Sometime this afternoon, once my ear doctor has completed his day’s surgeries, I find out what’s next for my ear after Monday’s setback. For a day or two after Monday’s visit, the ear felt better, but yesterday evening, it started to feel like it did before Monday’s visit. Today, it doesn’t feel that bad, and, of course, not being able to see into the ear, I have no idea what’s actually happening in there. Is the fungus running riot again? Is my ear just slowly and determinedly continuing its Sisyphean project of growing tissue, irritated but making progress after the resolution of this latest disruption? I have no idea, and I’ve pretty much lost all ability to judge for myself. So I wait in a somewhat paralyzed state of anxiety, slightly moderated by low doses of clonazepam.
But in the swirling of worry and speculation, I keep returning to one insight. For thirteen months, the hearing in this ear has been reduced and further disrupted by a pretty constant ringing. Except for the couple of weeks after the first surgery, when I had to adjust to my altered sensory capacity (more on that later perhaps–it’s actually an interesting story I haven’t put all in one place yet), I haven’t suffered in any meaningful way from that reduced hearing. I am, however, suffering more and more from the attempts to restore it. At what point does that effort become counter-productive. How many vacations am I willing to have cancelled, shortened, or undermined? How many periods of despondency am I willing to endure? How much surgery, cauterization, and other pain? How long am I willing to forgo exercise because the ear can’t tolerate perspiration?
The doctor won’t be pleased with this line of questioning. He has been patient, but incredibly determined that this be fixed. He seems to be pretty driven to heal. I would guess that’s why he decided to be a doctor in the first place, and I’m sure that’s a significant part of what makes him so good at it. But for me, there’s an important context for this healing. Fixing the hearing in this ear cannot become more important than the hearing itself is, and I don’t know how important the hearing itself is. I’m beginning to suspect that it’s not important enough to warrant what may be necessary to restore it, particularly given what seems to be the decreasing likelihood of the success of those efforts. I keep thinking of my wife, who hasn’t had sight in one of her eyes for more than forty years now. If asked what she would want to change about her life now, I doubt that restoring sight in that eye would appear on that list, or if it did, it wouldn’t be very near the top.