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  • It’s been over seven months since I first flunked my hearing test on my annual physical, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what to do about it. It’s not like I’ve been doing nothing – I haven’t been.

    But, it’s been a process. I just keep following the next step in it, and hope that one of these days, these steps will all lead to my being able to hear better.

    At the moment, I find myself asking the question – what’s more important to you – being able to hear, or being able to write? Who knew it would ever come to this? I’m not even sure that it has - but, that is the latest question I am asking myself in the process, as this hearing saga unfolds.

    My first step in the process was to go to the Hearing Center, where I was referred to from my primary care physician after flunking my hearing test. First, they said there’s too much wax in my ears, and sent me back home to soften it up for a week or so, then I went back to get tested by the experts.

    They hooked me up to a high-powered air hose and sucked all the softened wax out, ran me through a battery of tests, then congratulated me on “qualifying” for hearing aids in both ears. Both ears?!? I always thought I could hear pretty good out of the right one – it was usually my left ear I had trouble with. But no, they showed me charts and graphs from my tests, said a bunch of technical gobbledy-gook that sounded like they must know what they’re talking about (from what I could hear), then sent me in to talk to their salesperson, to explain all the different kinds of hearing aids and related gizmos, some really high-tech stuff – with really high-tech price tags. The one they recommended to me was going to be three grand a pop – six thousand smackers to be wired up and able to hear everything around me.
  • Holy Beethoven, Batman – that’s a truckload of bat cash! I had to take a little time to digest that, and look at my options. Surely I could get them cheaper at Costco?

    I went on my Fall Retreat in Woodstock, Connecticut, and found myself sitting at a table at lunch with two other guys who wear hearing aids – I wouldn’t have known it if they hadn’t told me – they had the high tech jobbers. One of them asked, “Are you a Veteran?” Yes, I am a disabled veteran, why? “Oh, then you qualify for hearing aids through the V.A. (Veterans Administration) – that’s how I got mine. No charge.”

    I hadn’t been to the V.A. since the mid-80’s, when I was first getting off the lithium I had been prescribed for my depression after I got out of the service. At that point, I had determined that, while the lithium had helped with the mood swings I had been experiencing when I first got out of the Navy, which had swung me into a suicidal depression for awhile, it now seemed to keep me from being able to experience normal human emotions. I was dog-tired of feeling like the “Tin Man” in the Wizard of Oz.

    I was beginning to get into recovery from addiction, and wanted to see if that might not work, at least as good as, or better than, the lithium, at helping with the mood swings. It turns out that it did, for me. But, I didn’t want to go off half-cocked and get all crazy again behind the mood swings again, so I had consulted with my V.A. doctor as I tried the recovery thing, to get a doctor’s opinion, and after a number of months of stability, off the lithium and on the 12 Steps, he agreed that I appeared to be doing fine without the lithium, and I felt like a free man.

    After that, I got my own health insurance through work, started using regular doctors, and just never had the need for the V.A. again – until now. They might be able to save me six large – why not?
  • It took some doing getting me back into their system. I didn’t realize just how long it had been, until the lady putting me back into their system said, “Oh, you’re married now?” Uh, yeah, have been for – let’s see, it’s nearly 30 years, now. “It would’ve been nice if you’d a told us!” It never occurred to me – I haven’t needed to use you guys since I was single.

    She put me on the Red Team, and I was back in the system, and even got my own V.A. photo I.D. card. I was rockin’ and rollin’! I made an appointment with the Audio Department, and brought in the results of my tests from the hearing center, complete with charts and graphs and gobbledy-gook explanations of how and why I qualified for Hearing Aids.

    It had never occurred to me that that Hearing Center might have had a conflict of interest going on. They were in the business of selling hearing aids. Of course, they would quickly conclude that I needed them! Of course, they would say I qualified, and give me a bunch of fancy pictures to prove it.

    The V.A.’s Audio Department weren’t interested in the fancy, colorful graphs and charts and gobbledy-gook from the hearing center. They had their own tests to run on me. Their tests were much more extensive. They not only tested my hearing, and looked at my ear drum action, like the hearing center had – they tested the nerves in my ear. The hearing center hadn’t been that thorough. Once the tests were done, they told me to schedule an appointment with the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) center.

    I did so, and the ENT doctor was great. He explained it all to me in language I could understand. He wasn’t out to impress me with what he knew about ears. He also wasn't out to quickly sell me hearing aids. He was more interested in helping me to understand what was happening in my ears, showing me with a big model of the inside of the ear that he had right there. The V.A. was happy to give me hearing aids – if I really needed them. He wasn’t so sure I did. He explained it all. He even explained that what I've always been told was wax buildup in my left ear, is not wax at all - it's dead skin. It's a condition that, if maintained properly - and he said that I've been doing a good job maintaining it - it's not a big problem. But, in extreme cases, it could require surgery. My one brother had the extreme case, and just recently had the surgery. Good to know!
  • He wanted to try a few things in my ears. He explained how neither of my ear drums works properly, but asked if I’d be interested in seeing if we could get them to work better, before we just throw a hearing aid in there to help me to hear. Sure, if we can get my ear drums working better, that would be preferable to me, too. Turns out, the nerve in my ear works just fine. When they tested my ability to hear through the nerve, I heard fine. So, that told them the problem was in the action of the drum, not the nerve. The pressure variance on either side of my ear drum was not what it should be. It should be the same on either side. It wasn’t. Something was blocking the canal on the other side of the drum.

    So, now I am on a prescription medication that is normally used for allergy sufferers. While my allergies don’t warrant needing something like this, he wants to try this to see if it will clear up the canal on the inside of my ear, which might in turn get my ear drum working properly.

    So, that’s where it’s at. I’ve been on the medicine for about a week now, and go back to the V.A. a week after I get back from vacation to see if anything has changed.

    Only, the latest wrinkle is, I’ve noticed I’ve kind of lost track of my writing muse since I’ve been on the medicine. This often happens when I take cold or allergy medicine. It does something to my head, where I don’t feel that connection I usually feel when I sit down to write. My muse goes missing. That's why I usually don't like taking cold or allergy medicine unless it's really bad. Then, I get off of it as soon as I can. It seriously messes with my writing mojo.

    I really love to write. So, I am currently at the step in the process where I must ask myself – what’s more important? Hearing what’s around me, or hearing my muse? It’s not unlike how I used to feel when I was on the lithium – just not nearly as pronounced as that, but similar in that, a part of me feels disconnected from my core.

    Stay tuned as I sort through this current conundrum, on the road to better hearing. Thanks for hearing me out.
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