PUMPING IRONY: No Noise Is Good Noise

What do you do when when your hearing begins to fail? Clean out your ears and hope for the best.

I spent an enjoyable 90 minutes on Sunday listening to a program of orchestral music by the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony (featuring some excellent cello work by the daughter of my pal, The King of Nordeast). They played something from Dvorak and then the full Fifth Symphony of Dimitri Shostakovich. It was quite moving — and very loud — which is probably not good for me.

I’ve been suffering from some hearing loss for the past several years, the product of a common condition called tinnitus. According to some sources, about 20 percent of Americans suffer from this illness, which is typically described as a “ringing in the ears” and is probably the result of subjecting the ears to noises that are too loud for them to handle.

Practically speaking, hearing loss at my age is mostly an annoyance to other people — especially My Lovely Wife — who are regularly subjected to requests to repeat their words so as to convey their true meaning to a guy who may or may not be listening. Which, of course, conveys a certain advantage to a clueless guy who’s trying to figure out what is being communicated. But it can be a real problem when you’re trying to figure out what your boss is saying about some issue that you really ought to be tracking.

The University of Leicester has recently released a study showing that tinnitus is most likely the result of exposure to some loud noises, but I’m not particularly interested in what might be the source of this trouble. If it’s serious noise, I suppose I could trace it to a 1976 concert at the St. Paul Civic Center with Leon Russell and Carlos Santana, or any of several subsequent musical events that employed really large speakers (including a 1987 Tom Waits concert at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis, during which MLW, heavy with child, retreated to the lobby, claiming that it would harm the baby). That’s all in the past. Nothing I can do about that now.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Later this week, I’ll show up at my local clinic, where some underpaid nurse will clean my ears out with some mysterious saline solution, and for the next several weeks MLW will not have to tell me when the stove-top timer has signaled that my tea is brewed and I’ll actually hear what my boss wishes I would be worrying about.

Or at least I hope so. It’s a weird thing to realize that you may be dealing with a real disability — that’s what hearing loss is, after all — because you desperately want to assume that you’re normal. You’ve always been normal. At least in this way.  It’s not like you’ve got cancer. But it can drag you down in a similar, albeit less morbid, way.

So you go to the doctor. You hope for some alleviation. And maybe you avoid Shostakovich. And big orchestras. You think about being quiet.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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