Can You Hear Me Now?

A three day weekend is a weekend to rejoice. Fit in extra movies to watch, places to hit up, and fun meals to plan. More time for records, playing guitar in the studio, and hanging out with the family. They’re those weekends that really make you appreciate an extra paid day away from the 9 to 5.

One of those weekends was last weekend, as our company commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr Day as an official company holiday. They’ve done this the last several years, and besides commemorating the sacrifices Dr. King made for civil rights and general civility, I commemorate being home on a Monday when I should’ve been at work. Of course there has to be something to put a damper on all the fun and relaxation, and that thing was our furnace taking a crap on us.

And on the coldest day we’ve had in weeks, no less.

I woke up at 5am on Sunday morning to the sound of nothing and -2 with the wind chill. You want to know what’s worse than the sound of something weird? Is when you don’t hear anything at all. We keep our furnace fan running all the time in order to keep dust and general crud from settling in the ducts. The whole family is allergy-prone, so the last thing we need is for dust to kick up every time the furnace kicks on. We started running the fan 24/7 a few years ago when my daughter started allergy shots. Per the allergist, doing that helps cut back on allergy issues in the home. He’s a doctor, so I’m taking him at his word. So in doing that I’ve gotten used to the sound of that pushed air rushing through the vents on the floor. The slight tinkling as the vents make micro whines after 24 years of service and forced air manipulation.

It’s a comforting thing for me, white noise. Sitting in a too still, too quiet house I’m reminded of all the times I had ear infections as a kid and that empty head feeling of living in your own skull. Ears muffled and dull, the outside world a distant, cotton-y mew. Growing up I had a lot of ear infections, which resulted in about 8 ear surgeries where tiny tubes were put into little incisions in my ear drum. These tubes allowed fluid to leave my inner ear which would cause chronic infections. After awhile they’d eventually fall out, or the doc would remove them and I’d be fine for a bit. But soon enough it’d start all over again. Because of all my hearing problems I got to know the auditory therapist at my elementary school really well. Mrs. Fly. She might’ve been Ms. Fly back then, or Miss Fly. Either way, her and her giant Koss headphones became very familiar to me.

The school would test our hearing once a year, and when that time came I’d have a backpack full of dread, as I’d know this was when they’d find out I was having more ear problems, which would lead to a visit to Dr. Paflas(my ear/nose/throat guy), which would then lead to the mask over my face and sleepy time. Don’t misunderstand, Ms. Fly was a very nice lady. Very meek and mild, with curly hair, and giant round eyeglasses. Lots of polyester pants and colorful blouses(this was the early 80s, after all), Ms. Fly took great pride in her work with the hard of hearing in her elementary schools.

I’d enter the small room in the library and sit at the balsa wood table in a colored chair. Ms. Fly would ask my name, check me off the list, and say “Hi John. You’ve been thru this before so I probably don’t need to explain how this will work.” I’d reply “No. I know how it works.” Ms. Fly would then put the 10 lb pair of Koss headphones on my head with the curly phone cord and would do the “test one, two. test one. test two.” into her microphone. I’d be sitting facing the wall so I couldn’t see Ms. Fly and what I imagined was her Bob Barker-like microphone. Ms. Fly would begin to say a series of words at various volumes, and I was to repeat those words out loud. “Popcorn.” Repeat. “Airplane.” Repeat. “Ice cream.” Repeat. “Bartle booaa…”. What was that? “Vrotten zrannie.” Huh? “Frarm grouse.” Uhhh, farm house?

Soon after Ms. F would change things up and then there would be a series of beeps or tones at various volumes and I was to raise my hand, right or left, based on which ear I heard it in. This was usually where I’d fail miserably. I could somewhat figure out words, but the tones were hard. The quieter they got the more I started hearing phantom tones under all the silence. Quick knee jerk movements of my arms would indicate I heard two tones at once. An occasional obvious tone would create an almost strut of an arm raise from me, proud to have heard that one for sure. But then the test would end, Ms F would mark her sheet, and then I’d be sent off back to Phonics or my multiplication tables knowing full well that by the end of the week I’d be heading to see Paflas and his tiny, claustrophobic soundproof booth and I’d go thru this all over again.

My last surgery was in December of 1984. I was in the 5th grade. I don’t know if I just grew out of the ear infections or what, but I had less problems with my ears. Of course, because of all the issues I had as a kid and scarring from both the infections and the surgeries I ended up with hearing loss in both ears. My right ear is worse than my left, but it’s not all that noticeable unless I cover one ear or the other. Over the years there were times when I’d have ear infections here and there. In the late 90s I played in a band for a year. During that year I had more problems with illness than I’d had the entire decade, and I thank smokey, dank bars for that. I was home a whole week from work because my equilibrium was so off from an inner ear infection. It felt like my whole head was filled with J-E-L-L-O and conversations seemed to be taking place underwater.

Skip to almost a decade later and I had three little kids at home. At work the heat had stopped working and it was like 57 degrees on the dock where our desks were. By the end of the day I’d gone home with one of the worst headaches I’d ever had. I woke up the next morning and had a ringing in my good(left ear), which by the end of the day turned into a muffled, deadened nothing and lots of pressure. The next day was Saturday and the pressure was killing me so I went to Med Stat to see a doctor. By the time I’d left there my ear drum burst. By Saturday night my right ear had that same muffled feeling and pressure and the right ear drum burst as well. I had antibiotics and ear drops, but for all intents and purposes I was nearly deaf.

Sitting in my son’s darkened bedroom rocking him before laying him down in his crib, I’d turned his music box on that hung in his crib. I could see the dim, glowing lights of it but the songs it typically played sounded as if they were in another room. I felt claustrophobic without the small space. I heard the faint sounds of “Clair de lune” and what to me seemed like the loudest silence ever. If you think silence is no noise, you’re wrong. It’s like the electric charges of your brain being locked in your skull and they reverberate, turning into a dull echo that never quite ends.

It took nearly three weeks for my hearing to return that time, with one more trip to the doctor and cotton balls catching a yellow fluid draining from my head for a week. I’d had maybe two more ear infections after that, but then they just stopped. Maybe an increase in vitamins? More antioxidants in my diet? More exercise? Whatever it was I thank it for its service. In fact, I’ve only really been sick a very small handful of times in the last decade. A two day cold here, or some allergy problems there, but no serious call-off-work illnesses in a very long time. I did get the flu virus early last year which was not fun, but no ear infections. And no silence.

The furnace was replaced Friday with a new one that is the same price as a new mid-sized sedan. It’s state-of-the-art and probably runs on alien technology. I don’t know why I’d need access to my thermostat while I’m at work, but if I felt like upping the temp a few degrees while at my desk I can do it now. Gotta say, I really did take for granted the beauty of a warm home in the dead of winter. That is, until I was covered in three layers of clothes, a comforter, and sitting by an electric heater in my living room this past Thursday watching Project Runway Allstars with my wife. A furnace is a great and powerful thing. A working one, even more so.

Seeing and feeling is believing, but hearing is music to my ears.

Listening to you
I get the music
Gazing at you
I get the heat
Following you
I climb the mountains
I get excitement at your feet


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