Category Archives: Health

Silence isn’t always golden – coming to terms with a permanent hearing loss

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In the last six weeks, I’ve gone from being hard of hearing to hardly hearing. In late December, my specialist inserted a tube into my right ear to help to equalize the pressure in my eardrum and allow any fluid lurking in my middle ear to drain. I’ve had this procedure done at least a dozen times in the past with very good results. This time, however, all the tube did was suck most of the hearing out of my right ear.

Since I’ve only got 15%-25% of the hearing in my left ear, I’ve always counted on my right ear to function. Having been hard of hearing for many years, I’ve developed a fair number of coping mechanisms, like reading lips and sitting at the front of the room or during a meeting, as close to the speaker as I can. Even when my right ear was giving me problems, I could usually hear well enough to follow the conversation. Not any more. I don’t hear the phone when it rings on my desk at work – I sit less than a foot away from it. Conversations are challenging – if I’m in the same room and looking directly at the person, I can catch about 50-60% of what he/she is saying. That’s provided they’re speaking clearly. But if the person speaks softly, or even worse, covers their mouth when they talk, I may only pick up every 3rd or 4th word. I know they’re speaking because I can hear sound and see their lips moving – I just can’t decipher what they’re saying.

Given the extent of my ear problems, I always assumed that my hearing would likely deteriorate as I got older. I wasn’t prepared to lose my hearing so suddenly and so profoundly. Aside from the practical aspects of trying to navigate in a noisy world, there’s an emotional cost to not hearing that I didn’t anticipate. Hearing is one of our most important senses – it connects us to the world and to those around us. I can’t hear M when he whispers that he loves me when he crawls into bed in the morning. I can ask him to repeat himself but we’ve lost that special moment between the two of us. I went to a family dinner a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t follow the conversation. I don’t know how my cousin’s children are doing in school or my aunt’s travel plans. These seem like little things, but they’re the threads that weave people together. The reality is that if I can’t hear the conversation, I can’t participate. I’m silent.

The upside of the situation is that I’ve finally accepted I need hearing aids. I’ve resisted getting one for my left ear for years, despite suggestions from family and friends. This was due in part to an unpleasant experience with a hearing aid 25 years ago – it never fit properly and was horribly uncomfortable. But the real issue was that it made me feel like there was something wrong with me. It was clearly visible in my ear and I felt other people judged me. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly when you consider that I’ve worn glasses since I was seven years old. I always wear my glasses (or contact lenses) because without them, I can’t see 2 feet in front of me or read a book. Over the years, I’ve convinced myself that getting a hearing aid was a sign of weakness. Hearing aids were fine for other people, but not for me. There are a number of stages involved in coming to terms with hearing loss and I was firmly stuck in denial.

A recent hearing test confirmed that the hearing in my right ear has deteriorated significantly since October. My specialist has no idea why and has referred me to one of his senior colleagues to try to determine what’s going on. But I’m not waiting around to find out if my hearing can be restored. I’ve decided that hearing is no longer optional and I’m getting hearing aids for both ears as soon as possible. I know from my past experience that there will be a period of adjustment. My ear canals are pretty beat up from all the surgeries I’ve had over the years and it may be challenging to get them to fit properly. People may look at me funny. So what? I’ll be able to hear M and his dad when they talk to me. I can’t wait.

 

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Hearing underwater – adventures in hearing loss

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At the best of times, my hearing isn’t great. Due to allergies, chronic infections and multiple surgeries, I have about 25 % of the hearing in my left ear. My family and friends know to sit or walk on my right side; otherwise, I’m like a post. However, about a month ago, my right ear blocked up and I can’t hear much of anything. I Know my ear has fluid in it – I can feel it. It’s like I’m swimming in the lake and I can hear sounds above me, but I can’t quite make out the words. So far, I haven’t been able clear it out sufficiently to hear much of anything.

This is not the first time my “good” ear has become blocked. But it’s usually a short-term problem, precipitated by a cold or a bad bout of allergies. Since I’m particularly susceptible to mould and pollen, early spring is often a difficult time for me. As soon as the snow starts to melt, all kinds of crud and other nasties are exposed to the air – “snow mould” is probably my worst allergy. But most years, I experience minor problems and after a couple of days and liberal use of saline nasal spray, all is right again. Not this year. I’ve been using saline spray on a regular basis (gross and messy), manually trying to clear my ears (plug one ear, hold nose and blow gently) and taking a handful of supplements prescribed by naturopath. To no avail.

To be clear, I’m not quite deaf. But I can’t hear the radio or TV unless they’re both cranked up to a volume that would blow out the eardrums of a normal person. In order to protect my husband’s hearing, as well as M’s, I’ve taken to listening to the radio via my iPod. I don’t even try with the television – closed caption is my best friend. Always an avid reader, I increasingly opt for going to bed early and reading.

I’ve discovered that we live in a noisy world. While I can get by with not hearing everything, not hearing very much is challenging.  While I can hear sound, I have much more difficulty distinguishing individual words. On the one hand, it’s very hard to know what’s going on at work. I have to pay close attention to body language and watch people’s facial expressions. Large groups are a challenge and I’ve taken to asking my colleagues to represent me at meetings. I’ve been pretty upfront with my co-workers and my supervisor, but I feel increasingly isolated, as if I’m living in another time and space continuum. I’ve started spending more time in my office, as opposed to interacting with my colleagues, since it’s hard work trying to understand what they’re saying. Intellectually, I know this isn’t an effective coping strategy, but hearing – or trying to hear – is hard work. Having become disconnected from the sounds – and the people – around me, I find it’s just easier to retreat into my own space. I’m generally exhausted at the end of the day. While M and his dad are generally very patient with me, it’s stressful for them too. I’m constantly asking them to repeat themselves. M has taken to saying “never mind”, instead of finishing a conversation with me.

Having fluid in my ear affects my balance and I feel dizzy much of the time. Due to the unseasonably cool and wet weather, I haven’t jumped on my bike. But truth be told, I’m a bit afraid to ride – I’m not sure how well I’ll be able ear the traffic around me. I’m generally comfortable with urban bike riding, but I’m less certain at the moment. The down side is that riding my bike to work is good for my mental and physical health. I’m walking as much as I can, but it’s not the same. I’m quite surprised the degree to which my lack of hearing is affecting my overall quality of life.

I’m optimistic that my current situation is temporary. I have an appointment with a specialist next month. One option may be to put a tube into my ear. It involves surgery under general anesthetic, which is no picnic, but having had the same procedure done at least a dozen times on both ears, I know what to expect. In the grand scheme of aliments, it could be much worse – after all, I have all my limbs and my organs. Having a wonky ear is relatively minor on the scale of physical aliments.

My recent experience has reinforced for me that I don;t want to be cut off from the world. While I’ve been resisting getting a hearing aid in my left ear for years, once the issues with my right ear  are resolved, I’m going to go ahead and and get one. I’m looking forward to the noise.

The cold came back

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The Cat Came Back?

The Cat Came Back? (Photo credit: gordasm)

There’s a wonderful short animated film called “The Cat Came Back.” A cat turns up on Mr. Johnson’s doorstep and no matter what he does, he can’t get rid of the cat.

That’s how I feel about this cold. M was sick earlier this week and gave it to me. On Thursday, I spent the entire day sniffling and blowing my nose. I was away from the office, on training, and I’m sure I wasn’t very popular with the other participants. I didn’t feel sick, just stuffed up and soggy (that may have been all the damp kleenex in my pocket). I dosed myself repeatedly with Echinacea (a liquid form recommended by my naturopath – tastes awful, but it works) and went to bed early.

On Friday, I felt much better – still a bit sniffly, but better. The ladies in my training group were greatly relieved.

On Saturday, however, I woke up with a headache and a tickle in my throat. The cold had come back. This time it’s more than just a runny nose – I feel downright crappy. I’m still taking the Echinacea, but it seems like this cold has settled in for a prolonged visit.

So I sympathize with Mr. Johnson. At least the cat was cute.

My child’s mental health is eveyone’s business

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M was officially diagnosed with
Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

ADHD and anxiety when he was in Grade 2, while in a school-based treatment program. The diagnosis and subsequent treatment – medication and weekly counselling – was done by a psychiatrist who worked with the program.

As the end of the year, in discussing his transition back to his home school, for a referral to a child psychiatrist in the community for follow-up. M was on several medications and I was concerned that his family – a general practitioner – wouldn’t be sufficiently familiar with them to ensure adequate follow-up, especially since the vast majority of her patients were adults. Moreover, despite improvements in his behaviour, he still had frequent bouts of rage and aggression. M has never been a child who talks about his feelings easily, but he had made some progress with the psychiatrist. His dad and I felt strongly that it was important he continue with counselling on a regular basis. Given the complexity of his challenges and the necessity for ongoing monitoring of the meds, we felt a psychiatrist was the best option.

But when I asked for the referral, I was told it wasn’t possible. There simply wasn’t anyone outside the program to refer him to.

Despite living in a city with a children’s hospital affiliated with a teaching program, there was a severe shortages of children’s mental health services, including psychiatrists. The best we could do it go back to our family doctor and request M be placed on a waiting list for psychiatric services through the children’s hospital.

That was 3 years ago.

The closest we have come to getting M into see a psychiatrist has been a 90 minute consultation with a doctor who worked one day a week for the school board (who has subsequently resigned, apparently because the workload was too intense).

At the present time, M’s ADHD meds are supervised by a pediatrician who specializes in ADD/ADHD. His family doctor manages the anxiety medication. He sees a psychologist to help him deal with his anger and to talk about things that are bothering him.

We are lucky to have health insurance, so it is not a question of money. It is a question of resources. More properly, a lack of them. If M was over 12 and in crisis, it would probably be easier to get him help. Ironically, if he was charged with assaulting another child or a teacher, we would probably be able to get him into see a psychiatrist (presently, he is too young to be charged as a youth).

We are not the only family caught in this limbo. I know a parent who practically had to camp out in the emergency room to get help for her 9-year old who was in crisis.

According to the literature and child experts, children like M are highly vulnerable to  mental health issues as they get older. Added to the fact that there is a strong history of depression in my family, I want to do everything I can to help him now. So that he doesn’t end up in crisis. I want to be proactive, and head off potential problems now, rather than wait and see what happens.

So why should anyone else care about whether or not my child has timely access to mental health services? Or any other child?

Because they are the future. Future employers and employees. Future taxpayers. And as a friend recently reminded me, our future caregivers. We will all benefit by ensuring that every child grows up to be a healthy, contributing member of our society. This means acknowledging that some children need a little extra help. It will require financial resources. But if we consider that a high percentage of people who are currently in the criminal justice system have mental health issues, doesn’t it make sense to intervene early?

Despite the fact that there is an acute shortage of mental health services in my community, I am still going to push to get M the psychiatric care I think he needs. In the short-terms, we will continue to rely on our patchwork of services. Hopefully, the powers that be will begin to invest more in children’s mental health. I can’t control the future, but I want M’s to be as bright as possible.