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The trill of a bird’s song or the ticking of a clock can be sweet, sweet sounds

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On Tuesday, I stood in my kitchen and listened to my old wall clock tick.

While you may be thinking this ranks right between watching paint dry and reading a phone book, for me it was a revelation. An hour before, I received two brand new hearing aids, and this was the first time I’d heard the simple sound of a clock ticking in almost nine years.

I have been diagnosed, and as you will see, I use that word with advisement, with Meniere’s disease. It is a complex and still somewhat mysterious malady of the inner ear in which fluid builds up but cannot be drained. Its symptoms are severe ringing of the ear, known as tinnitus, and in most cases, vertigo ranging from mild to crippling.

About nine years ago, I woke up with a ringing in my ear. My memory initially tells me it happened all at once, but in reality, it got worse over a short period of time — perhaps a week, perhaps a little more. But soon, the ringing was constant, and LOUD. It never ended. It hasn’t ended in nine years, and Dr. Braxton Hillerman, an exceptional ear, nose and throat specialist, tells me it won’t stop until I’m completely deaf in that ear.

He also told me that diagnoses of Meniere’s are problematic, since the only completely accurate way to determine you have the disease is through an autopsy. I was immediately put off and did not volunteer to confirm the diagnosis that way. But Dr. Hillerman pointed out that the compendium of my symptoms would indicate an extremely high likelihood that he had nailed it.

And the other symptoms make the tinnitus look like child’s play. In the first few months after the onset of the ailment, I had a score of sometimes crippling incidents of vertigo. The first was the scariest; I was sitting at my desk editing a story when I looked up and realized the entire room was spinning. I tried to make it go away but it only got worse, and my stomach started to heave and I barely made it to the men’s room, 30 feet away, before I got violently — and repeatedly — ill. Eric Anderson was the city editor then, and he wanted to call an ambulance and I didn’t want him to. We eventually compromised on calling my wife, who came and got me and took me home and got me into bed. And when I woke up, everything was fine.

Until a couple of days later, when it happened again, again at work. Then three days later it happened again, while I was driving to work, and I barely got my truck in the parking lot at the paper before I got sick. Then I reclined in my driver’s seat while a reporter called my wife, who came and got me again.

It’s difficult to describe either the onset of these attacks or the aftermath. If you don’t like vomiting — count me in there — they are bad. If you don’t like being too dizzy to walk, or even keep your eyes open, they are bad. If you don’t like the feeling of having been dragged through a ringer when it’s over, well, they’re not good.

But by far the worst is the aftermath. When the attacks come, they hit you like a bus that you didn’t see coming. There is little or no indication they are on the way, they just get there and slap you around like you’re a silly little thing. The randomness begins to wear on you — will an attack hit while I’m grocery shopping? Or at a funeral? Or driving down I-81? It doesn’t take long to subsume your every waking minute.

Dr. Hillerman prescribed a diuretic which reduced the amount of fluid in my body, including my inner ear, and Lorazepam, which can almost stop an attack but knocks you right on your keester. If you take the Lorazepam, you’re done for the day. Its biggest advantage is it knocks you out so you won’t get sick to your stomach.

After I started taking the diuretic, the attacks suddenly stopped. And for eight years, I faithfully took the diuretic and had no attacks. Until last year. When, in September, I had the worst attack ever that lasted for 16 hours. And in January, I had the mother of all attacks — it put me down for 24 hours. So back to Dr. Hillerman I trooped. And when my hearing was tested, we discovered dramatic loss of function in the Meniere’s ear, and a fair amount of loss in the other. And that set in motion the path to a pair of hearing aids.

And now, suddenly, I’m hearing things I haven’t heard in years. Clocks ticking. Bird songs. The tinkle of my dog’s collar. Almost everything my wife is saying. All of that is sweet.

I know when I was younger, I thought of old guys with dual hearing aids as poor old farts. I am abashed at my lack of compassion. Hearing is truly a wonderful gift, one that we should take whatever steps are necessary to retain. In the space of a few minutes, my world got fuller, richer, sweeter. If you see me with my twin hearing aids, don’t take pity on me. Think, “There goes a happy man!”

Perry White, who writes this opinion column,, is the aging city editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net or follow him on Twitter, @kentsboss.

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