I can't hear you, Bert. I have a banana in my ear.
So far, this blog has been exclusively about my personal journey as a Bostonian of 14 years relocating to North Cackalacky. In the past six months it’s expanded to include my experiences as an entrepreneur, my opinions about music and sexist restaurant owners, and Marilyn Monroe.
One thing I haven’t discussed, however, is my relationship. The reason I came to Asheville in the first place, really. Oh, I’ve mentioned him here and there, but I haven’t devoted any real blog space to this subject. And I don’t really want to, mostly because I love what this blog is about and want to keep it that way. Also, I don’t think sharing the details of your love life is ever really that interesting (Eat, Pray, Love, anyone?).
But this week, Matthew and I shared an experience that is worth writing about……
Matthew got anesthetized and cut open. I spent the better part of 48 hours in a hospital, talking to doctors and nurses and moms. People called and texted all day for updates. I had to learn to spell anesthetize.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For those of you who don’t know, Matthew is hearing impaired. His right ear (the “bad” one) has about a 50% loss of hearing and his left has around 65%. He normally wears a hearing aid in the right ear, but that ear is chronically infected so he doesn’t always wear it.
Let me tell you a little bit about living with the hearing impaired.
You know when you’re at home, and you’re in one room but you need something that’s in another room but you don’t feel like getting up to retrieve it? You tilt your head in your partner’s general direction and yell, “Hey, (insert name)! Could you bring me that (insert out-of-reach object)?”
When your partner is deaf, this is an exercise in futility. Hasn’t stopped me from trying though.
If I’m not on his left side, he probably can’t hear me, so I’m always repositioning myself when we walk down the sidewalk or sit down to dinner. Also, I have a naturally low, mellow voice and speak in a very even tone. Many find this calming. To Matthew, it’s exhausting. He can’t tell when I’m really mad because I don’t yell and scream – he can’t use tone and inflection to infer my feelings. Which means that sometimes, we reach an impasse, where I feel misunderstood and he feels frustrated and confused. I’ve really had to work to change my speech patterns, to enunciate and speak clearly (how now, brown cow?). Advice my grandmother has been doling out since I was a kid.
Communication, which is the foundation of a healthy relationship (all of them, not just the romantic ones), is even more vital when one person is hearing impaired. On the one hand, I always have to be sure he hears me and is following the discussion. On the other hand, he doesn’t always tell me when his hearing is especially bad. I can only speculate, but I think this is because he (a) doesn’t want to worry me and (b) doesn’t want to deal with the prospect of his hearing getting worse. He is studying to become a Clinical Counselor – his job will be to listen to people. And how can you listen if you can’t hear? In one way, he’s perfect for the job, since he’s been working so hard at it his whole life. But if his hearing gets worse and worse, how will he ever be able to do it? I can understand his not wanting to face that, even though it drives me crazy when he tries to keep it from me (like I can’t tell, when I’m downstairs going, “”Babe, can you bring me my water? Babe? Matthew? MATTHEW?!”)
Which brings me back to the surgery. We’ve always known that Matthew’s “good” ear (the left one) was going to need an eardrum patch. But when we finally got in to see the surgeon, he took one look inside Matthew’s ears and told us that the right ear (the “bad” one) was badly infected and needed major surgery ASAP. Basically, there was so much bone growth and infected tissue clogging up the ear canal that he couldn’t even see the eardrum. And the ear canal is like a millimeter away from your brain, so if you leave the infection untreated, your brain can start leaking! Anyway, this type of infected cystic tissue is called cholesteatoma. It’s seeping and oozing and it prevents air from moving through the ear canal, and it needed to be removed pronto.
So what we thought was going to be a simple, superficial procedure turned into a much more involved, invasive surgery with an overnight hospital stay. If you asked him, Matthew would say he was feeling okay about it. He knew it was for the best and was grateful to have scheduled it over his spring break. His biggest concern was missing school. If you asked me, I’d tell you I was fine, a little nonplussed at having to take time off from my fledgling business, but confident that I could take good care of my patient and understand everything the doctor said. I was eager to show off my Florence Nightingale skills.
Fast forward to the day before surgery. Matthew – calm, focused, deep breathing, ready to get it over with. Me – complete basket case. In tears for the majority of the day, including the two-hour car ride to Winston-Salem. I kept thinking of what could go wrong and what I would ever do if the worst happened. I was SO scared, and so surprised by how scared I was. I was stunned. But I eventually calmed down enough to eat some dinner and appreciate the coolness of staying in a hotel. Cable! King size bed!
It doesn’t take much.
If I had to sum up the whole day of surgery in one word, it would be surreal. We barely slept due to the 6:30 check-in time, but once there we made our way to the waiting room, they whisked him in, sent me back out, and two hours later, it was all done. The doctor came out and told us that everything went even better than expected. AND, that he was able to clear a lot of bone growth from around Matthew’s little hearing bones — he should be able to hear much better now. Did I mention this doctor is like the best ear guy south of the Mason-Dixon? He is.
And now, recovery. For both of us. For Matthew, it’s mainly physical and somewhat emotional. His head was opened up, for crying out loud. He was anesthetized (sorry, I had to). But he’s also finally embracing the possibility of actually hearing for the rest of his life, and that’s going to take some getting used to. For me, it’s largely emotional and somewhat existential. I had to face just how much this man means to me, how lost I would be without him. I struggled with that, and I fought myself hard, trying to push ahead with work and exercise and schoolwork, when what I really needed was to stay home, take care of my man, languish in the relief of it all being over and okay. It takes a lot of energy to resist what is. And I don’t even get to share the Vicodin.
In our first year together, we have taken on more than most people do in five. Long distance, relocation, living together, starting a business/grad school, a “money pit” move-in situation (we don’t own this house though, thankfully), and now this. But with every challenge, we seem to emerge stronger and wiser than before. And now, we are stronger, wiser and less deaf.