Friday, April 6, 2012

Life Story: Ears to Hear


I was born with a hole in the eardrum of my right ear. I suffered from ear aches and problems from the day I was born--problems that caused my nose to constantly run.

I was also born with a love of the water, and with my fragile ears I fought for the right to swim through the inevitable pain that would follow, stuffing flesh colored putty in each ear with dedication. I still can't feel soft putty on my fingers without thinking of swimming and pain.


When I was seven my Mr. Rodgers-like ENT doctor suggested we take some skin from my pinkie finger and graft it over the hole. In a room covered with aspen-and-deer wallpaper at the surgical center on 5th West, an anesthesiologist quietly put an IV in my skin and told me to count down from ten. By seven I was asleep.

But the graft didn't take and I was wheeled in again six months later, same room, same aspen-and-deer, same count down from ten, but this time the graft took and it wasn't until I was fourteen--hoping to try out for the Provo High School soccer team--that I was told I'd need to be wheeled in again. Except this time, my life of surgery and ear drainage and doctor visits was so normal I don't even remember it.

My right ear slowly leaked its way to partial deafness. I learned to talk on the phone with my left ear only, I learned to lean my head left-sided into conversations, I trained myself to sleep on my right ear so I could hear my baby crying in the night. And as these things go, my left ear can hear with impeccable crispness. My left ear, carries the burden well.

Two things about my right ear.

One, the problems I had with my ears gave me an early identity in my big family. My mother constantly cared for me. She filled an ocean's worth of red rubber water bottles with a perfect degree of warmth (not too hot) and pressed them to my throbbing ears. She braved my screams of hate, holding my head in place, slipping medication down my ears, terrible tasting green slime that would slither down my nose and throat. She held regular meetings with me at the doctor's office, always (even as a teenager) holding my hands in the cold, metal examination chair, sometimes looking through the instruments, her eyes seeing for themselves my injured insides. She sat next to the technicians as they pressed buttons, watching me heavy with headphones, in industrial sound booths, wave my arms as little beeps came through the speakers in my ears. She stayed steady, even as my right ear stopped registering beeps indicating tones I couldn't hear. And she always asked the technician to keep the booth open a crack, ever aware of our shared claustrophobia.

My ears, they made me special.

Two, I have found symbolism in my situation. One ear can hear with precision, and one can only hear slightly, muffled noises, uncomfortable vibrations. This reminds me, I say to myself, to cultivate a life where the thoughts of the world are like my right ear, I can hear them, but not so loudly that I have take much thought of them. But my left ear, with its courage to hear loud enough for both, can heed the voice of the Lord, my inner voice, loudly and clearly.

My ears, they made me special.