Life from the left side (not politics)

Setting: a Sunday afternoon in early October in New Jersey. Small college library music room.

A week before my 20th birthday, I was a junior in college, studying to be a music teacher. I was sitting in the music room in the campus library, working on a massive score project, when my right ear started to ring. Annoying, but not necessarily noteworthy.

Except it didn’t stop.

Later in the day, the pitch changed (as any decent music major would notice, though without perfect pitch, I can’t tell you from what to what).

As the day progressed, I also slowly lost hearing in that ear (except for the ringing), and by evening—six or so hours after the ringing started—I was dizzy and nauseated.

Sunday nights, the campus health services was closed. I went to bed and made it over to health services first thing in the morning, when I was diagnosed with an ear infection, given a prescription, and sent on my way.

I filled the prescription and took it as directed.

The nausea went away. The dizziness went away. The meds ran out. I still couldn’t hear, and my ear was still ringing.

My mom took me to an ENT where I learned that the meds prescribed were for vertigo, not for infection. They gave me a hearing test and put me on steroids for a week.

At the end of the week, I had regained a tiny bit of hearing, so they repeated the process. And then repeated it again.

After three weeks, there was no improvement, and that’s where it’s been ever since. I have about 10% of my hearing in my right ear, and it’s been ringing for over 20 years. No longer a single pitch (I don’t remember when that changed) but more like static, if static was made up of a hundred tiny glass wind chimes.

Sometimes, I’d just like it to be quiet. (Especially after a day of teaching beginning band.)

So what’s it like only being able to hear things from the left side?

Occasionally handy. Most of the time not good at all.

First, I learned to scope out quickly where I need to sit at a table in a restaurant if I want to have any hope of conversing. And often, only one of those seats will also let me hear the waiter.

If walking and talking, or out on a run with a buddy, or in public transportation, I’m always on your right.

(A “gentleman” doesn’t walk on the curb side of the sidewalk; he walks on my left.)

If I’m driving, please speak up. If I’m driving and the windows are down, let’s just enjoy the ride.

In really quiet places it doesn’t matter so much, as long as who I’m talking to isn’t mumbling or a low talker.

In really noisy places, it doesn’t matter so much because I can’t hear a damned thing anyway.

Of course, at the time this all happened, I was in the midst of music school. Hearing in an ensemble became troublesome and contributed to my performance anxiety until I stopped playing in an ensemble. (It didn’t create that anxiety, just enhanced it.)

Let me tell you, though. I was already socially anxious when I was able to hear what everyone was saying. Not being able to hear—needing to ask people to repeat themselves over and over—didn’t help. At all.

At this point, I’m comfortable enough to just tell people who I meet in noisy places that I’m deaf in that ear so they don’t think I’m ignoring them. But it’s really hard for me to try to engage; my tendency is to check out.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that diction is heard more in the right ear than the left, which explains a little bit some of my struggles.

Trying to understand people speaking in foreign languages is harder than perhaps it might be. (Hard tellin’. It’s been a long time since I did that with two good ears.)

On a lighter note, surround sound doesn’t exist. Which isn’t a problem except for the rare tune that “moves” between earbuds.

With really loud sounds, it still physically hurts, though the volume needs to be higher for that one than the other before I feel pain. And after being in a loud place for a while (like a concert, for example), the ringing is really loud for several hours.

So what are the benefits?

When The Kid was a baby and was screaming his head off, I always held him on my right shoulder … and wondered how people with two good ears managed that situation.

I’m a beginning band teacher and am not “out” to my students regarding my disability. So when it’s loud or bad (or both), I can plug my left ear and they don’t know that I’m holding my ears.

And when I sleep good side down, it’s rare for noise to bother me.

Overall, I don’t recommend it. 2/10 stars.

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