Hearing Lost, Compassion Gained

Yesterday around 4pm, i quite suddenly lost all hearing in my right ear. Within half an hour after the ear went silent, i became overwhelmingly dizzy and nauseous, then vomiting and shivering intensely and couldn’t walk without help (no balance).

Arley angelically came to the rescue and whisked me to the Oakland ER. The intake nurse blanched when she took my temperature: it was 91º (32.8ºC), which nobody there had ever seen in coastal California (the doc told me i was lucky to be alive, since my core temp had been at hypothermia levels for over two hours by the time he saw me). They took good care of me, placing me in a big heat balloon with an IV drip, and i started feeling a little better. Dara made it for the swing shift and they finally let me go home just after midnight.

None of the medical team at the ER had a clue what’s going on with me (you know you’re in trouble when the doctor tells you he’s been googling your symptoms), but they felt able to rule out stroke and a few other nasty things. Seems maybe something went wrong in my inner ear that has affected both my hearing and my balance. The doc said the only thing he found was a small “deposit” on my eardrum, whereupon i’m not sure which came first: the mind’s-eye movie of pigeon dropping defying the odds to land right in my ear, or the thought, “maybe it’s that Frankie Valli song that’s been stuck in my head ever since we saw “Jersey Boys.”

I still can’t hear at all on the right side, but at least the balance is returning (i’m still dizzy but can walk without help now). They say my hearing may come back or may not, and i’m doing my best to be relaxed about that, joking about becoming the world’s most celebrated monophonic music producer (though Brian Wilson might bump me to 2nd chair). I have an appointment with an ENT on Wednesday.

It was an edifying experience, to say the least, sharing the ER ward with a motley cast of Oakland characters. The big-hearted nurses were as grounded and comforting as some of the patients were, um, animated. But it was saddening to witness how understaffed, underfunded, and overcrowded a public hospital can be. There were around 200 patients waiting for attention in the ER lobby when i arrived, many of them in pretty bad shape, and i only got to jump the queue because the mystified triage nurse figured i might be even worse off than the rest of them… and still it took an eternity before a doctor came to see me. Ever tried to give a medical history and fill out insurance forms when you’re vomiting, shaking, and can’t speak?

Whatever may happen with my hearing, i’m grateful for this experience and the ways in which it put me more deeply in touch with the suffering of others, and with my own fragility and mortality.

All things impermanent and in constant flux. Life is precious and easily lost. I’d like to make the best of each mOMent…


Thoughts? I'm listening…

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