Whoosh, Part 2

Today really was one of those days where 24 hours just wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted or needed to do. My laundry will linger in the dryer overnight because I need to be done with all of the day’s busy work. I hate leaving clothes in the dryer. I’ll have to fluff them all over again before I fold them, and sometimes jeans get so accordian-like through their extended stay that I give up and wash them all over again.

Today I had my dreaded appointment with a new ENT specialist (my previous one retired). I needed to get that whooshing sound checked out, which I predicted was due to skipping an ear debridement back in December. Now that my appointment is done, I am pleased to report that my dread was unnecessary. This new ENT is a master at minimizing ear-cleaning pain. Actually, I’d rank her as best among the many ear doctors I’ve seen since 1974, when all of my ear trouble started due to the finding of a congenital cholesteatoma (I also had an acquired one in early adulthood).

A few years ago, I heard from a previous ENT that it was unlikely I could wear a hearing aid in my affected ear because of bone loss due to mastoidectomy surgeries. He told me that I’d probably have to settle for a Bi-Cros system installed on glasses that would just transmit sound from my right side to my left and do nothing to actually amplify my hearing on the right side.

My new ENT differs in that opinion. She’s scheduled me for a hearing test and hearing aid evaluation, and she said that I wouldn’t get a Bi-Cros unless I had no hearing left at all on the right side. This is exciting news for me, to say the least. I can’t remember a time when I had normal hearing; the loss happened when I was a toddler.

She had an explanation for the whooshing sounds I’ve been hearing, and this news was not positive. My blood pressure reading today was the highest it’s ever been. My blood pressure usually runs low; my average reading during my recent inpatient surgery was 90/60. Today it was 134/84!

She told me that the whooshing is the sound of my increased blood pressure. The blood vessels are so small around the ear drum that dramatic changes in blood pressure can be audible. For some people, high blood pressure is not a silent symptom.

I don’t know why my blood pressure has increased lately. I’m not going to assume my pressure was high because of anxiety over the appointment and likely cleaning. If this was the case, it would be a first for me.

There’s a lot of high blood pressure on one side of my family. I’ve had relatives who suddenly developed hypertension by the time they were my age. The doctor today recommended that I check my blood pressure at home several times this week to see if it remains high and report my numbers to my family doctor.

If am developing high blood pressure, I wonder how it would effect my cooking choices. At least my buttercream dreams aren’t loaded with sodium:




For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing and talking about almost anything but my new constant companion, a pulsing whoosh coming from my right ear. I am well acquainted with standard tinnitus because, long story short, that ear is profoundly disordered. This time it has a troubling variation. It sounds like I’m listening to a washing machine that runs in time with my pulse. This is otherwise known as pulsatile tinnitus.

The last thing I wanted to deal with after my back surgery was having any sort of problem with my ears. This morning I gave in and made an appointment with the ear doctor.

I have no idea which doctor I’ll be seeing, but I will be visiting the same practice that’s debrided my ear seven times over the past five years. My previous ENT up and retired, and I appreciated him because, to reference the great poet Walt Whitman, he hurt me no more than was necessary. The best one preceded the retiree, and I spotted his obituary in the paper last month. He was the one who gently broke the news to me that I could not be fitted for a hearing aid (at least for my right ear) because I don’t have enough mastoid bone left on that side to wear one. The other doctors would just avoid the subject.

I don’t even like the thought of getting another ear surgery. Notice that I jumped straight from tinnitus to surgery. I may as well admit that I’m a subclinical hypochondriac as well. I have enough of this problem to suspect it too easily in others. One semi-legendary battle I had with my sister during our teenage years involved me telling her that the neighborhood pharmacy had to backorder placebos in all kinds of shapes and sizes to accommodate her madness.

This was a vicious move on my part because none of her afflictions were imaginary. I was bursting at the seams with jealousy because someone had anatomized her symptoms into distinct diseases. Lord only knew what mess was brewing inside me. I worried it could be something apocalyptic, a fate on par with Ralphie’s vision of becoming a blind beggar in A Christmas Story.

Last year I read Jennifer Traig’s memoir Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria, and my abs felt strained by all the laughing at recognizing myself in its pages. I suppose I am one of many who worries about rare diseases while ignoring ordinary problems. Actually this is a highly efficient way of forestalling the health care one really needs. I spent three years worrying that my leg numbness could be a symptom of MS before I had my back checked out, which resulted in spinal fusion surgery that remedied that leg numbness completely.

I hate that I need to go the ear doctor, but I would guess that cancelling my appointment back in December created this whooshing mess. I was supposed to get my ear debrided again, and I called the ENT office and told them I felt like I couldn’t deal with it given my sciatica and impending back surgery at that time. It is likely that I have debris in there that’s led to a build up of fluid, which is putting enough pressure on the blood vessels that I can actually hear them at work. Pulsatile tinnitus differs from usual tinnitus in that it is not an artifact that the brain produces; the pulsing is a physical sound.

I will close with a bit of the martyrdom I feel when I think of some of my past ear treatments. Nothing in my life before or since exceeded the pain of the canal-wall down mastoidectomy I had twenty five years ago. Nothing has come close, not even 40+ hours of labor. Spinal fusion surgery was a speed bump in comparison. I am hoping an ear debridement is all that I need, but that feels about as pleasant as dental work without anesthesia.

I want this whooshing to stop more than I want to avoid that pain.

Tinnitus and Lucid Dreams

This old fellow isn’t done yet, either.

For the past month, I’ve recalled nothing but fragments of my dreams. I must be dreaming each night whether or not I remember doing so. I wish I were aware of more of these nightly narratives. Life seems a bit like a sunbleached ad in an old storefront without them.

Last night I anticipated that I’d have a lucid dream because I have an odd symptom that heralds their arrival. I have tinnitus in one of my ears. When I am on the verge of having a lucid dream, I will wake briefly at night and feel a sensation in that ear that is akin to the haptic feedback on a cell phone, except it seems that a puff of air is escaping from that ear drum as I feel the vibration. My ear will “puff” at regular intervals, about every 30 seconds. I know that I am not just dreaming this sensation, for I have gotten out of bed and used the restroom, with the puffing going on twice a minute the whole time.

Once back in bed, I will quickly fall back to sleep. The vibration in my ear has been happening off-and-on for so many years that it no longer disarms me. I’ve grown to think of this symptom as a call from my subconscious to pay close attention to the message it is about to deliver to me in a lucid dream.

I used to think that tinnitus was just a physical phenomenon. I thought of my damaged ear drum like a guitar string that had grown too slack to stay in tune. A couple years ago, I read Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, and this fascinating book taught me that tinnitus is actually an auditory hallucination related to hearing loss. My experience of tinnitus as a sign of a forthcoming lucid dream suggests to me that the membrane between hallucination and dreaming may be much thinner than expected. If I wake immediately from a lucid dream, my ear puffs for a few minutes more.

The puffing last night was indeed followed by a lucid dream. In this one, I dreamed about a dog. I will forewarn you that the opening scene of the dream was melancholy. My husband and I were attending a wake ceremony for a dog that I do not know in my waking life, but I had the sense he had appeared in my dreams several times. I don’t know if this sort of thing happens to anyone else. I sometimes dream of things, places, or people that I can only recognize from other dreams instead of real life.

There were about 30 people in attendance at this memorial event. The dog was on a gilded platform with a canopy, and there were reeds and flowers arrayed around his body. He had short black fur riddled with white hairs that betrayed his advanced age. People were recounting his loyalty and spirit as they drank beers in his memory. At a moment no one happened to be looking at him, the dog began to cough and sounded just like a person.

Everyone gasped for joy. A half-drunk man dropped to his knees in the front of the dog and proclaimed, “Get that boy a cough drop! I knew he wasn’t done!”

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