It started in 1993, several months after my first birthday, with one simple word. Both of my parents were surprised to hear me talk because struggles with ear infections delayed my speech. All it took for me to speak was the daily visit from the neighbors’ cat. Tigger was sitting outside the kitchen door, expecting to be let in for snuggles, cuddles, and food. I took one look at him and exclaimed “cat!” After my first word, however, nobody could have predicted the battle I would fight to maintain my hearing.
Ear problems considered typical for infants transformed into a chronic illness, which disintegrated my eardrums over the course of 10 years. Delays in speech became social delays caused by hearing loss, and frequent absences related to illness. There were plenty of things that upset me about ear infections; not having a lot of friends; ice-cold eardrops that gave me migraines; teachers who did not understand my health problems. Nothing upset me as much, however, as not being able to hear a cat purr. I knew it existed because it vibrated in my fingertips, giving me a “thank-you” massage for stroking the cat’s back. No matter how close I put my ear though, I could never hear the cat’s wordless way of saying “thank you” and “I love you.”
By age 10, I worried that would never happen. Half of my left ear was eroded by ventilation tubes, and only one scrap of my right eardrum was left. I was told, if my health did not change, I would be stone deaf at sixteen. Would I lose my chance to hear the cat’s purr? Would I ever find a way to stop these infections?