The Wheat and the Chaff.

It’s been more than a year since I got my hearing devices, and recently I met with my audiologist to discuss it.  I just love that lady — she is a warm, caring person, and you can tell she really enjoys her profession.  We had a terrific conversation, touching on all kinds of topics.  She wanted to know how my transition had been this past year; was I comfortable with where the instruments’ volume was set?  Did I have to adjust it up or down?  How often?  How was I doing overall?  I told her that one of the hardest things for me was adjusting to sounds I’d never heard before and learning how to ignore them.

Let me explain.

From our earliest moments, even before birth, we respond to sounds of all kinds.  We learn to associate some sounds with good things (music, laughter) and some with bad things (alarms, explosions).  Our brain learns to tell the difference between sounds we should pay attention to, like the telephone ringing, and those we can tune out, like the hum of the refrigerator when the compressor kicks on.

For me, it was different: my hearing loss in the oh-so-crucial midrange of sound, where conversation resides, meant that I had to strain to hear sounds like voices, but higher- or lower-pitched sounds were sometimes uncomfortably loud.  I remember a time as a teenager when I heard a strange, high-pitched buzz, sort of a whine, while at home watching TV.  I muted the TV and tried to figure out where the sound came from.  It took awhile, but I finally realized that what I was hearing was the frequency change when the TV changed pictures.  The volume was off, but I could clearly hear the difference in the tone of the buzz when the picture changed.  Weird!

Over the years my brain learned to adjust; life with hearing loss was all I knew.  I learned to watch people as they spoke, so I could better ascertain what they said. I learned to sit close to the front of the class.  I learned to sleep with the bedroom door open.  When I moved out by myself, I got a dog to alert me to noises I couldn’t hear.  I managed pretty well, for the most part.  I didn’t know what all I was missing, so I guess I didn’t miss it.

In the last several years, my hearing was getting worse, and although I think I realized it, I didn’t want to admit it to myself.  But it was becoming more and more apparent, especially to my family.  Mr. Stuck might come in the house and say that the coyotes were ‘really going at it out there,’ urging me and the boys to go out and listen.  Dutifully, I’d stand on the porch and strain to hear something — anything — that might be a coyote.  “There!  Did you hear that?” he’d ask.  “No,” I’d admit.  Then, “Shh….there it is again!  You must have heard it that time!”  Nope.  Most of the time, I’d go back in the house without hearing a thing.  Same scenario when the frogs were especially loud, or the owls, or even the baby eagle.  When the dogs in the neighborhood treed a raccoon and barked nonstop for hours, it was the Mister who was kept from sleep while I snored contentedly beside him.

I knew I was missing out, but I didn’t want to dwell on it.  Why worry about something that I couldn’t change?  When I was fitted with my hearing devices, it is not exaggeration to say a whole new world opened up to me: I heard the breeze; I heard water running; and I could finally hear those crickets, frogs, and coyotes.

What a difference.

But I soon realized it was a mixed blessing; along with the sounds I was glad to hear, I also became aware of sounds I’d rather not hear, the normal racket of everyday life.  Most of you can tune that out, but I can’t.  I hear every click of the keyboard and mouse, every sniff and snort and throat-clearing by the people around me.  I hear the clock tick-tick-ticking as my workday marches along.  I hear it when my coworker puts his pencil down and cracks his knuckles.  I hear people breathe and chew.  Mr. Stuck can tell you that I am particularly distressed by whispering; his favorite hunting shows always feature someone whispering to the camera right before taking a shot at some big buck. Sibilant sounds are some of the worst for me to deal with.  My brain hasn’t learned to ignore those things; it treats all these new sounds as important, even the ones that make me want to scream.

As I explained all this to the doctor, she nodded knowingly.  No doubt she hears this from most, if not all, of her patients.  She assured me that with time, my brain would be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff (is it coincidence that wheat has ears?) and things would settle down.  I just had to be patient in the interim.

Well, if you know me, you know that patience is not one of my virtues.  And separating what’s important from what isn’t has never been my strong point.  I’m trying to change how I react to the sounds that distract and annoy me, but it’s difficult.  I’m struggling.

Overall, the little technological marvels tucked snugly in my ears have given me fresh perspective and a whole new appreciation for the world around me.  I am truly grateful to have my hearing restored.  I still don’t hear normally, but it’s as close as I’ve ever been, and far surpasses what I had before.  So while I don’t want to take away from that by complaining, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the drawbacks.

And then I think about this wheat and chaff thing and how it applies to so many other parts of my life.  Priorities.  Decisions.  Life changes.  Weight loss.  Health.  Relationships.  What is truly important, and what is not.  What I want versus what I need.  How do we sort through these things and stop wasting our precious time and energy on things that don’t matter?

As my brain learns to sort it out, so do I.

 

***If you haven’t read my hearing story, you can find it here (in Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV) as well as here and here.

 

 photo credit Johan Neven

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.
– Arnold Bennett

It’s five months into my post-op life, and I have made a few observations. Not only am I finding out that I do, indeed, have a collarbone and cheekbones, I’m remembering what it feels like to fit into a booth at a restaurant, fit into a chair with arms, and fit into the seat belts in the back of my car.

I’ve noticed a few other things:

  • Sitting is not as comfortable with less natural padding on my backside. I actually have bones there – who knew?
  • I don’t miss the beef we’re not eating. Never thought I’d say that.
  • I am really enjoying honey in my tea – and I was never a big fan of honey before.
  • My skin, which is looser now, isn’t as saggy as I expected it to be. I still have more weight to lose, so that may change.
  • I’ve also noticed that my skin looks a little ‘doughy’ and not so firm.   I think toning exercises would help. And sunshine. On the scale of One to Tan, I am firmly at “Elmer’s Glue.”
  • Even though I now have the arms of a flying squirrel, I still cannot fly.
  • I had hoped that the weight loss would improve the swelling in my legs. It hasn’t.
  • My hair is thinner and I lose more every day. I’ve always had a thick mane, so this is a little troubling, and I’m keeping a close eye on it. I take Biotin supplements to help combat the hair loss.
  • I’m a big fan of layering and scarves. Losing all that natural insulation turned me into an ice cube. I may be cold, but I am stylishly cold!
  • I had forgotten what my ‘real’ body shape looked like. Now, I can see it again in the mirror, but it’s all closer to the floor.
  • A brisk walk doesn’t leave me winded, and my daily stretching exercises at work are easier every time I do them. That alone gives me a smile every day.
  • Along with my prescription medication, I’m taking vitamins and probiotics. I don’t have any problems with digestion, or reflux, or any of that.
  • My hands look like my mother’s. And my sister has told me repeatedly that I look so much more like my mother now. I take that as a compliment and always have.
  • People look at me more. Not my body – I don’t care about that – but my face. And by people, I mean just people in general. The people I walk past every day at work and at the store; people I don’t know. They make eye contact with me now, where before, they seemed to make it a point to avoid looking at me.
  • People treat me differently. This is a tough one – every time I’ve lost considerable weight in the past, I’ve been disappointed and hurt by that hypocrisy. I’m trying to meet it head on this time.
  • I never get tired of compliments. I appreciate it each and every time someone calls me “Skinny” or tells me I look great. It really does feel good, and I am truly grateful.

You know what else?
I fit into people’s hugs a lot better now, and I like that part the best.

 

photo credit Thomas Leth-Olsen

 

More Adjustments.

ring1
Pardon the alligator skin, but the rings fit now!

So a big part of this whole journey I’m on, post-surgical and all that, is making those changes that will enable me to live a healthier life.  I am learning to exchange a bad habit for a good one.  There are discoveries along the way, as you can imagine.  Here’s what I’ve recently thought about:

I have come to a workable routine with my medication that must be crushed.  I just put the powder in water rather than try to disguise it in some kind of food such as applesauce or pudding.  I’d much rather toss it back that way than ruin the flavor of something I would otherwise enjoy.

Omeprazole (Prilosec), which decreases the acid my stomach produces, is my new best friend.  Next to my surgeon, that is, because he said I could take my Meloxicam for my poor aching thumbs, as long as I continued the omeprazole.  Yay, me!

I would not recommend having this surgery during the holiday season unless you avoid parties like the plague.  Standard fare at holiday parties, in my experience, is not post-surgical-tummy-friendly.  And it shouldn’t be — these are the parties of excess, with rich cheeses and meats, delectable baked goods, and mountains of veggies and chips for dipping.  This is the food you mindlessly sample every time you walk past.  At least, that’s what I used to do.  This year, I kept away from the kitchen to avoid the temptation.  But I did have a deviled egg, some flakes of smoked salmon (perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture), and a few small cubes of soft cheese.  Thank God.  What a treat, especially after so long on liquids!

Mmmm…deviled eggs!
photo credit jeffreyw

As I sat in the living room or wandered outside during these parties, I thought about how much we center our social lives around food.  I will have to learn how to socialize without food and alcohol, and even coffee, to some extent.

I thought about how eating such a small amount forces me to choose what I want the most; I have to get used to throwing away uneaten food.  Having been raised not to let food go to waste, and having admonished my children not to be wasteful, this is a very difficult change for me.

It will take some time to get used to estimating how much (or little) to cook for me and the Mister.  My mind’s eye is still calibrated to a family of 4 with two teenagers and a couple of overeating parents.  My spaghetti sauce overflows the skillet; my estimation of how much pasta to cook always results in too much.  I never learned how to cook for two; even when we were first married, I was cooking like I’d seen my mother cook: for a family.

I went to the store for a few things and ended up with three pounds of bacon and nearly as much chicken breast.  Now, the chicken will be made into soup or stew, but why did I buy that much bacon?  Old habits die hard, I guess.

But in other, more exciting news, I am finally able to fit into my wedding rings again!  I can’t recall when I was last able to wear them, but I’m sure it’s been at least 3 years.  So I took them to a jeweler for a check and cleaning and now they sparkle like new.

Yes, I missed piling my plate with the sausage, the raw veggies, the lasagna, the sandwiches, the prime rib roast, and even the BLT salad at these parties.  I missed the pie, the pickles, and the wine.  But I look at my rings and I am SO HAPPY — and that is so much better.