I have been deaf in one ear since March 2013. Today I realized that was SEVEN YEARS AGO and my brain exploded.
It is very, very annoying and inconvenient to be deaf in one ear. I’m not going to tell you that going deaf was like a vision quest and I learned so much about myself and I appreciate life so much more. Because losing my hearing, even in one ear, really, really sucked. And did not teach me anything. Except to hate that I can’t hear out of one ear, and that people get frustrated if I say “what?” too many times, and that certain people that I’m starving for a comment from will deliberately whisper it into the bad one and refuse to present it to the good one. Just to mess with me.
All terrible, all true.
The trial of being deaf in one ear arrived swiftly, all at once. I did not gradually lose my hearing, and I did not have any warning that it would be taken from me. It started out like a normal day. I was in Cleburne, TX, home of the greatest breakfast burrito you’ve never had. I was at a dance competition with a camera and wearing headphones to monitor the sound I was recording (one Shan band) and yes the music was loud. But I don’t think that’s why I’m deaf, because that seems to happen gradually, right? Maybe I made that up.
So I’m just minding my own business doing my job and all of a sudden I thought I felt a pop in my ear. Although I don’t think it was a physical pop because the damage is to the nerves and therefore microscopic, but it seemed pop-like, as it would feel on a plane or in a tunnel or whatever. So I tried yawning and yawning to get it to come back.
And it did not.
The next day I woke up expecting it to be better, and it wasn’t. I was still deaf in one ear. I started to get freaked out because I’m easily freaked out so I googled an urgent care. I had to drive through fields and forests to get there but I made it. I asked them, “WTF?!” And they said, “Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, steroid shot in your butt, byeeeee.” They also gave me oral steroids.
In the beginning they thought that it had something to do with flying on planes often and fluid in my ear from that. But they were terribly wrong.
When I got back to New York two months later I was like, “Okay time to deal with this whole, ‘being deaf in one ear.’ Or whatever.” So I went to the first kinda ear doctor, forget the name, and he did some shit with a tuning fork, and he was like “Yup. Deaf. Bye.” And I was like “waitwaitwait but WHY?” He didnt know so he sent me to an otolaryngologist (I remembered that kind) for them to look closer.
I’m going to stop here and say that this whole time I “knew” that this was something fixable. Never once did I think that I had lost my hearing forever. I just thought I’d go to the doctor and they’d do a thing and give me medicine and it would go away.
And I was terribly wrong.
At the otolaryngologist they did a test in a booth where you wear headphones and they make sounds and you tap the ear that the sound is in, so they can see how incredibly, horrifyingly deaf you are. And they make a little graph of the sounds you can hear and each ear has a line, they are parallel to each other. I wish I could find my little sheet that this is on, I’ll look for it. But my right ear’s line starts out okay at the bottom, low sounds and then takes a sharp drop down into nothingness. I CAN’T HEAR THOSE SOUNDS AT ALL. At this point I started to get very very freaked out.
Technically I have “20%” of hearing in my broken ear. But I can only hear very low sounds. Like drums or some men’s voices or I don’t know think of some other low sounds…an oboe? It pretty much just feels like I can’t hear anything, because I can’t hear anything that is even remotely useful to me out of that ear.
After the tests I saw the doctor, and he was very kind and according to all the magazine clippings in the office he was a very good doctor with awards and accolades and recognition from his peers so I felt glad about that. And he sat me in a dentist chair kinda chair and looked at my ear. It looked fine, to the naked eye, so he determined it was nerve damage and PROBABLY COULDN’T BE RECOVERED.
DID I HEAR THAT RIGHT?! I CAN’T HEAR! AND IT’S FOREVER?!
I was devastated. I feel like that word is corny and ridiculous and overused and doesn’t really express the full amount of sadness, anger, regret, shame, fear…I just felt terrible. I walked outside and sobbed on the phone with my mom in Union Square Park. It was a dark day. Mostly because I was actually talking on the phone. Gross.
Before I left though, as a last-ditch effort he gave me a steroid shot IN MY EARDRUM. And it hurt a lot. Like a lot a lot. And then I had terrible vertigo because there was fluid in my ear that was throwing off its balance. It was traumatic. And maybe that’s like “first world problems” level traumatic but I DID lose a very important sense at a young age and had no idea how to cope with it. And if you don’t think that qualifies as some kind of trauma you can suck it.
Obviously that excruciatingly painful shot did not help because here I am, deaf in one ear. I despise being deaf in one ear, as anyone would, and I have had a very difficult time adapting. I actually think I haven’t adapted at all.
I’d like to say that I learned sign language or how to read lips or even how to read MINDSSS but I have learned nothing. Zero. Okay maybe something, as I mentioned above, other people get very very frustrated when you can’t hear and they think you’re like, messing with them or ignoring them and most of the time I don’t even know they’re there or I don’t know what they’re saying so therefore I have no response.
And I don’t know what to do. I make sure to seat myself in a certain spot when I’m in a big group of people. Most of my friends and family members have also gotten used to that and keep it in mind when we’re all sitting down together. So that’s cute.
As far as loud social gatherings: at parties, at bars, in the outdoors…I can’t hear shit. If someone starts talking to me I will try for a few minutes. After a while it gets exhausting and I just give up. I feel weird telling every single person that I JUST MET that I’m deaf, like it’s an ANNOUNCEMENT. I wish there was some shirt or necklace or hat or tattoo that would indicate “deaf in one ear” without me having to talk about it.
Often I think people probably think I’m a bitch. Or mean or aloof or something. I guess everyone is like that sometimes, but that’s not really my usual vibe. I think people think that because I’m not engaging in conversation more, or I completely ignored something they said because I didn’t hear, that I’m a jerk. And I’m mean. And also that I hate them.
I hate that. I don’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to be deaf. It blows. I’ve seen the other side, the hearing side, and it’s way better.
It may be possible to think of the whole stupid thing as a sociological experiment. I’ve learned a couple of silly useless facts about how people communicate. For example, you know how people always shake hands with their right hand? People ALSO always go to talk in your right ear when it’s loud and they feel they need to talk in your ear. Every. Single. Time. I never noticed it before I was deaf! If it’s already loud and someone leans across me so that the right side of their head is right next to the right side of my head, I 100% hear nothing.
So I started this move of a quick turn of my head to expose my left ear to them as they go in for the talking into my ear. And it failed miserably. It really freaked people out because in shifting my left ear toward them our mouths would move by each other and I think sometimes they thought I was trying to kiss them. So I had to stop that trick. Because it was causing more hurt than harm.
I also nod and smile a ton. If I’m nodding and smiling and not saying anything I definitely cannot hear you. Same if you ask me a yes or no question and I just laugh. I’m just trying to make it through the day and it’s a lot of effort to communicate when I can’t even hear you. So I try to keep it at a positive level, and just get through it. Until I can return to a quiet place or a screen with closed captioning.
The last thing, and this may be in my mind but I think it holds water, I’ve lost the ability to have a feeling that someone is behind me if they approach me from the back right corner. Like if I can’t see them, I don’t know they’re there. I don’t have that sense of something there. I think it’s something with the nerves that are broken. Or maybe it’s because I’m unable to triangulate where sound is coming from because I only have one point of reference. Thats another thing, I can’t tell where noises are coming from. They seem to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
And I HATE sounds now. I am very very sensitive to small sounds and I never was before. I can’t stand any continuous sound like a cat that won’t stop meowing, I want to freak out and jump in front of a train if I ever hear a baby cry, I’m completely disturbed by any gun and explosion sounds in movies, the list goes on.
Yes I know this is a lot, and it’s long. But recently a friend’s future husband told me they discovered how to cure this type of deafness in rats. And I was like “SIGN ME UP because A. I want to hang out with the rats and B. I need to not ever be deaf again, thx.” So I guess we’ll see what happens in the next few years. Maybe seven years from NOW it will be all straightened out.
Or maybe we’ll all be dead or living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. It could go either way.
Are you deaf in one ear? Is someone you know? Almost everyone I’ve told this story to is like “I know a person that’s deaf in one ear and it happened fast like that!” Actually it’s always been someone’s mom. Someone’s mom is always deaf in one ear, and it happened suddenly and without reason, whenever I tell this story. So like, everyone’s moms, where you at?
7 thoughts on “deaf in one ear.”
My baby sister (I say that advisedly because I’m 68 and she’s, what 53 now?) has a severe hearing deficit that was not acknowledged until she had graduated from music school with a masters’ degree in cello performance. Not one person in her entire program from her advisors to her professors or colleagues ever mentioned her problems with pitch—which for a stringed instrument is absolutely critical—and so off she went trying to start a career, if not as a performer, then at least as a teacher. I knew something was wrong, but who was I?—just her uneducated big sister who has no professional chops in the music world. I confess I was a bit dazzled by all the tech jargon that came out of her post-graduate conversation. But it didn’t change the fact that her pitch was very far from perfect. After a decade or so of grinding career-push, in which she had gotten nowhere, she was finally apprised of her deficit by an audiologist whose advice she sought when her day-job career at the bottom of the corporate ladder began to fizzle (despite her superior & energetic intelligence—she simply couldn’t hear what was being said in board meetings and the effort of turning her head & lip-reading exhausted her). So now, she is looking at a cochlear implant on top of the fanciest digital hearing aids on the planet, that she has had to “upgrade” every year or so. She has become a rather loud & fierce advocate for “hearing” rights and demands that you face her when speaking. Also, that she can’t effectively converse with more than one person at a time. She is a very nice person (much nicer than “yourstruly” over here) and I admire her efforts advocating awareness of hearing loss. (I confess, I still haven’t mastered ASL). The problem is more common than people think. It is invisible, except for the head-turning, the vacant stares and the looks of frustration. You have my every sympathy and I support any effort to increase awareness. Tell people; let them know; don’t be embarrassed—tell them how to talk to you. You will win people over and make your own life easier.
Thank you for sharing your sister’s story, I really appreciate it! I think you’re definitely right that awareness is important…so I will work to raise awareness as well 🙂
I’m deaf… In both ears! In my case, though, I’ve been deaf for most of my life. I’ve had years to adapt and, yes, I know sign language.
The frustrations I have about being deaf all have to do with how impatient hearing people are when they interact with me. Inaccessibility is incredibly frustrating. People often are horribly dismissive when I discuss the barriers I face, as they believe I should be grateful for any scraps that are thrown my way.
It may take a while, but I’m sure you’ll eventually adapt to your mono-hearing. The struggle will *always* be with others refusing to adapt to your one-sided deafness.
Feel free to throw any questions my way: I’m an open book!
Thank you for sharing! I agree that people are very impatient, and that’s always upsetting. I wonder the best way to learn sign language? Probably in a class?
You could learn the basics online: Lifeprint.com has self-study lessons. The manual alphabet, at the very least, should be self-taught.
If you live in a major city, there should be classes as well as ASL social events, where you can meet other deaf/hard of hearing people. (Please remember, though, that deaf people can be dicks too! I’ve met plenty, and I’m kind of one too…sometimes!)
I have a friend who is totally deaf in just one ear. He learned sign language only after meeting me, but does not rely on it. Again, his experience with one-sided deafness is very different from yours as he’s had years to adapt.
If you’re into YouTube, check out Rikki Poynter’s channel. She’s someone who lost her hearing progressively, and learned sign language as an adult. You’d likely relate more to her experiences than mine!
Several years ago I developed tinnitus. That would be white noise in my head all the time. Like a lot of elderly folk. I think it has gotten worse as I have aged but I’m not sure as I didn’t keep the charts to track it. Anyway I have lost a lot of hearing in the high frequencies. (Makes flirting with pretty young ladies difficult.) Think of it as one of those things put in our way to test us. Rise to the challenge and try to make it a game. No one but you can really understand the issues you face. You need to help them.
Thanks for reading and for your advice! 😁