Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tinnitus, or Another Research Metaphor

I've had a case of tinnitus ongoing now for approximately six months. For those unaware of the delights of tinnitus, let me assure you that it does, in fact, mean my ear rings all the time. All the time. I can't tell you how wearying this is. It's very much like having some small physical problem, like a broken finger or small wound that's been stitched up, that requires small adjustments in order to get through the day. While I used to be hyper-sensitive to any kind of noise at all—I loved my quiet—in the last six months, that same lovely quiet is an invitation for the ringing in my left ear to soar, sort of like leaving a small child at a piano in a church sanctuary and asking, "How much noise can you make?" BAM! As a result of this unfortunate problem (made worse by currently being uninsured), I pretty much need white noise in the background all of the time. I'm actually grateful when my obnoxiously loud heater kicks in, because it blocks the noise. I sleep with a white noise machine on in the background. I'm constantly looking for a source of background noise to distract me from the ringing in my head.

Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend in a cabin with several friends of mine. It was a fabulous trip. But in order to get any sleep at all, I had to listen to a white noise track on my iPod. Now, here had been my original plan: Since only my left ear rings, I would wear an ear phone in that ear, thereby freeing me up to sleep on my right side (sleeping on an ear phone hurts) and drowning out the ring. When I attempted this, I discovered the first interesting thing about tinnitus (a very boring condition) since it set in: The white noise MUST be in stereo. It does not do to only have white noise blaring in one ear. Nope. Both ears must be taking it in.

Now I'm sure there's something very simple to know about white noise that makes this obviously the case. But what it drove home for me is that I'm not actually hearing anything. There's no sound there to be easily drowned out. While in some cases of tinnitus, there is an actual external sound being perceived, mine is not one of those cases. (Small mercies: in some cases, the sound perceived is to the beat of the person's pulse. Shudder.) I'm actually arranging my days around the perception of a non-existent sound. It's the sound I hear first when the white noise stops. I'm constantly testing to see if it's there and discovering that yes, it is. Only it's not. It's a kind of auditory mirage that keeps rising up across the desert of my eardrum. It's not even an attractive mirage with promises of salvation from a parched, silent world. It's just what's there. And so my only choice at present is to tune it out, learn to listen through it, learn to not go completely out of my frakking mind so that I can perceive the things that are real. But god, it sucks.

2 Comments:

Blogger mak506 said...

I don't know if this will be any consolation, but Alan Shepard, the first American in space (if not full orbit), got tied to a desk job for years because of Meniere's disease and the ringing it caused in his ears. Years later he had it fixed, and ended up commanding Apollo 14. He was the astronaut who played golf on the moon.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Acre said...

Thanks, 2mls. I do think it will eventually either go away on its own or I'll find a way to get it to stop. It's definitely consolation. It's only temporary insanity!

7:46 AM  

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