Some thoughts on healing, post-surgery
In no particular order.
Last Wednesday, I had surgery to repair a lifelong issue with my ear. I’ve had a ruptured eardrum caused by an errant eartube that lodged in it instead of falling out when I was a child. I had multiple attempted surgeries as a child - paper grafts and skin grafts alike - that tried to fix the issue, but none were successful.
So I learned to live with it. Because of this ruptured eardrum, I had been prone to ear infection at the slightest bit of water, so I wore ear plugs and (occasionally) swim caps at the pool, and was careful to not put my head fully underwater in showers or baths.
My hearing was impacted - I couldn’t hear the lower register of sounds in my damaged ear. I called my whole ear “my subwoofer” and my busted one “my tweeter.” Even though I’d had this type of hearing my whole life - my damaged ear was impacted when I was between 5 and 10, in the fog of early childhood lost to memory or what Frederick Buechner calls “once below a time” - I didn’t realize how my hearing was different until I was 19 and had a car with a good stereo system. I brought my car to the dealership, thinking it had busted speakers. Turns out it was my hardware that was busted.
A whole teenage lifetime later, at 37, after my hearing had degraded and I’d developed tinnitus, I scheduled time to see an ENT. I was given a hearing test - where you are put in a soundproof room, given a pair of thick headphones and told to click a Jeopardy! style clicker whenever you hear a faint beep in one ear. Both ears were tested individually. Then a control was done with an accessory that circumvents the ear’s wetware via bone conduction (to test the auditory nerve’s capacity to receive/interpret noise signals).
It showed hearing loss, which was expected. What I didn’t expect was the audiologist to say to me: “Get this fixed and you’ll hear in stereo again.”
….had I never heard in stereo?
I suppose I hadn’t. But I never really knew that.
There are lots of aspects left to explore of this experience, most of which will remain private, away from the public eye, until I understand them better. I’m in a phase where I prefer my process to be more private, only sharing when I have something more substantive - something more than an inkling or a germ or a meme.
Yet in a bit of instant-contradiction, here are some thoughts on healing that have bubbled up since Wednesday.
Convalescing renders us (or me, at least) more object than subject. After my surgery, my primary task was healing. My spouse did not expect me to do anything else, and my daughter didn’t, either. But as I lay in bed, alternating between watching tv sci-fi and sleeping, I felt useless. I had ceased to be something or someone to interact with per se and more of an inert object. It was an odd feeling.
Healing happens in its own time. But it requires us to make the space to do it. I didn’t get this fixed for any number of reasons - fear, laziness, financial concern, indifference. I didn’t do it until other issues - in my case, the worsening tinnitus - forced me to. I saw the first ENT last summer (who referred me to a more qualified specialist), and still didn’t get it fixed until this winter. And now that I have started down this path, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.
Healing is its own form of discovery. In addition to the perforated eardrum, I had some structural issues with my ear canal that made me especially prone to chronic infection that were also addressed during this surgery. This contributed perhaps even more to infections than the issue with my eardrum. If I had known this in the past, I had forgotten it.
But even now, even though my ear is literally stuffed, (there’s stuff in my outer ear canal) I feel as if my hearing is changing. The tinnitus is still there, and maybe it will stay as an unrelated issue, perhaps it will fade, I don’t know. I’m hopeful that this surgery will be successful.
Still, I don’t think there’s a singular way to hear or to heal.
Rather than live in regret that I did not take these steps earlier, I choose to think that hearing the world “askew” for so long will let me appreciate hearing it in balance and equilibrium all the more. Let those with ears hear that I choose the reverence and the wonder.