The first time I noticed something was wrong was when I was lying in bed wrapped in a conversation among other things with Maria and found myself not being able to make out all of her words. The softer she spoke the worse it became. I didn’t immediately think anything of it and attributed it to being over tired. Talking on the phone wasn’t a problem, hearing on stage was about the same and yet something was amiss. With time it progressed and seemed to get worse so I decided it was time to get it checked out. I’m not one of those people who shy’s away from medical treatment. If I have any ache, pain, or sickness that doesn’t dissipate in a couple of days I’m on the line with a doctor. One of the perks about being famous and on the road is a private medical team is always a stone’s throw away. But when you’re working at home or in the studio and you’re an average Joe it’s office visits, sneaking in back entrances, and dodging photographers and rumor mongers. Even though I was now involved in television work I was still on the tabloids radar. Thankfully my newly acquired more peaceful existence dropped me from the top of their ‘hit’ list. I was no longer at the top of the heap. Thank the Lord for normalcy and a nine to five gig.
I knew the drill when it came to the ENT and the tests that were to be performed. I’m sure we’ve all had those ‘tone’ tests as a kid. You remember you’re placed in a sound proof booth with huge heavy headsets on your head and a buzzer in your hand. “Push the button whenever you hear the tone.” was the typical speech from the audiologist. When the diagnosis was revealed that I was suffering with hearing loss it was a major blow to my psyche but not totally unexpected. I suppose the thing that hit home was I couldn’t imagine not hearing music never mind sound in general. Whereas many people lose the higher frequency tones I was losing the lower pitch. I know there’s a medical term for this but it escapes me at the moment. I was experiencing ringing in my ears, other times there would be a pulsing in rhythm with my heartbeat that appeared hollow as it resonated through my head. It was painful at times but more of a nuance than anything else especially when trying to sleep. It appeared mostly when I’m tired or that seems to be when I notice it the most; when there’s peace and quiet. I’m was sure all the experts would attribute this problem to years spent with headphones taped to my ears listening to loud rock music, going to concerts and being a musician. Add in migraine headaches which I’ve suffered with for years and all equals to a pretty miserable person most of the time. I’m easy to read when these things occur. My eyes are half closed and heavy, my face is flushed and a lovely color of red. Maria, Sheila, and everyone else in my camp knows the signs immediately and keeps their distance. My tolerance for B.S. is non-existent and my patience and understanding goes right out the window. When those babies kick in sound and light become enemy number one and nausea isn’t far behind. It’s all the classic symptoms you’ve heard and read about in medical journals and magazines. Anyone who suffers from these or knows someone who does can relate to how devastating the pain is. Chopping off one’s head is actually appealing during those moments when you’re lying in a dark silent room. Your head feels like a jackhammer is slamming into your brain and your ears feel like they’re going to start to bleed if someone drops a pin on the floor. And you wonder why I do drugs? I have transformed into a vampire by necessity. At times I have resigned myself to only venturing out at night when these little ditties hit. Actually when it’s in full swing, I don’t go anywhere except to bed and under the covers, alone.
Put yourself in my place for a moment; imagine missing the one attribute in your life that gives you purpose, makes getting out of bed in the morning worth all the day’s bullshit. That’s what music has been for me my entire life. Where would I be, who would I be without it? Probably working retail in a dead end minimum wage job going nowhere fast. Just the thought of not being able to hear makes my body shake with fear and trepidation. I still have a good portion of my hearing but it seems to diminish more and more with every passing day. Some days are better than others. I constantly lean into people when they speak to make sure I can hear everything they say, sometimes I also find myself reading their lips or tilting my head to one side in order to hear them better. Should anyone mumble or speak quietly there is always that awkward moment when I inevitably must say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” Thankfully the annoying looks I’ve been known to receive are still few and far between but it is beginning to get redundant. I’m not sure if it’s more acceptable to be older when this sense starts to falter in regards to other people’s reaction. I know it’s more common and expected from an older person. After all, we’ve all grown up thinking once you hit your forties it’s all downhill from there. Over the past few years this way of looking at age has changed; forty has become the new sixty or seventy and so on. After all, cougars are in nowadays and considered very sexy. At least I have that going for me.
My daily dealing with one of my five senses deciding it’s tired of working or needs a permanent vacation is I turn up the television to a ridiculous level; turn music up so loud my neighbors can hear it better than I can on the beach below my balcony. Always the optimist depends on the day I’ve actually tried to work on my hearing level by turning things down rationalizing that straining to hear might actually make my deficit disappear. Maybe I can get back what I’ve lost? I don’t know how realistic that is but it’s like diagnosing an illness on the internet and finding out all your symptoms are tied to a terminal disease. It’s okay to admit it you’ve done this once or twice, I have more times than I’d care to admit. According to my computer I should have died ten years ago. I’m sure many of my counterparts would agree but some deities as myself aren’t so easy to kill.
My fear level hasn’t hit the red line just yet but I do have my moments. I’m afraid I’ll miss when someone says, “I love you.” I make sure I hear that one loud and clear even if I ask for it to be repeated; which of course drives everyone over the bend. I haven’t really come out and talked about the reality of my situation when it comes to this problem. Attribute that to the old adage ‘out of sight out of mind.’ It a denial technique that is impossible to ignore. Obviously it’s been noticed and Maria has made comments from time to time but I’ve always shrugged it off and changed the subject. I usually have other battles to fight that are more pressing and threatening at any given time. On many different levels it’s like being told there isn’t a Santa Claus when you’re a kid and still believe. It’s something you can never have again; that innocence and wonder of it all. Sure there are hearing aids which I’m sure I will be utilizing one day, maybe even surgery will be a possibility. Hearing specialists have argued my case going as far as placing blame on the ear monitors we use on stage. There the latest thing that every rock singer under the sun uses. They molded and fit specifically for an individual. Let’s face it; it’s loud as hell on stage. We have to hear what each other is playing in order to get through a show. Add in the blast of the audience, pyrotechnics, and whatever other special effects we use and you’ve got a decibel level that could burst an eardrum As far as my performances onstage from what I’ve been told and can tell on my own I still sing in tune. I haven’t yet experienced pitch problems though it’s always in the back of my mind. My ultimate nightmare I’m sure is every performers: the monitors go out and you’re standing there singing completely off key lost in the arrangement of the song. Just the thought makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and makes my short hairs sweat. As of right now I compensate by singing louder when my favorite song comes on the radio (my apologies those people who happen to be around at those particular times), I’ve upped my vocal projection on stage, turn down my instruments when practicing or rehearsing, and will continue to lean in when someone is speaking to make sure I don’t miss a single word spoken. This is just one more ailment to add to my already growing list that falls into the category, “shit happens.”