All I wanted to know, after losing 100 percent of my hearing in the left ear in 1978, and much of the hearing in my right ear in 1980, was… why? Why did this happen to me in my late 20s while I was supposedly in perfect health? Why did it happen at the exact moment in my musical trajectory when I had reached a peak – winning acclaim, earning hefty dollars and with a bright future assured.
My plea was certainly to try and understand what had happened to me from a health standpoint after so quick and dramatic a loss. But more importantly, it was to see what I might be able to do about it. Other than telling me what happened, the doctors couldn’t tell me why – or what to do about it.
The polytomography showed no tumors. Steroids were administered to address potential immune issues, but there were no answers coming, and no drugs or surgery to help me forward.
They called it bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. A perfect term if you’re a hearing professional. A garbage term if you were me.
What could I do about sensorineural hearing loss?
Nothing, they told me. This was for life – including the accompanying tinnitus in both ears. And there would be no turning back. Only a hearing aid stood between me and silence.
I recognize for many among the “hearing lost,” that information would have been enough to know, and a hearing aid would have provided the necessary accommodation. Carry on. ‘Nuff said.
But it never was and never has been enough for me, in part because of my personality, and also because I had the added impetus – or more accurately, desperation – to get back to music in some way, shape or form.
That was 34 years ago.
I let music go for the next 30 years, but I never stopped looking to find my way back. I never stopped working at the problem either. And, all along the way I have found many things to assist me to cope, adjust, manage and even enhance my hearing – even though my audiogram hasn’t budged in all that time, and even though I live daily with hearing loss and this cacophony in my head. Why?
Control. It’s axiomatic that when folks are confronted with a life-altering illness or trauma, the first thing they feel is a loss of control. I was terrified, but more so, I was angry. I was angry at the doctors who couldn’t help me, angry at my fate… angry at God. If there was no cure then everyone and everything was to blame. Surely I didn’t do this to myself. Did I?
In 1983, fate threw me in front of the emerging alternative health, diet, lifestyle and healing communities, and offered a sense of participating in and somehow controlling my health, and, I hoped, my hearing.
In the early ’80s information about foods and health was exploding. Along with every kind of diet, (which continues unabated) the natural food industry emerged out of the hippie and drug cultures of the ’60s and ’70s. Along with it came some new and some very ancient ideas about health along with an amazing assortment of foods, herbs, spices, elixirs, potions, supplements, health products and practices from every culture and tradition around the world.
There were alternative cures being promoted for every illness and condition. Alternative healing modalities were running smack dab into America’s penchant for powerful drugs, surgery and other invasive therapies with great provocation and controversy. For many like me, the hunger for some control over their health was enough to jump in and test the waters.
Along with these seemingly ersatz ideas came a panoply of iconoclasts – chefs and foodies, psychologists, inspiring spiritual leaders, healers, teachers of every kind from every branch of alternative thought, and even conventional medical doctors from every specialty, who were beginning to question America’s ways of conducting its health business, and were themselves looking for new paradigms.
With this new orientation, the mantra was self-awareness, self-healing, self care – “let food be thy medicine, thy medicine food” — and multiple siblings to those notions.
And in 1983, for the first time in my life, I began to see myself and my hearing in a whole new way.
I haven’t looked back since…
(Stay tuned for “Health and Hearing: Part 2”)