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In My Life

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I had a condition in my right ear called “cholesteatoma” which is the uncontrolled growth of skin in the middle ear. Left untreated, it will distort the middle ear canal, eventually eroding away the bones (the ones that help you hear), destroying the ear drum and even the facial nerve responsible for movement of your facial muscles. The only effective treatment is surgery, where the doctors make an incision behind your ear, fold it forward and then scrape away the infected tissue. Like cancer, cholesteatoma will return unless all of it is removed.

Between the ages of 6 and 13 I had about eight surgeries on my ear before it was finally dispatched for good…or so I thought. Now it has made a return, and at least one further surgery is required. I feel fine for now, but I’ve already lost a great deal of hearing in my right ear; the hearing that’s left is like listening through a glass onion. I haven’t been able to hear properly out of it since I was three years old, which is when this saga started (the result of trauma received when flying in an airplane, the pressurization causing my eardrum to rupture). Now I might potentially lose all further hearing in that ear permanently, in addition to potentially losing taste on the right side of my tongue and/or movement on the right side of my face.

The reason I mention all of this is because I had a funny thought today while driving home. I was thinking about all the trouble I’ve had over the years with my ear, all the pain and grief it has caused me, and all the minor inconveniences of being practically deaf in one ear. The thought was: wouldn’t it be nice to sue the airline that caused my eardrum to rupture and get rich off of my suffering?

The reason I found this funny is because it’s a horrifying thought, one that I am ashamed to have had pass through my mind, but it is very much typical of the thinking of Americans today, to seek blame in others and to defer responsibility (and to think that everything has a cause, for every action there is a reason and thus every action is potentially preventable if only the right laws are passed by a government).

Shit happens, something we need to tell ourselves that more often. Obla-di, Obla-da, life goes on. An airplane pressurization system activated a little too abruptly and my eardrum ruptured because of it. Is it someone’s fault? Maybe, but it does me no good to find someone to blame for my woes. Instead I will keep doing what I have always done in my life: keep calm and carry on.

I do not seek sympathy or enrichment from my condition; I do not go around claiming to be disabled, even though I could probably get away with it. No, I simply work harder to get by and get by is what I do. Sure, I have to ask people to speak up a lot and repeat things often; sometimes I can’t hear what someone is saying at all and simply nod and smile. Often someone will be on my right side and will try to get my attention quietly and I will be oblivious to it. I can’t lie on my left side unless I don’t want to hear anything or I have to keep my good ear exposed. When I listen to stereo headphones I can only hear half of the song.  I have made a habit of always standing at the far right of any group so that everyone is to my left and I might hear them clearly (of course being on the far right of a group is in keeping with my politics too). In fewer words: I cope.

Though this may cause me a hard day’s night from time to time, I simply bear all of these burdens and keep them to myself. I ask only for a little patience and perhaps a raised voice from my fellow humans, and with a little help from my friends I can lead a normal life, even with substantial hearing impairment. I think we need more of this kind of thinking in America, but that’s just me.

-SL

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