On September 7, 2017, 37 days away from my 50th birthday and living a relatively healthy life to that date, I was rushed to hospital at 4 am ,and then put into a medical induced coma to save my life. An infection, yet to be identified had grasped my body and brain and put me into repertory arrest. For 10 days I lay in a coma and was given a powerful antibiotic which saved my life, but cost me all my hearing. By the 18th of that month I was in IC, deaf as a wheel of cheese, no balance, and no idea where I was or what happened to the sound that once graced my life. My life was changing faster than the speed of life.
For the next 103 days I stared out a window in a hospital and watched the leaves turn colours. Part of me just assumed that hearing would return and I would walk again one day. The glass being half full saved my mind from the desperate speculation of the worst case scenario: I would always be deaf.
In my cone of silence during that quiet autumn, I embraced the visual. Changing from the efficient multi-tasking person that I once was, to the naïve benighted hospital patient on floor 6. The floor for recovering stroke patients.
Looking back it amazes me still how I did not go on a complete emotional collapse. I started to embrace the silent world. I took note of peoples faces, and waited for key clues to help me speech read. I reveled in the beauty of my outdoor view. The trees changing, the people entering and leaving the hospital. What would they wear today? I noticed footwear, socks, neckties, lipstick and all of life’s personal choices we all have that I once ignored. How could I embrace this and use to keep my world intact as best I could. I read books, went to therapy, and was given an instructor to help me learn how to speech read. I nicknamed my speech therapist “Socks” for her choice of wild and fun socks. Visual was my new world. Gone was the exchanging of pleasantries and all the other sounds that go along with societies rituals that accompany them.
During the summer prior I had been training for my first marathon. After completing two half marathons, my sights were set on the big 42 K race that would take place in October that year. It never happened.
With no sound in my cone the auditory nerves decided to create their own concerto. The tinnitus and the auditory hallucinations varied from airplane roar, to monk chants, to factories operating at 24/7 full capacity. Relief came when the directors and conductors decided I needed some full orchestral music! How lovely! Classical chords set to contemporary modern song. I had little choice in the song sets, so I played with them.
By Halloween of that year, I started to see out of the fog a bit and figured out where I was. I did have daily visitors of wife and family as well as friends. I had and still do not have any recollection of these visits. I knew I was deaf and proudly told all that came to see me that they best write down any and all subjects to be discussed. Once I had the subjects it was much easier to lip and speech read.
By November I was getting frustrated with the medical folks not having any clue on the how or why I was deaf. “This is a stoke ward” I was told. Up for the challenge I set about figuring out how to live. Television had some closed captioning, so that was easy enough once I was told I had the volume up to 20 all the time and residents were complaining. I desperately wanted to go to the Sunday chapel service with belief that some organized prayer might make me whole again. Never one for prayer in past, I found myself just before waking each morning on those 100 plus days, praying that sound had returned. Then a sound check. Still eerie silence. Perhaps another prayer another day.
The Chapel minister told me that he did not have any notes on his weekly sermon, but I was more than welcome to sit in. So I sang when pointed out the hymn pages, and turned some heads of the patients which helped me control my volume.
Baby steps and good therapists taught me to walk without inner balance, although I need to go from wheel chair to walker. By December I was using a can erratically, but my speech reading was becoming exceptional!
Home by Christmas that year the deaf experiences hit like the proverbial ton of silent bricks. Frustrations, depressions, anxiety, stress. I desperately wanted to hear my 13 year old play guitar, I craved music, I wanted conversation. I needed sound to complete me.
It took a long time for acceptance to rein. I was deaf as a wheel of cheese, and needed to move on. This will be my journey that I will take you on.