Do You Hear What I Hear?
I’m supposed to be having a colonoscopy right now.
I was not exactly looking forward to this, but I did want to get it over with, so when the doctor’s office called to say they had to move the date, I was a little annoyed. Thankfully, it was at least rescheduled before my prep day arrived, so I didn’t have to do that for no reason. And now I have a lot of lime Jell-O and cherry-flavored Gatorade on hand for when I do have to do it.
Because I’d already planned to take yesterday and today off from doing anything else, I decided to use the time to get the latest COVID booster and my first shingles shot instead. Also, coincidentally, right after my colonoscopy was cancelled, I received a call from the audiologist to whom my doctor referred me a week or two ago and she had an opening available during the time when I was supposed to have a camera up my butt.
The vaccinations happened first. I’ve had a lot of vaccinations recently—Hep B, monkeypox, flu, and multiple boosters—and shingles was the last one I needed to cross off my list. I figured it would be more of the same, but when it came time for the nurse to administer the shingles vaccine she said, “I’m not going to lie. This one hurts.”
It did. Afterward the nurse said, “Some people react to the first dose. Some people react to the second dose. You’ll find out which kind you are in a couple of hours.”
Then she sent me to the audiology department. The reason for this visit was the tinnitus I’ve been experiencing for the last 18 months or so. It basically sounds like there are cicadas trilling in my head. All the time. The onset was gradual, and while I noticed it, it wasn’t unbearable. But as soon as summer ended and we stopped sleeping with fans on at night, the absence of that white noise made the level of interior racket more apparent, so I decided to have it checked out.
The audiologist put me in a booth and had me repeat words that she spoke into a headset from outside. Dodge. Shawl. Witch. I also had to press a handheld button whenever I heard a noise in one or the other ear. It felt a bit like being a contestant on Jeopardy! except that instead of answering questions about Potent Potables we were playing from the Will Mike End Up with Hearing Aids? category.
At one point, while waiting for a noise to register, I had a flashback to my mother asking my father, with great exasperation, “Bruce, can you hear anything I’m saying?” Dad would have been around the age I am now, and I remember finding it hysterical when my father deflected her annoyance with, “I can hear you fine. I’m just ignoring you.”
My father never did get hearing aids, and for the rest of his life he heard almost nothing anyone said to him. As I sat in the booth thinking about this and waiting for the results of my test, I also couldn’t help thinking about where my father was with his health at my age. In addition to hearing loss, he had prostate cancer, which he didn’t tell any of us about until after he’d undergone successful treatment for it. I’ve been tested for that and seem to have escaped that particular ailment. But what else is coming down the road?
I’m very fortunate in that in my 54 years I haven’t had any physical issue that couldn’t be fixed. This thing with my hearing is the first thing that feels like it might be untreatable, the beginnings of something that is likely to get worse, not better. I was curious to see what the audiologist would have to say about it.
According to her, I’m right on the cusp where hearing aids might help. “But the tinnitus will never go away,” she said. “All we can do is try to mask it.”
I confess it’s distressing to think that I might never experience true silence again. But I also think about my mother, who developed Alzheimer’s in her 60s. And my sister, who died of cancer at 61. Compared to those things, some buzzing in the ears is nothing. At the same time, I think anything that makes us realize that things can happen to our bodies that we have little or no control over is a reminder that, eventually, the warranty runs out.
A couple of hours after I got home, the side effects from the vaccinations kicked in. For me this meant all-over body pain and alternating chills and fever. Unable to do much else, I lay down and tried to sleep. Between the cicadas in my head and the soreness making it impossible to get comfortable, though, I mostly stared at the ceiling and thought about getting older.
A whole lot of gay men who should be my age died far too young due to HIV. I’m lucky not to be one of them. And I’m grateful for every single day I get. If vaccinations make me sore, it only means my body is still willing to put up a fight.
But I wish these cicadas would stop screaming. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael at michaelthomasford.com.