Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Left Ear, Or How to Listen Fully

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Earning a "C" on a Hearing Test

"Say the word, 'hotdog'."


"Say the word, 'cowboy'."


"Say the word, 'knees'."


"Say the word, 'bold'."


"Say the word, 'railroad'."


"Say the word, 'death.'"


"Say the word, 'sing'."


"Say the word, 'peer'."


"Say the word, 'halt.'."


"Say the word, 'lengthen'."


"Say the word, 'inkling'."


"Say the word, 'hostile'."


"Say the word, 'hopeful'."


"Say the word, 'juice'."

Jews? "Juice."

"Say the word, 'car'."


"Say the word, 'bashful'."


"Say the word, 'smarmy'."


"Say the word, 'showoff'."


"Say the word, 'woolen'."

"...? I don't know."

"Say the word, 'panic'."


"Say the word, 'tearful'."


"Say the word, 'deflate'."


"Say the word, 'winner'."


"Say the word, 'shelter'."


"Say the word, 'airplane'."


The audiologist to me: "Let's try it again at 10 decibels higher."

I look at her questioningly.

"When you get more than five wrong, we just raise the decibel level just a little bit."

Oy! I still can't hear everything. In my left ear, I hear just 76% of the words correctly the first time, and then only 84% when she raises the level.

This shocks me...frightens me...makes me feel like a failure. Since 10 days of steroids miraculously restored my excellent hearing after a sudden hearing loss three years ago -- where out of nowhere, I could hear only 60% in my left ear -- I've been breezing through these twice-yearly checkups. I had assumed that Thursday's would be no different.

Listening as Well as Hearing

The doctor tells his automated dictation software program: "Slight decline in threshhold and discrimination in the left ear."

"What does threshhold mean?" I interrupt his dictation.

"The level at which you first begin to hear two-syllable words." And "discrimination," I can figure out, means my ability to hear the words that are being said."

I *hate* that hearing test guy's voice. I never want to go into that booth again. I dislike the experience typically anyhow, but now it's a chamber of doom.

"You're doing fundamentally well," says the doctor, "All of the other tests were good, so come back in three months, rather than six, and let's do an additional hearing test then, beyond what you did today, where we'll put background noise in your left ear at the same time that you're hearing the words in that ear."

"Could this be from stress? I mean, the assignment in India was great, but it had stressful moments, too."

"No. We're finding that [otosclerosis] isn't stress-related, but typically is triggered by an inflamation -- inflammatory cytokines are the trigger, not the cause." My doctor and the web have already told me that no one yet knows the cause.

God's message to me: Do not take your hearing for granted. Enjoy it immensely while it lasts, which might be till you die, and which might be till you wake up tomorrow.

I don't hear the message till I'm writing right now. Instead, I hear, Poor you! You're following the doctor's regimen and you're still not stemming the disease. And then I have to remember what he told me when he put me on it:

"There's no cure and no established treatment for it, and other doctors will tell you I'm nuts, and you could try this and go deaf anyway, but if you don't try it, and you go deaf, you'll always wonder why you didn't try it."

It=Actonel twice a week, Caltrate every morning and Monocal nightly, plus only food that isn't pure sugar, and that doesn't as readily turn into sugar in my body, and so no sugar, honey, corn- or rice syrup, potatoes, flour (pasta/bread), rice, corn, many types of fruit, e.g., mango, melon of any kind, pineapple, only the equivalent of half a tomato at any meal....

If I remember correctly, he explained that blood-sugar is the engine that runs our ears and that foods that are high in sugar pull the blood-sugar away from our ears and focus it in our stomachs(?) or other parts of our bodies, rather than by our ears, where I need it, or something. In any case, I didn't really care about the full explanation and was willing to do whatever I needed to do to keep my hearing.

How babyish would I sound if I said that I felt like having an ice cream sundae right now?

If there's anything I could be addicted to -- other than self-reflection -- it would be sugar. Fortunately, I recognized it and stopped eating refined sugar, honey, barley-malt, corn- and rice-syrup nearly 18 years ago, and so when the doctor put me on this regimen more than three years ago, it was not impossible, just difficult. It's ironic because the very thing that jeopardizes my hearing health (let alone the rest of my health) is the thing I've always craved my whole life.

"Exodus" 24:7 -- Naaseh v'nishmah

The biblical Hebrew phrase, in English, stated, "We will do and we will listen."
This phrase embodied what I did with accepting the doctor's strict regimen -- Do first and listen for understanding later.

This statement was the people's response to Moses as he read them the sefer ha'brit (Book of the Covenant) at Mt. Sinai. The sentence with their response included the phrase, "Vayikra b'ozney ha'am," i.e., literally, "And he [Moses] read it in the ears of the people."

Directly after he read the sefer ha'brit in the "ears of the people," they responded, "All that God has spoken, we will do and we will listen."

Since first learning it as an elementary school student in a Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School, "Naaseh v'nishmah" captured my imagination. How committed would the people at Sinai have been to be able to make that pledge, I marvelled. Whether sacrilegious or not, often, when I committed to anything, growing up, I heard that phrase in my head and it spurred me on. The pledge of loyalty to God appealed to me, and then it served metaphorically as a pledge of loyalty to any secular enterprise that needed my dedication.

Also, the focus on deeds liberated me; it was a reminder not to over-analyze everything...which of course has been historically nearly impossible for me, but this was at least a vision or an aspirational statement for me to call up.

Peace Hunting in Shul

Last night, Pat and I met our friends Kathy and Julie for dinner and Shabbat services. During the past week, I had had the bad news about my ear and almost ceaseless chores to do -- came with the territory of being gone for six months, and yet I was resentful nonetheless -- and I felt at some remove from my reality, having been in a parallel, different one for the past half-year. As a result, I felt a bit reluctant to meet them, wishing instead for isolation from the over-stimulation of being home.

Dinner proved the longevity of our friendship, though, as I was comfortable around them like I was with my family. That was a huge relief.

After dinner, shul was the perfect dessert. Rabbi Cohen introduced us, "I'd like to welcome Pat and Sarah back from a long time in India, to light the Shabbat candles." I was shy, but then sang like I was young again, remembering how it felt when we learned to sing the blessing as girls. And then she asked us to join her and the cantors at the bimah, to sing "Shalom Aleichem."

Just sneaking peeks out at the congregation, full of gay, lesbian, bi and trans Jews and our friends and family, I stared mostly at my prayer book, like we were taught to do in elementary school -- no showing off that we could recite the prayers from memory. What a miracle to see so many from my community after having been a community of two Jewish lesbians (ourselves) for the past six months.

Welcoming the congregation into Shabbat, Rabbi Cohen made reference to how in dire need of peace the world was, referring Benazir Bhutto's assassination. How privileged I felt to have such a warm, concerned community to return to.

Say the word, "grateful." Say the word, "shalom." Say the word "Amen."


Anonymous said...

Say the word, "B'hatzlachah." Say the words, "Refuah Sh'leimah." Say the words, "I love you."

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks, Sis.