She was smiling when she entered the soundproof booth. “You were right; your hearing is better. But when I reviewed your diagnosis before you came in, I expected to give you bad news. Tell me what you did.”
I’ve fielded that question many times since. My short answer is, “Everything. And then some.”
It was late in the spring of 2021 when I suddenly lost hearing in my right ear. Standing in my kitchen, chatting with a friend, my ear died, as I described it at the time. I assumed it was simply clogged and would clear up. But it didn’t. I casually mentioned it to a friend who told me she knew someone else it happened to and urged me to seek medical attention immediately or the damage would be permanent. Susan texted me, emailed me, and left voicemails. I told her to stop; I was nervous enough without her harping.
An intuitive friend told me my hearing loss was caused by unresolved grief. My 12-year-old golden retriever had died a few months before, compounding my sense of COVID isolation. I wanted to believe she was right: If I just cried more, releasing the trauma of loss, I’d heal.
So, I cried more – over my dog and my ear – but my disability remained. Thanks to Susan’s persistence, I called seven different ENT offices explaining that I believed I had sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) and must see a specialist immediately. One-by-one, they offered appointments weeks and months off. I begged; they couldn’t get me in sooner. Until one offered an appointment within the week. The right one, I’d soon realize.
By my appointment date, I was a wreck. I couldn’t follow conversations in public places; TV and radio sounded fuzzy. I couldn’t distinguish where sounds were coming from or what they were. My dad had been a teacher of the deaf, and I feared that would be my fate by some cruel coincidence. My online research indicated that my age, hypertension, and delay in getting treatment could all work against a full recovery. Plus, I suddenly knew of three other people who never regained their hearing after a similar episode.
The doctor examined me, then sent me down the hall to an audiologist who confirmed the diagnosis of SSHL (or sudden deafness) caused by damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This mysterious syndrome is not new, but only 10% of cases have an identifiable cause (hence idiopathic). Over 200,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, most common among those 40-60 years of age.
Her report concluded I was a candidate for a hearing aid.
My heart raced as the doctor prescribed low-dose short-term steroids to reduce inflammation – because both the cause and the treatment are speculative. I told him I’d read that as high as 50% of reported cases never fully recover, and he calmly assured me I could regain my hearing; it was definitely possible, he said. While acknowledging the importance of early treatment, he told me about a man who’d waited a year to seek medical attention and still regained some hearing. This busy specialist sat in a chair and talked with me until I ran out of questions and concerns. He told me his colleagues call him “the nervous-patient whisperer”.
What he gave me was a prescription for hope.
Afterward, I thanked Susan for being relentless and told her how reassuring the doctor had been. She repeatedly interjected, “That’s not what Dottie’s doctor told her.” I told her I couldn’t afford to have words of doubt and fear seep into my ear canals. I turned inward, reflecting on what my other friend had said about grief and knew there was some truth to that as well. I committed to a regimen of Western and Eastern healing modalities to restore my hearing.
In addition to the steroids, I enlisted Reiki, craniosacral therapy, holistic chiropractic, essential oils, acupressure, herbal and vitamin supplements, journaling, affirmations, and visioning. I prayed and donned a holy medal. I openly grieved the passing of my dog, even crying in stores if a trigger presented. But the greatest tools I had in my arsenal were hope and gratitude. Hope, first generously bestowed by my ENT doctor, was amplified by my healing circle who offered their encouragement, wisdom, and skills. And new-found gratitude for every sound that was slowly returning; chirping birds filled me with such joy.
Four months later, the audiologist confirmed that my hearing had been restored in all but the high-pitched 8th kHz, which has also improved since. I told her and my doctor how I’d supplemented the prednisone; neither dismissed their possible effect. Friends more scientifically-inclined than I suggest I should have introduced one treatment at a time so I’d know what worked. But why not use every available resource according to what we are intuitively guided to do? They all kept my hope alive – the most powerful of all healers.
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Patricia A. Nugent
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