A Mile in My Daughter’s Ears

Some of you are aware that my preschool daughter wears a hearing aid in one ear. We are lucky that she has one good ear, so she did not have trouble with speech acquisition and the like. In fact, she often seems to be able to hear me very well even without the hearing aid, so I have sometimes wondered just how much she really needs it.

I got a taste of her life this week.

On Saturday night I took myself to the emergency room. My ear and the area around my ear were in so much pain I was shaking. I couldn’t rest my head on anything. I just wanted the pain to stop. I could think of nothing else.

And then my eardrum burst.

Sitting in the ER waiting room, I heard a “shhooom” noise in my ear and then clear fluid started trickling out. The pain trickled out with it, and slowly it dropped to a manageable level. They gave me antibiotics for the infection and sent me home.

I am now deaf in that ear.

Hopefully, it will only be for a few weeks as the perforated drum heals, but it has given me an unexpected insight into my daughter’s world. Granted, she can hear something in her bad ear, but it’s still a pretty good approximation. I’ve learned a lot.

If I lay on the side of my good ear in bed, I cannot hear anything. This is not good, because I need to hear the baby monitor (my husband cannot hear it). So I am sleeping on the side I don’t usually sleep on, so I can keep my good ear up.

If I am on the phone, I cannot hear anything in the house. This can be a good thing, because I do not get distracted by my daughter’s constant chatter, but it usually results in her trying to climb up my leg to get my attention, so on the whole it’s a wash.

If the sound I want to focus on is on my bad side, and there is any noise at all on my good side, forget it. All I can hear is the sound on the good side. This is why positioning my daughter in school so her good ear is always toward the teacher is so important.

Localization is an issue. I know this from my daughter—she never knows where a sound is coming from. Losing your other ear is akin to losing one eye. If you cover one eye for long enough, you will lose your depth perception and have trouble judging distance. The same with losing one ear—you can’t judge accurately the distance and position of the sound. Because I am older and have more experience hearing normally, I can usually tell where the noise is coming from, but not because I can hear it—just because I know.

The weirdest phenomenon for me has been the phantom music. My bad ear can hear nothing. If you’ve ever been in a completely silent room and you just hear that low hum of nothing, that is what I hear. But the ear must also be picking up other sounds I am not consciously hearing, because I hear strange noises—a voice that isn’t there, music that isn’t playing. Last night I could have sworn I heard circus music in my house. My brain is obviously trying to make sense of random auditory input it’s getting from that bad ear. Does my daughter hear things that aren’t there? She’s too young to tell me.

Lastly, I was not aware of how much energy it takes to simply pay attention when you can’t hear well. People with 2 good ears learn so much information from passive listening—from the information overheard rather than sought out. When you can’t hear well, you need to always be seeking so you don’t get left behind. It can be exhausting.

I don’t advise puncturing an eardrum to experience what deafness is like, but having it thrust upon me has given me a new appreciation for my hearing, and a new understanding of what my daughter deals with every day. Hopefully, it will help me make the right choices to help her achieve her full potential.

How about you? Have you ever had an unexpected insight into another person’s struggle with a mental or physical challenge?

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