On Ringing Silence
Whenever crafting a performance, I always mine for the moments of silence - the reverent pauses that allow for the impact of the profound. It is the Selah of the Old Testament; the rest in the musical score; the line break in the textual formatting. It is the opportunity to let all other thoughts cease, to expunge any infringing noise and breathe into the void. A moment of pure silence is magic.
And yet, I question whether I can fully remember what it is like to experience pure silence. You see, for the last handful of years, I have managed my day-to-day existence with an insistent case of tinnitus. For the first few years following my MS diagnosis, I fielded the occasional bout of ear ringing or aural murkiness. It wasn’t alarming enough to seek medical care, but it did prompt an extra degree of caution when attending concerts or other loud events. Then, after about a half-decade of immunosuppressant treatment, I experienced an incessant bout of sinus infections and ear infections. Accompanying the infections was a noticeable uptick in aural ringing.
My annual MRI scans would note a moderate observance of mucosal thickening and a deviated septum. These results, combined with feedback from an Ear Nose and Throat specialist, prompted me to explore a series of preventative measures to hopefully mitigate the string of sinus infections and ear infections. I experimented with different antihistamines, allergy medications, sinus steam treatments, and nasal sprays. But the infections continued to flare, along with the high-pitched sonic filter, invisible to everyone but myself. The correlation led me to presume that the tinnitus was sinus related, and that once the infections were better managed, my hearing would return to its baseline state of crystal clarity.
The next phase in my sinus care was to undergo nasal surgery. I received a septoplasty to repair the deviated septum, along with an ethmoidectomy to essentially vacuum all of that mucosal thickening out of the nasal cavity. As my body recovered from surgery, I noticed a significant improvement in my ability to breathe and my quality of sleep, along with a marked decrease in sinus infections. As far as ENT standards go, the surgery was a success. Unfortunately, the tinnitus persevered. What’s more, the degree of auditory disruption had increased from intermittent occurrences of ear ringing to a constant, nonstop din.
Wondering if this was perhaps a sign of early hearing loss, my next step on this Holmesian case of medical detective work was to visit a hearing specialist. As I listened my way through the various auditory tests, my internal monologue yo-yo’d in between warring desires for differing results. On the one hand, it would be nice to have a cut-and-dry explanation that pointed to the early onset of hearing loss (which I am more than certainly going to inherit from both my paternal and maternal family lines). On the other hand, the thought of potential hearing loss devastated me. I was in my early thirties - surely that was far too young for me to start navigating the world with hearing aids!
As it turns out, I was treading water in the wrong anxiety-inducing whirlpool. After administering the hearing tests twice over and reviewing the results, the audiologist suspected that my case of ongoing tinnitus was not attributed to sinus ailments, nor hearing loss. Instead, she deduced that the non stop ringing in my ears could be attributed to muscle spasms in the inner ear caused by multiple sclerosis, or by possible damage to the inner ear, hearing nerves, or brain functions linked to auditory responses. Essentially, it was the audiologist’s best assertion that the tinnitus was caused by my multiple sclerosis which meant that, like it or not, there was very little to be done about it.
That was two and a half years ago. In the 30 months since, I have not experienced an iota of pure silence. It’s quite possible I never will again. On the bright side, I might also incur increased hearing loss in the future that causes the tinnitus to run off with my ability to hear anything whatsoever. When contemplating the severity of that possibility, I can’t help but hold a seed of gratitude for the incessant ringing that I experience today. The never-ending squeal may interfere with my clarity of thought or my ability to peacefully drift off to sleep; it may contribute to regularly occurring migraines and bouts of fatigue; it may be annoying as all get-out. But I would rather contend with the tinnitus-driven nuisances, than miss the lilting strain of a beautiful melody or the twittering joy of birdsong. I choose a ringing Selah over the chasmic void of aural nothingness. Give me the monotonous, high-pitched strain that accompanies the rich textures of warmth and passion in the words of my friends and family. For, just as Shakespeare writes in his narrative poem ‘Venus and Adonis,’ “had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love.”