I had a successful music career in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it ended when, by 1982, I had lost my hearing. This year, however, I made the decision to return to the recording studio and follow my musical passions again.
In “Health and Hearing (Part I)” Stu talks about his journey in finding a reason for his hearing loss and his path for self healing with alternative medicine…
I wanted to know why I had lost my hearing and what – if anything – I could do about it. I was willing to go wherever it took me.
Like most people, I depended on conventional western medical diagnoses, treatments and therapies for my health needs. So I had no idea where to go if not there. I was hardly in perfect health, but at 29 there were enough physical tics to suggest a look under the hood wasn’t a bad idea. I wanted to find an alternative path to health and wellness… something outside the box.
I was connected to a group of fellow travelers – many with serious ailments of their own – who turned me on to an astounding array of things to try. Acupuncture, spinal and TMJ adjustments and bite plates, colonic irrigations, meditation, massage, yoga, tai chi and an overwhelming variety of magic foods, supplements, drinks, etc. I jumped in with a vengeance at a sizable cost, as insurance companies weren’t covering much outside the conventional medical box.
Naïve to be sure, but I held out hope that one day, with the next chiropractic adjustment, colon cleanse, hour of meditation, or fruit smoothie my hearing would literally click back into place like turning on a light switch. So I was diligent. Fanatical. And though that did not happen, something else did.
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.
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.
Everyone with a hearing challenge has a phone story.
I knew from my very first hearing aid that the phone was going to be a problem. The technology at the time included a phone program that worked if I was in the right location with my head cocked at a 27 degree angle facing east during the new moon. Static was a persistent by-product.
I’m a talker. Have been since my first words, or so the legend goes. Even as I became part of the “hearing lost” I didn’t stop talking.
According to my audiologist when we lose hearing we have two choices, really — to recede and/or to step forward. Or in my case, to do what has always come naturally.
Being a talker with a hearing loss hasn’t always been a good thing. In fact, it’s caused me countless embarrassing exchanges more times than I have data for.But I discovered that if I talked I didn’t have to listen — or listen as much. I would simply try to outrun the speaker’s attempt at a conversation. I would try to anticipate where the conversation was going and leap into the middle of it with some confirming words or experiences of my own to try that might match the “attempted” conversation.
I am having an exceptional experience with a new Phonak Audeo V hearing aid which I received on January 23, 2015. It’s one thing hearing sounds more clearly than I had previously, but as a singer it’s quite another to be able to hear many more facets of my voice than I had been hearing for decades with other aids.
I’ve been a professional singer and recording artist since the ’70s. I studied voice, speaking and acting for years in New York and worked very hard at creating a voice and a style that employed my musical gifts and talents. But when I lost much of my hearing between 1978 and 1982, I also lost touch with that voice and all I had worked so diligently and passionately to develop and perfect.
Scroll ahead to today and moving beyond the challenges I’ve faced, the news is better.
For much of the past 37 years in which I’ve been, let’s say, “engaged in hearing loss,” I’ve played the good soldier. I reject labels like “suffering from,” and try to limit my whining unless it’s absolutely necessary.
I get my hearing aids, have the appropriate adjustments made, employ compensatory techniques and body positioning strategies, and bluff my way through thousands of interactions. By necessity I curtailed listening to and making music and attending concerts, shows and events, stayed home a lot, endured the requisite stress, embarrassment and isolation, and came to look upon my hearing loss as a kind of badge of courage.
And in all that time, I have done my part to be a good listener, too, because, well, that’s what we do, isn’t it? It’s up to those of us engaged in hearing loss to try and fit into the hearing world, right?
Managing the late stages of a rare and fatal cancer was challenging enough, but our communication was deteriorating as well. Her voice had weakened to a whisper and my poor hearing and inadequate hearing aid could not compensate. We sat quietly in her final weeks making contact with our eyes and hands when words failed us both.