My 20 Years of Hearing Dangerously

IT WAS AROUND THIS TIME 20 YEARS AGO when my life changed forever, and I’m not talking about the birth of the Web browser (though that was pretty cool.)

I’m not talking about my marriage, which will be 22 years young next month, or the birth of my daughter, who will be old enough to drive before the next Presidential election but thankfully not old enough to vote.

No, I’m talking about the one thing I rarely talk about, what most people who know me don’t know because I’ve become quite expert at faking my way through social and business situations – no surprise I went into marketing after it happened.

Around this time in 1993, I was diagnosed with a tumor that left me permanently deaf in my right ear and with a permanent “ringing” static throughout my skull. I had to learn how to walk again after the surgery, how to feed myself and how to hold a phone with my left hand.

These were all short-term problems, the ones I had prepared for. What I didn’t know, however, was I would no longer be able discern the direction of sound — At home no one ever says “come here,” they have to say “come into the kitchen” since I never have any idea where “here” is. This, too, I’ve learned to live with, even despite the time a couple years ago in San Francisco when I almost got run over by a fire engine because I couldn’t tell the direction of the siren.

I’ve learned to live with daily headaches and the occasional “head-quakes” or seizures that drop me to the floor like a brick from a window. Once it happened while driving and twice it’s happened in the office – fortunately my hand started to shake first so I just pretended that I had to go use the restroom. Still, this is manageable.

I’ve even learned to live with the ringing, my ever-constant companion. I literally have not heard the pure sound of silence for 20 years, so long that I have forgotten what quiet is. I call this God’s comic grace – leaving me deaf in one ear yet covered in a perpetual blanket of static.

Again, this too beats the alternative, which likely would have been death. That actually didn’t bother me – death would have been easy. It’s the dying part I wasn’t particularly looking forward to.

Dying aside, there’s still one more thing I will need to learn how to handle. Because you see, as much as I’ve learned to hide my little secret, the time will come when I won’t be able to hide anymore.

The ringing noise is getting worse, as in louder. I don’t know how much louder it can get and I really don’t want to find out. But it already has started affecting my speech – because I sometimes can’t hear myself talk, it makes it difficult to form words. People have noticed, and while I’ve been able to play it off I’m not sure how much longer that can last.

The ringing affects how much I can hear others, too. I can read lips pretty well but I can’t fake my way through conversations forever. Fortunately in marketing most of what people say is gibberish anyway so I should be safe for the time being.

Finally, my one “good” ear is on the decline. Not too bad yet, but the day may come when I lose my hearing altogether. Except, of course, for the static. My inner world will sound no different than an AM radio stuck between station signals.

I’m sharing all of this now for two reasons: 1) 20 years felt like a good time to come clean, and 2) it’s hard to fear the things you choose to face.

I didn’t choose for this to happen, but I choose to deal with it as best I can. Roger Ebert lost his ability to talk and was riddled with cancer, yet never showed any fear or lost his ability to communicate.

So I won’t be able to hear. Fine, there are worse things, not the least of which is squandering the little time you have on the superfluous, material or petty. Okay, some of that squandering is fine, especially if it has anything to do with Doctor Who.

I don’t make excuses or ask for special treatment and I still won’t no matter how bad this gets. However long I have is exactly how long I’m supposed to have, no use getting upset over what I can’t control.

I hope I will be able to hear 20 years from now, but I won’t expect it or demand it.  I won’t be angry or despondent.

Twenty years later, and I’m still here. Happy Anniversary indeed.

6 thoughts on “My 20 Years of Hearing Dangerously

  1. Just a friend of Chris Peacock’s wishing you exquisite eternal grace as you navigate this immense challenge.

  2. WOW Gary – I knew about the incident but had really no idea of the lasting impact. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted – almost 14 yrs I think – far too long…

    You are an inspiration to someone like me because I too am living with a bit of a daily situation and seeing how you have fought the good fight for this long tells me it is possible for me to do the same.

    Congrats on this anniversary and looking forward to the next 20 year update…


    — Tony —

  3. Yes, the rock-star, always-positive, amazingly compassionate, strikingly witty and cocktail-loving writer-extraordinare DOES IT AGAIN! GO GARY!

  4. You are an inspiration to me, who was a whiner and a chicken until July of 2013, when life, age, adventure, and reality caught up with me going through a fire, an earthquake, saving others, surviving a dental infection and a stomach flu of which I thought i would die. All that I went through is nothing compared to how you deal with your hearing problem. Kudos for you to writing about it with grace and poised style. I am awed at your stories. Humbled. Happy to have found a writer like you. Thanks.

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