The Sound of a Zillion Crickets Chirping

That’s how one online article described the experience of tinnitus. “The sound of a zillion crickets chirping.” It also said that some folks describe the ringing in their ears as a loud roar. Mine sounds like those hearing test tones from my childhood. Sometimes high tones, sometimes low tones. Always comes in low at first, then finishes loud. Lasts about 6 or 7 seconds. Ironic, no? My hearing loss sounds like the test used to determine hearing loss.

Ridiculous, too, I suppose, that i would find poetry in having tinnitus.

I can remember when, as a child, i told my mother and her friend (who was a nurse) that I could hear these “sounds” in my ears. When I asked my mom’s friend what it meant when people heard these sounds (I presumed everyone could hear these tones…), she exchanged this look with my mom, and, smirking, she said it meant “my body was working properly”. I eventually invented my own mythology around it, believing that when my ears rang, it meant my grandmother was thinking of me, or that it was an opportunity to be extra aware of my environment. When she passed, i kept the myth going, thinking that she was sending out these vibrational tones from beyond the grave to make me think of her and give me pause for observation. As an adult, I’ve I’ve come to associate it still as an “alarm” of sorts… When the ringing starts, I try to take a breath, slow down whatever I’m doing, and notice where I am in my life. Even though I know tinnitus is actually a slow road to permanent hearing loss and not “my body working properly”, I appreciate it in a way. I have a built-in meditation bell in my head, set to random, for the rest of my life.

Lately, though, it’s taken on a slightly more ominous meaning: Meniere’s Disease. It started with periodic bouts of nausea and slight dizziness, fatigue, irritability, and a general feeling of not being able to concentrate. Last week I found myself in the stairway of a parking garage downtown thinking that if I passed out from the nausea I was feeling, no one would find my body for some time…

I finally was able to see a doctor about it, and now I have three very scary sounding tests scheduled: an ECOG, an ENG, and an MRI. The doctor wants to make sure it’s just my inner ear that’s “grumpy” (her word, not mine), and not some festering tumor pushing on my brain.

I’ve been thinking about this whole brain tumor thing for a while now. I started to think of it when the nausea and pressure in my head started to get really bad. I’ve always had this vision of writing a novel in a hospital bed. Something about being forced into a simplified, regimented schedule was going to eek this book out of me. How incredibly self indulgent and theatrical. I think it’s right up there with writing my own eulogies.

I asked a coworker today if he’d ever had an MRI. (Note: not the best opener for conversation with casual acquaintances). When I told him I was going to have one to rule out the possibility of having some mass growing under my skull, his eyes opened up wide and he searched for words… there were none, of course. Only the patients are allowed to be so flip about their own diagnoses. The rest of the population is supposed to struggle with their responses, supposed to make the appropriate cooing noises that indicate sympathy and understanding, but then elbow you right back in the ribs when you make light of having a potentially life threatening disorder.

And it occurs to me that being able to say you have something like Meniere’s Disease sounds so official and defining, especially to someone like me who sort of does the same damn thing day in and day out and doesn’t really have much else to talk about. It’s given me something new to answer “So, how are you?” with. It occurs to me that in a country like ours, financially rich but physically and emotionally bankrupt, being sick can be a full time occupation, can create celebrity, can give you reason to be noticed. And I’m a little scared of that.

Not that I’m planning on having a brain tumor. Because, of course, the flip side to all of this is: the more I understand what’s happening inside this tiny, tiny little nautilus shell of a structure inside my head, the more I can come to terms with what this REALLY is. Like when my menstrual cramps got so bad and I was told I probably had endometriosis… a disorder in which the uterus sheds little “mini uteri” and distributes them throughout the body so that EVERYthing hurts when you have your period. Having just moved across the country at the time (but still dragging all my emotional baggage with me), it made sense that my body was trying to tell me that migratory flight doesn’t cure the thing you migrated from.

So, now I wonder what a tiny snail shell shaped structure is trying to tell me. This little infinity swirl giving me the power to hear… with water swelling deep inside it… this tiny little voice (or is it an echo of my own voice?) in my head making me nearly fall down on city sidewalks to force me to listen…. this infinitesimal lake trapped in a foreign land, angrily making its way to its source…