It was the question that I could not find within me until that moment. My deepest fear since the beginning of this news.  The question I could not ask anyone.

That was when Chris called and I stole away outside and laid the news on him.  It was the first time I cried that day, my first admission that it was real.  He comforted me as best he could and I told him that I might go deaf and that he would have to learn sign language...he agreed and said it is definitely a possibility. 

Gut punch number three.

Chris is as non-reactive to medical diagnosis as anyone I know.  Always responding with some positive reassurance that my mind was playing tricks on me.  Usually I would hear him say, "don't blow it out of proportion, wait for a second opinion, take the medicine you will be fine."  The fact that he was not saying any of those things only further told me that this was in fact happening not in my head and not in a movie but to me rather to us, my family. 

After we got off,  my phone buzzed with a text.  It simply said, "I won't have to learn sign language I can just text you."  A smile filled my face and I felt better.  He was with me.  We were in this together. 

Later in the day I told my parents and I cried for the second and third time.  I'm not sure they really understood the implications at the time.  I was so detached as I told them even through the tears.  It was more like I was telling them a story about someone else. 

After that as I waited for Chris to get home from his flight my mind began to run and play in the vast desert of the unknown.  Lists and lists of things began to come to mind and instead of running from them I am going to record them here.

#1 - My biggest fear: 

That I will go deaf quickly.  Tell me I will be deaf in 50 years and I will say, OK!  But tell me I will have no hearing in three years and I am scared to death.

#2 - Things I will miss if I do go deaf: 

Hearing the verbal words, "I love you"
My children calling me mom
Their laughing
Their singing
Carter's adult voice
Chase's baby voice and adult voice
Music
Musical Theater
Movies
TV
Words
Having a conversation
Talking on the phone

#3 - Situations that I fear will change:

That my boys won't feel as close to me
My whole family will have to learn another language in order to talk to me
That I will feel left out
That I won't feel the same
Social gatherings will be a challenge
I will no longer be able to run my restaurant
That I will not be able to communicate with the majority of the population
That I won't be able to properly take care of Chase
That I won't want to have another baby that I cannot hear
That everyone will look at me differently
That I am going to be depressed

I cried again on my own later that day and then fell asleep early.  The news had exhausted me beyond what I could have imagined.  Chris got home and again made me smile as he rubbed my shoulders and said, "We'll deal."