Scar Tissue, Loss, and Gratitude November 17, 2020 15:26
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Ever since I was a kid, I've had ear trouble.
Right ear trouble, mostly. From chronic ear infections, tubes in the ears, and, eventually, a skin graft to repair the gaping hole that would not heal, thanks to a bad bout with hay fever. Because of scar tissue, the repaired right eardrum did not move in the same way that the healthy left one did. Its stiffness and rigidity resulted in significant hearing loss in my right ear.
I adapted and managed. After all, I had my left ear to rely on...until recently.
Two weeks ago, I made spaghetti with a soy-based meat substitute. I did not purchase these "soy balls." My husband Jim picked them up for me when he went to the grocery store. He was being kind and thoughtful--and even though I knew I would have some kind of reaction (my body does not respond well to processed soy products), I didn't want to waste them...and...I'm not gonna lie...I was hungry!
So, I had a plate of spaghetti with three small soy balls, and within fifteen minutes, I noticed a rushing, roaring, and ringing in my left ear.
I occasionally experience ringing in both ears, but it typically lasts a few seconds or minutes. This lasted for hours--and I noticed that I was sensitive to certain sounds. The television news commentators' voices sounded tinny and metallic. I brushed it off thinking it might be an issue with the station.
The next morning, the roaring and rushing sounds had subsided, but my left ear felt full. I wasn't in pain, but it felt like I had an ear infection. Jim picked up some Benadryl for me, which did help alleviate the pressure and helped the ear drain.
I thought that was the end of it. Nope!
When my alarm rang on Monday morning, I could barely hear it. It was low and faint, and I honestly thought our clock had broken. It hadn't, and that's how I realized that I could not hear out of my left ear.
I was not in pain, I was not dizzy, but my ear felt full, numb, like it was made out of rubber or plastic. And the roaring and rushing sounds had returned full blast.
Later that morning, I scheduled a teledoc appointment with my primary care physician for Wednesday afternoon.
I also left a message with my ENT. By this time, I figured it was more serious than a spaghetti dinner. Surely, the soy was not the culprit or cause of this, right?
While I waited, I did a little research. This can be a dangerous thing for me to do (Googling medical symptoms), but I'm glad I did in this case.
I found an article from a reputable source (The Cleveland Clinic) that had a single line that literally made me stand up and take action: "Sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency."
I spent Election Night at the ER. The lobby was eerily quiet. Seats were occupied with waiting patients. A corner television aired a Friends rerun, but the volume was too low for me to hear.
Everyone who interacted with me that evening was extremely helpful, efficient, and demonstrated genuine concern. I left the hospital with a prescription for a steroid and the faint hope that my hearing would be restored.
My ENT's office called the next day, and we scheduled an appointment for a hearing test for Thursday.
In the meantime, my world shrunk to the size of a crappy soy ball.
My communication with my students was limited to emails. I couldn't watch the news or listen to music. I couldn't hear Feldenkrais lessons on my tablet.
The house was oddly quiet--and leaving the house was disorienting for me. I was afraid of not being able to hear emergency sirens while driving.
I did stop by Fresh Thyme for a few things. I couldn't hear the background music playing in the store, only the roaring in my ear and the loud humming of the freezer and refrigerator units.
I spent a lot of time reading and found great comfort in my meditation practice.
I was facing uncertainty, and the stark reality that I could not hear in a hearing world.
The hearing test on Thursday did not go well. My hearing in my left ear was far worse than in my right, and my ENT was concerned about the numbness I was experiencing in my left ear. He gave me an additional prescription for the same steroid to extend the duration. He also suggested scheduling an MRI to rule out a tumor, and asked me to return in two weeks for a follow-up test.
No explanations were offered--no diagnosis--just more uncertainty, more wait-and-see. And, uh...TUMOR?
In the meantime, I continued to practice. It was the only thing that kept me moored in the present moment. I even took a trip to Bloomington on Friday. The weather was gorgeous, and I hadn't been to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center since late February because of the pandemic.
Walking the grounds was the medicine I needed. I had sent messages to a couple of my dharma friends letting them know what was happening. I appreciated the support of their prayers and the opportunity to slow way down, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and appreciate what I had rather than worrying about what I didn't have.
I walked around the Kalachakra Stupa and prayer wheels. I stood under long rows of colorful prayer flags and gazed at the clear blue sky. I wandered around the Lotus Pond dotted with autumn leaves.
Geshe Kunga was setting up for a puja the next day in the temple. He invited me in--I lit a row of candles on the altar. He gave me a tangerine and a bottle of orange juice and let me sit quietly in the temple to meditate for a while.
Later, I chatted with my friend Staci in the Gift Shop. It was good to be in this beautiful place with warm, kind-hearted people.
After a few days, I noticed that the steroids did help. The constant roaring and rushing subsided, and slowly, but surely, my hearing in my left ear started to improve.
I wasn't sleeping well (one of the many side effects of the medication), but my hearing was returning, so I wasn't complaining at all! I'd rather lose a little sleep than my hearing.
Late night Feldenkrais lessons and early morning meditation sessions were calming and self-regulating practices as well.
I see a holistic chiropractor every few weeks as part of my self care routine. I'm so glad I happened to have an appointment with her on Friday afternoon (two weeks after the initial symptoms).
Dr. Amanda was the only practitioner who acknowledged that the soy could very well have been the catalyst for all of this. It may not have caused the hearing loss, but it may have triggered the inflammation that led to it.
She focused on adjusting my cervical spine, and gave me a couple of supplements to foster drainage and boost the immune system as I was tapering off of the steroids.
That was my big worry with all of this--what if the hearing deteriorates after I stop taking the meds? How badly will they suppress my immune system? COVID numbers are off the charts right now and currently spiking in our local area.
At any rate, it felt good to be validated, "heard," and acknowledged. I left this appointment feeling hopeful. Dr. Amanda did not mention anything about possible tumors, the possibility of cochlear implants, or brain surgery, which was also a relief!
I also left feeling extremely grateful. Over the last two weeks, as my hearing steadily improved, I relished everyday, ordinary sounds that I typically take for granted.
The sound of Zora purring
Maya softly snoring on my lap
The sound of the furnace kicking on through the vents
A ringing telephone
The steady hum of a neighbor's lawn mower
The crackling sound of burning leaves
And yes, even the sound of the alarm clock
My world was slowly beginning to expand beyond the size of a toxic soy ball, and I was ecstatic about that! I will also never, ever, ever consume processed soy again! And I have asked Jim to never purchase it again :).
I am grateful to be recovering.
I am grateful that I can hear!
I am grateful to have kind, supportive friends.
I am grateful to have a practice that I can rely on and take comfort in during challenging times.
I am grateful for multiple modalities and approaches in health care, and I am grateful that I had access to much-needed health care--I needed a hearing test...steroids...a spinal adjustment...and natural supplements for healing.
It is November....and I am grateful!
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