Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Say What?

As McBain might say, This time...it's personal.

For once Crusty Old Dean will not be waxing jeremiadical on arcane Anglican anomalies. I may not be particularly crusty or old -- that's just affectation -- but if there's one thing COD is guilty of, it's a) being stubborn, and b) not liking to complain about stuff. This was instilled at an early age, where one of the mantras of CODD (Crusty Old Dean's Dad) was "If it's something you can change, don't complain about it. If it's something you can't do anything about, then it's not worth wasting the time complaining about." That, combined with his second mantra -- "I'll give you something to complain about!" -- was helpful in instructing COD to deal with those things in life that you can do something about and not to be needlessly anxious about others.

COD has dealt with his medical condition that way. Back in 1993, when COD was EYS (Eager Young Seminarian) he was awakened by his roommate pounding on the door, asking him to turn off the alarm. COD was sleeping on his right side, left ear up, and realized he couldn't hear the buzzing of his alarm clock (younger readers: here is a link to what an alarm clock is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alarm_clock). EYS was -- well, I won't give you my age, but EYS was very E and Y while he was S.

So I went off to the Yale Health Plan, where I proceeded to mystify doctors. After lots of prodding, poking, and any number of tests, including an MRI (EYS fell asleep in the MRI machine, I was not used to getting up much before 10 am and was scheduled for an 8:30 am MRI), was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease. You can find out more about what it is here, I won't go into it too much: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001721/. This took COD by surprise -- by so much surprise, I didn't really believe the diagnosis until about eighteen months later, when I had my first attack of vertigo, becoming so dizzy I started vomiting and couldn't stand. Another battery of tests followed, at New England Medical Center in Boston (sports capital of the universe), and the diagnosis was confirmed. COD had a condition that, while it wouldn't kill me, was chronic, lifelong, and untreatable. I was 26 years old. I still remember walking out of NEMC (now Tufts Medical Center), and taking the long walk back to the subway, meandering through Chinatown, past the remnants of the old Combat Zone, in kind of a daze. I guess it was when I realized I wouldn't be young and invulnerable forever.

And COD kept quiet about it over the years, following CODD's mantra about complaining. There was nothing I could do about it, so why complain? However, I also found I didn't like telling people because I felt they somehow looked at me differently afterwards -- that if every time I sighed deeply they thought I was going to collapse from a vertigo attack or something. I learned to live with the hearing loss in my left ear (right ear remained normal) by doing things like listening more carefully, sitting where my good ear faced the most people, that sort of thing. And, more or less, I have lived a normal life. Haven't had a bad vertigo incident since they year 2000, and that was on election night, so perhaps stress played a role. My condition kept me out of the military when I applied to be a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve in 2004, with Meniere's as an automatic disqualification. As the medic said, "When the captain says duck, chaplain, you gotta duck, not wait for him to yell it louder."

It has changed me in some ways, though, perhaps not all bad. I remember we were doing one of those "team building" exercises where everybody is in one big room and someone calls out various things, and people move to one side of the room or the other depending on the theme. You know -- anyone who is left handed, go to this side, right handed, that side; anyone who was born in this country, this side, born elsewhere, that side, etc. Supposed to give you an idea of the breadth of diversity of people in any given setting, at least superficially. Well, one of the topics was "anyone with a disability" go to one side, those without, to another side. I thought about it and walked to the side with disability. Meniere's is an ADA-recognized condition, and there are people that have it so bad they are medically classified as disabled. For all I know, in a month that could be me. So I walked to the side with the small number of people who were there -- and perhaps it was just paranoia, but I felt the eyes of people on me as I walked over there, even felt the eyes of people in wheelchairs and with seeing eye dogs already on the disabled side as I walked up and stood with them. I didn't look disabled, I almost could hear them thinking. What is wrong with him? What's he doing over here? One way in which it has changed me -- for the better -- is that I never assume someone is perfectly sound just because they look like they should be.

Because now my cover will probably be blown. COD went for a medical checkup, and as I sit typing this they are bringing me the pamphlets informing me about hearing aid possibilities. The left ear still has hearing loss, but I can no longer count on the right to compensate; it is now worse than the left.

Still some COD humor in the situation, however. The doctor asked me, "Are you in a profession where you rely on listening to people talk to you?" COD replied, "I'm a minister -- if anything, people talk to me too much."

All a reminder to me today that we are fragile beings in world that sometimes seems mad.


  1. I'm all for not complaining, but that just sucks!

  2. I always knew there was something wrong with you, but I wouldn't have guessed that hearing aids would fix it. I was thinking maybe heavy medication and remedial therapy...

    In all seriousness though, we're all messed up in one way or another, but having that mess easily visible to others does expose you to the bottomless ability of the human being to be prejudiced and stupid. Hang in there COD.

  3. I'd blame all that cheap rock 'n' roll you listen to.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.