2.36 Acute Minititus
As discussed in an earlier entry, I am an avid squash player. The story about getting hit in the eye with the squash ball taught me a crucial lesson: eyes are important. I immediately bought a pair of clear squash glasses to protect my eyes. The glasses are quite ridiculous, but I am old enough to deem protective measures more crucial than how cool I look. Last week, we started playing and after a few minutes, I realized I had forgot to put on my glasses. Jokingly, I said, “Let me grab my glasses because the day I forget to put them on is the day the ball will once again ricochet into my eye.” Sure enough, near the end of our match, the ball bounced awkwardly off my racket, hit my glass-protected right eye and seared across my ear. Have you ever gotten hit in the ear? It hurts. More than you would think. A ringing instantly began and I clutched the side of my head. The ringing dulled but didn’t go away and we continued playing.
All the way home, my balance was off and the ringing diminished at times only to increase in intensity. I decided to go to bed and made an asserted effort to sleep on my left side, however unnatural this was to me.
The next morning, I woke to a small yapping dog inside my bedroom. I jumped up in bed, struck a karate pose. The room was empty. The yappy dog from upstairs was yapping away, but the sound was so clear that it felt like the dog was right in the room with me.
The yapping continued as I walked into the main living area, grew louder the closer I got to the front door. A loud buzzing noise jumped through the windows and hit me like a wave. I stepped outside and the maintenance people were cutting the grass with one of those obnoxious electronic hedge cutters. The closer I got to them, the more I stumbled instead of walked. They regarded me with shaking heads, assuming I was drunk at eight in the morning.
As I made it to the street, the cars zooming by seemed to shoot right through the inside of my head. A loud honk made me collapse into the fetal position on a grassy knoll.
As the rush hour diminished, a maintenance man lightly kicked me to see if I was okay. He had to cut the grass. I needed to get back home, but someone kept shifting the ground beneath my feet. It was as though God was using the earth like one of those hand games where you have to get the little silver ball in the hole. Except I was the silver ball. The stairs leading up to my front door were a challenge, but I made it.
I burrowed under the covers in my bed. Silence. Someone in the condo next door flushed the toilet and I could hear the water rushing through the pipes. The furnace kicked in and sounded like an F14 landed in my bedroom. The yappy dog yapped away inside my head.
I needed to take action. I stumbled back outside, my destination the walk-in clinic in the shopping mall next door. The sounds of the street were deafening. Inside the mall, the voices of the customers all melded into one large wall of words.
“…yeah, yeah, I’ll be there…”
“…mommy, I want that…”
The one good thing about my lack of balance was that people cleared the way. They didn’t want to get too close but I worried security would be called. Inside the waiting room of the clinic, a large television played C-SPAN. I pleaded with the woman behind the desk to turn the volume down. She ignored me, click-clacking her long acrylic nails on her computer keyboard.
“You have an acute type of tinnitus,” the white bearded Santa Claus doctor said without looking up. “It’s called minititus, temporary damage to the tympanic membrane and external auditory canal.”
“Minititus? Temporary, how temporary?” I asked.
“Good question,” he said, his voice lowering to a whisper: “Can you hear me now?”
“Yes, the problem isn’t-” I said.
“Chew valerian root and get more exercise,” and he was out the door.
I didn’t know what valerian was and unfamiliar with its root form. I went home and burrowed.
It was then I remembered the psychic Lady Mary Jane and how she helped with my eyes. The phone rang and I nearly fell off the bed.
“Hello?” I said.
“This is Lady Mary Jane,” a husky woman’s voice said.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “I can fit you in at 4pm, but I have to be out by 5 for my skeet shooting match.”
When I arrived at her door, my brain was ready to pop with all the noise inside. I stepped inside the dank and dark room. Lady Mary Jane was ready for me. Without speaking, she placed her hands on my ear, spoke some words in another language and after a few minutes said we were done.
“You have minititus,” she said.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “What do I do about it?”
“You have three choices,” she said. “One, you can go home and burrow under your covers, find a deep silence, one like you’ve never experienced, cover your ear with an ear blanket and immerse yourself in silence for three uninterrupted days. My ear blankets happened to be on sale for $9.99. Two, chew valerian root and get more exercise. Or three, you can use this power of heightened hearing for good – but you must learn to focus.”
“You mean, fight crime, like a superhero?” I said.
“You have clearly seen too many movies,” she said.
Looking around her place, with her candles, crystal balls, tarot cards and mood lighting, I could say the same about her.
I left Lady Mary Jane’s home more confused than ever. Rolling through the streets, singing emerged from between the car horns and police sirens. I don’t know how far away the choir was, but I assumed they were in a church because the song was religious. I concentrated on the singing, separated the sounds, brought the voices to the forefront. For the first time since being hit with the ball, my mind calmed.
The calm was broken by a scream.
I tried to locate the scream but it seemed to come from all directions. Using the same level of concentration, I tried to disentangle the sounds, but everything rushed at me. I stumbled through alleyways and almost got hit by cars as I crossed streets. Several blocks away, I found a woman struggling with a man as he tried to snatch her purse.
“Hey, there!” I shouted.
The man looked up, let go of the purse and the woman ran away. He stood tall, eyes narrowed and stepped towards me. I am no superhero. My enhanced minititus might had led me to the crime, but I was in no shape to do anything about it. Maybe I could start working out, sew a costume, wear a utility belt…
The criminal punched me in the face. To be precise, he hit me right in the ear. The right ear. I fell to the ground and banged my head off the cement street. He ran away and as I lay on the slimy back alley ground, the enhanced noises seemed to recede. The loud car horns sounded normal and tolerable again. When the squash ball hit my ear, it must have knocked something out of whack inside my head. The purse-snatcher punched me and instead of hurting me, must have aligned everything back in its place.
People started forming a crowd around me, asking if I was alright. Once I realized my hearing was righted, I jumped up, surprising the crowd with a big smile, even as blood from a cut on my cheek dripped on my shirt.
As I walked home, I marveled over the noise of the city. Isn’t it wonderful?