By Jessica Ciencin Henriquez
I woke up hearing just fine, but by noon, I was deaf in one ear. My recovery challenged me, but it didn’t break me.
Sitting at my cluttered desk at an advertising firm in Manhattan, I heard a subtle ringing in my ears. But within seconds, it sounded like a blaring, monotone fire alarm. I flinched, covering both ears with my palms. When I realized no one else noticed the noise, I literally bolted from my office building to catch a cab to the ER.
Doctors took vials of blood, scanned my skull from every angle, and gave me a hearing test. I was pronounced deaf in my left ear — the ringing was my brain’s way of attempting to process sounds — but there was no explanation. I hadn’t suffered a trauma. I had no trace of a virus or a tumor. I’d never even had an ear infection. I was 24.
Going deaf is surprisingly very loud. Especially in the first few weeks, my ear would pop, crackle, and ring for hours on end, a side effect called tinnitus. New York City, the vibrant place whose hum I loved, went from being the city that never slept to being the city that never shut up. Its loud noises drove me mad — I never knew which side they came from. The ringing eventually died down, but it comes back when I’m in loud places like a subway platform or at a concert.
Before my ear failed me, live music was one of my greatest pleasures, but it became unbearable. Two songs into a concert, my ears would ring sharply, my head would spin, and I’d have to leave. Yoga poses like headstands and tree pose became impossible because they triggered vertigo — a nauseating spinning sensation that happens when you go deaf — so I quit my practice. I became a hermit, dodging questions I couldn’t hear and conversations I was too nervous to participate in. At night in my bedroom, I taught myself sign language, preparing for the day the world might become suddenly silent to me. It was a dark time.
But as the months went by, I stopped having emotional meltdowns. And I started to believe my doctors when they said the chance of my right ear’s developing sudden-onset hearing loss would be like lightning striking twice. Because my right ear works so hard, I’ll become hard of hearing faster than most people do as they age, but hopefully that’s a couple of decades away.
I still get mortified asking new people to stand on one side of me and then explaining why they have to, but now I think of it as a great litmus test — the good ones don’t make a big deal about my disability. And now I venture into bars to listen to live music. As the electric guitars start up, I reach into my purse and pull out earplugs. I sway to the music like everyone else, grateful to still hear it. Now I see my deafness as one detail that’s part of me — and not my whole story.
Could It Happen to You?
Sudden-onset hearing loss is random and rare, but loss is common as we age. Do this to protect your ears.
Turn it down. Using earbuds? Keep music at 60 percent of the max volume. Or try noise-canceling headphones.
Take breaks. Prolonged exposure to loud noises raises your risk for hearing loss. Duck out of loud areas every 10 minutes or so.
Try earplugs. Noise-filtering plugs don’t muffle sound and do lower the risk from Spinning class or concerts.
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Def Leppard – Hysteria