Saturday, March 14, 2009
A Billion Cicadas
That's what I hear in my head 24/7. I don't remember a time when I didn't hear it. There's a medical name for it -- tinnitus -- and a possible explanation for why people develop so-called ringing in their ears -- damage to delicate hairs in the cochlea. These days, plenty of service members are coming home with tinnitus from exposure to very loud noises like bombs, cannon and gun fire, etc. I empathize with them. I'm also thankful that my tinnitus was caused by something far less dangerous -- frequent middle ear infections when I was a child. One of my earliest memories is of my Dad dropping warmed, sweet oil into my ear in an effort to ease the pain. Sitting in his lap, he would then hold my head against his chest and rock me in an effort to will the pain to go away. Ear aches were very painful and frustrating because they took so long to go away. Remarkably, I have very acute hearing -- sometimes to the annoyance of friends and family. . . Anyway, somehow I can circumvent the cicadas and hear things others might not. The flip side of that gift is not being able to stand total silence or very loud noises. If I lived out in the middle of nowhere, without the sounds of planes, traffic or even wind through trees I would go bonkers. On the other hand, I have to cover my ears when an ambulance goes by or a plane flies overhead. Sometimes, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, I sit on the balcony and listen to the hum of the city. I hear it as a combination of far away trains, traffic on bridges and the beltway, the rumble of thousands of air conditioners and other machinery. Focusing on those sounds helps to tame the screeching in my head. If anyone reading this has the affliction, I'd love to know what you do to cope.