This was phrase I was uttering with more and more frequency. Along with huh?, what?, and For Pete’s sake, speak up!
I knew something was amiss. I used to pride myself with the fact that I could hear a truck coming up my mile-long driveway before my dog could. I used to consider unplugging the refrigerator, two rooms away from my desk, because its electrical hum was hugely bothersome. I used to be able to hear a mouse pass gas at fifty paces.
But it all came to a meteorically headlong halt, upsetting my world and disrupting my work.
And by fast, I mean over the space of about 3 months. But it seriously felt like lightning speed if I don’t pay too much attention to the fact that I refused to pay too much attention to it.
This is what I told the otolaryngologist when I first went to see him—the part about sudden deafness being a near overnight happenstance. The fact that he raised one eyebrow clear up to his hairline makes me think I was less than convincing, but we’d never met before, so it’s likely he was unfamiliar with my “fiction author”-like ways of creating more tension in fairly bland scenarios.
Wording is everything.
But so is hearing, because without it, I must use my third eye—or third ear—to metaphysically conjure up the sound of those sweet words I love.
“It’s not too bad when I’m on my own and the world is quite silent, but the second any sound is a part of the landscape, I’m keenly aware I’m going profoundly deaf.”
The doctor narrowed his eyes at me.
“It’s a massive challenge to read people’s lips on any good day, but it’s near impossible to read my dog’s lips now as he’s way behind on facial grooming.”
Again, the doctor said nothing, but his own pursed lips spoke volumes. He motioned for me to lie back and turn my head so he could investigate one ear. After a muffled bit of rooting around, he grabbed one of the smallest vacuum cleaners I’ve ever seen and deftly earned his fee.
I sat up, wide-eyed and thrilled.
Sound is amazing after you’ve lost most of it. Everything is distinct, crystalized, and heightened. Likely I would welcome the hum of the fridge once I got home. But we still had one other defunct ear to attend to, and I also had questions.
“I’m actually really glad I was forced to come see an ENT, as part of what I do for work is teach people about aromas and flavors, and we spend a fair bit of time discussing my favorite part of the body—the olfactory epithelium.”
“Really?” he said, as he motioned for me to switch sides for the second ear.
“So, as I’m here, I was wondering if you could tell me what you would say are the most important things the average person would find interesting about this organ?”
He leaned down to peer into my ear and said, “That … is a wonderful question. I would definitely make sure they know—”
And then I heard nothing but the sound of the world’s tiniest Hoover.
I panicked a little, as this was my one chance to chat before being rushed out of the building so that the physician could continue seeing the long line of people fearing they’d gone deaf, all pacing the waiting room.
I tried lifting my head just a smidge, and he suddenly paused the Miracle Ear Electrolux. “Did that hurt?” he asked.
“Nope. I just missed what you’d said.
He chuckled. “I said—”
The doll-sized Dyson started back up again.
Surely, he’s doing this on purpose, I thought. Perhaps he feels his service fee should not include a month’s worth of his schooling crammed into a five-minute lecture.
He sat back and gave me a smile. “Did you get all that? There’s some marvelous science to share, for sure.”
I felt my face arrange its features into a bleak visage. “Nearly,” I tried to say convincingly.
He turned to his assistant. “Go grab the packet, please.” The doctor then turned to me as his assistant slipped out the door. “No worries. I’m having Charles bring you one of our anosmia sourcebooks. It’s a fat pamphlet full of everything I tried to tell you, plus some remarkable scratch and sniff pages that help identify whether you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste. You’ll love it. Everything you need and a ton of stuff you’ll want to share.”
I smiled, thrilled. Both because I could mostly hear now and because I was getting a free bucketload of captivating science. Scratch n Sniff! I couldn’t wait.
Charles returned and happily handed me the packet. “We’ve only got one left,” he mentioned to the doctor.
The doctor reclaimed my prize. “Pardon me,” he said apologetically. But now I was positive he was enjoying the tease. “Maybe next time, as this packet is hard to come by.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Ah!” he patted my knee as he moved swiftly toward the door. “A pun! Very good!”
And then I knew I had my sharp-eared sense back because I could hear the sound of my own eyes roll skyward.
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