Rain hitting the ground and Thunder that echoes forever


Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I was at home sick much of this week. Monday evening I had a sharp pain in my ear, completely out of the blue. The intense pain kept me up all night, my toes curled, I bit my lip, stared at the wall and held my ear waiting for morning so that I could go to the doctor.

On the way I  noticed that I couldn’t hear well. Voices sounded like distant hollow robots and music sounded grotesquely out of town, like I was missing entire tones and notes.

The general practitioner looked in my ear, grimaced, and explained the severity of the sudden ear infection. He gave me a round of antibiotics and a prescription for strong pain killers. I wandered through Kroger aimlessly, desperately looking for something to distract myself from the pain while they filled my prescription. I found myself reading lists of ingredients on organic foods and the instructions for a headlight brightening kit.  For those 20 minutes of waiting on my prescription I honestly felt like I might pass out a time or two from the pain. And I’ve experienced physical pain in my life, so I don’t count myself as having a weak threshold.

Once back in my truck I tore open the pain killers and tossed two in my mouth desperate for some relief. I leaned back in my seat hoping for some magic immediate respite. An hour later, back at home, I relaxed a little, but only found about 45 minutes of relief with each double dose of prescription pain killers. I stared at the wall again most of the day, and in the brief moments of relief I tried to work – or watch day time episodes of Bonanza if the pain was still too great to focus.

Thursday I went back to the doctor, as he suggested, to tell him the pain was still great and my hearing was still affected. My general doc looked again, and immediately made a call to a specialist. He got me in immediately.

He was a short, older gentleman with humorous mannerisms like a mad scientist. He moved in hurried motions and made “thinking sounds” as he examined my ear.

His diagnosis:

Bullous Myringitis

Blisters on the ear drum.

“The good news”, he said, “is your going to live.”

“The bad news?” I asked.

“It hurts. Bad.”

“Yes, I know. I’m glad I’m not just a wimp.”

He laughed gently and began to test my hearing. He made gentle sounds as he tested my ear. He made faces. But never spoke.

Finally, “You’re not a wimp. This hurts. Big time. Let’s do this. Try to get through the pain. Keep taking the antibiotic. Come back next week. I need to test your hearing then to see how much hearing loss you may have experienced. It could be permanent. Maybe not though.”

It could be permanent, I thought?

Today the pain has subsided enough to switch from prescription drugs to over the counter drugs. But my ear is still blocked and my hearing is still affected. I feel terrible, but I’ve felt worse on race courses and “got through the pain”.

I’m not making too much of it, really, but I’m often (maybe always) guilty of deeper than necessary self reflection when something like this happens. I wondered about the way music sounded distorted. the sound of people’s voices. The tones have corrected now, but they are still faint in my right ear.

I watched an episode of MASH recently where Hawkeye temporarily loses his vision from a wood burning stove explosion and he learns how beautiful life is when you listen for it’s intricacies, like rain drops hitting the ground, instead of measuring everything by sight.

One part of the world has closed down for me, but another part has opened up. Sure, I – I keep picturing myself on a corner with a tin cup selling thermometers, but I’m going through something here I didn’t expect. This morning I spent two incredible hours listening to that – that rainstorm. And I – I didn’t just hear it, I was a part of it. I’ll bet you have no idea that – that rain hitting the ground makes the same sound as steaks when they’re barbecuing. Or that-that thunder seems to echo forever. And you wouldn’t believe what – how funny it is to hear someone slip and fall in the mud. I bet – It had to be Burns. Beej, this is full of trapdoors, but I-I think there may almost be some kind of advantage in this. I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.

He heard and felt everything and began to almost appreciate his new circumstance and his memories of what sight was like along with his current reality. I wondered what it might be like to lose my hearing in my ear. Like Hawkeye, I’ve felt vulnerable, but almost appreciative at the same time. It forced me to slow down when I’ve been running in several ways, too hard.

The Phish song, Bug, says “nothing I see can be taken from me.”

Hawkeye losing his vision for a few days on an old 70s episode of MASH, me losing my hearing for a few days, and Trey Anastasio’s lyric all caused me to wonder about the stuff in our lives when it’s measured against losing something truly precious.

Only the sights. Sounds. And experiences will count.

I made a mental list of sounds I wanted to remember. It was a self absorbed moment of melodrama to be sure, but it was a valuable exercise that yielded a good result to begin our “not bummer summer” as I called it this morning when you each woke up.

I want to focus this summer on the sights, sounds (hopefully), and smell of our days. The way a summer morning creates waves of radiating heat from the pavement as the fog and dew lift under my bicycle tires, the taste of a cold mountain river so cold that its takes your breath, the mystery of a deep plunge from a tall rock into the cold of a hidden pool, the way the sun feels on my face as it rises over the gulf,  the sound of the ice cream truck in the afternoon and mad galloping noisy dash for change it creates in our house and in the neighborhood.

“Ice cream man!”

Thunder echoes forever when you can’t see. I’ll bet I could still hear that darned Ice Cream truck even if I lost my hearing though.

I’ll regain my hearing, but for a few days I had the chance to think about the sounds of our house and life and how I might remember them if I lost them, even partially, forever. My hearing will be fine.  Oh, and Hawkeye regained his sight on MASH.

I love you,