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Going From Mono to Stereo in My Life With One Ear

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What makes us who we are, and what happens when those things change? I’ll find out soon.

You see, I was born with one ear, and haven’t been able to hear from my left side for the past 52 years. Tomorrow I have my Cochlear Osia 2 turned on, which is a bone-activated hearing aid (BAHA), and I will hear. I’ll hear what’s happening on the left, I’ll know where the sound is coming from, and I’ll experience stereo.

Today I’m thinking about the small and large ways this will impact me, and those who know me. I’ll be able to turn the radio volume down in my car, I think, because I’ll hear from both speakers. I’ll be better able to follow what is being said on TV, in meetings, and especially when I’m in a group. I’ll be able to be a passenger in the car and not always drive — see, I can’t have a conversation with you if you’re driving, so that’s no fun. My kids say they’ll have to stop making editorial comments to/about me that they’ve gotten away with forever. My team at work are afraid they’ll need to keep their grumblings quiet as well. I’ll be able to walk down a hallway with you on either side of me, and I won’t always have to be seated in the same spot at the table in order to hear. I’m looking forward to hearing music, and birds, and “I love you.”

I don’t wish my life had been different, though. I always knew I was different, so I think my work was to determine why I was different and what that would mean, whether I understood that or not. Here are some of the things I’m glad my disability has taught me.

Everyone has something they struggle with, even if you don’t see it. Mine is a missing ear. Hers is bad metabolism. His is mental illness. Theirs is poverty. Nobody has a perfectly smooth path, so remember that when you see them trip. Or fall.

Parents sacrifice for their kids. Plastic surgery wasn’t covered in 1968 insurance plans, and so everything surgical I had done (12 surgeries) was out of pocket for my middle-class parents. Because of a kind surgeon who refused payment for his work, this didn’t break my family, but it might have. I know it weighed heavily on them, as my mother saved every bill related to my ear and gave them to me. (Yeah, I question that one, but…)

Don’t forget the siblings when a child is in the hospital. My brother had to go spend several days twice a year with our grandparents, while all the attention and gifts went to me. It shows great restraint that he didn’t hold that against me and has taught me to support the whole family in times of need, not just the one admitted.

Humor deflects pain. Any comic knows this. When I was old enough for other kids to start making fun of me, I decided it was easier to make fun of myself first, to take away their power. It doesn’t take away the hurt, though. I still remember the girl who rode my bus who asked me what it felt like to know I’d never be loved because I was a “reject.”

Smiling and nodding gently can get you out of a lot of situations, because others assume you heard what they said.

Ears are important for glasses and earrings, and COVID–19 masks. (I use a clip in my hair, in case you’re wondering.)

Only having one ear is a third date story. Not a first date story. Trust me.

It’s easy to sleep when you only have one ear to block.

We are all different. This is a version of my first point, but more. None of us fit neatly into only one box. Open your mind to the possibilities that people are more than what you expect them to be, more than you see, and more than you have experienced.

So, tomorrow I hear. I’m working on my stereo playlist now, and I’m wondering what I’ll learn from this phase of my life.

Getty image by Suradech14.

Originally published: October 21, 2020
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