Thursday, March 27, 2008

A world without silence

Standing out on the patio, smoking a cigarette, listening to the urban night. It was pretty quiet for the city, but there was the ever attendant Ring. The Ring, always with me, is usually perceived as a combination of two or more slightly different high pitched tones. Sometimes it will take a sudden dip or climb in volume and all other sound will be temporarily muted - kind of like when you stick your head under water.
It's been with me as long as I can remember. At one point, years ago, I was commenting to my daughter that I wondered what caused that ringing sound I heard when there was otherwise silence. Her response was " No, Daddy, silence means NO sound. No one else hears ringing then, and if you do, you need to get your ears checked." I was kind of amazed. I just assumed that everyone heard the ring, since it seemed to have been with me always.
It's gotten louder over the years. It is now as loud as or louder than most conversations. I have learned that it apparently causes me to be unable to hear other sounds that occur in close to the same high pitched frequency. Otherwise, I notice that some very high frequencies cause me pain sometimes. The ringing of a hammer on an anvil comes to mind.

I have since learned that The Ring has a name. It's called tinnitus. It's caused by damage to the little hair-like vibration sensors in the inner ear, usually caused by exposure to extreme volume. It's pretty much incurable. The damage that I incurred to cause it may have come from too many too loud rock concerts, or the time I spent working in a newspaper press room (large printing presses are VERY loud, even with ear plugs). However, those things happened during or after my teen years, when I remember already hearing The Ring.
I suspect it more likely happened when I was about five or so. An accidental shot from a thirty-ought-six rifle came through the bathroom wall and bounced off lower end of the cast iron bath tub I was in, facing the shot wall. The ringing of the rifle shot tub was simply amazing. It was very loud. Picture being inside a bell that size when it was struck by a bullet. My grandparents and parents all came rushing in after the shot,
I 'm sure fearing the worst. If the bullet had come through the wall a few inches higher, it probably would have struck me full in the chest. I was in the faucet end of the tub, facing the other end, which is where the bullet bounced off of the lower curve of the tub.

They say that some people who have this condition are driven nearly crazy by it. I try to think of it as a reminder of how chancy life is, and how good it is to be alive. The photo is me at about the age I think the Ring occurred (or was born into my life, as I sometimes think of it).

For more information on The Ring, what Dr.s call tinnitus see