Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Living with a hearing loss March 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:37 AM
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I hear only static and ringing in my right ear after a sudden hearing loss a year ago.

MOST OF THE TIME simply stating I am deaf in my right ear is easier than trying to explain how, a year ago, I lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear in an unexplained episode of sudden sensory hearing loss.

Hundreds of times since last March, I’ve repeated, “I am deaf in my right ear,” then turned my left ear toward whomever is speaking to me and asked them to repeat what they’ve just said.

This is not easy, this missing out on conversations, this always conscious effort to remember to sit or walk on the right side of a person. It is exhausting and frustrating and sometimes I just give up.

If I’m in a roomful of people, I may as well sit by myself in a corner. Hearing any snippet of conversation unless I move in close and concentrate is nearly impossible.

About now, you’re likely thinking, “Oh, Audrey, don’t be so vain, just get a darned hearing aid.”

Oh, believe me, if a hearing aid would improve my hearing, I would have one. I cried when an audiologist told me a hearing aid will not work with my type of hearing loss. Yes, I’ve been to specialists, done the MRI, the whole nine yards.

Nothing will change the fact that the door to hearing in my right ear slammed shut in an instant on a Friday afternoon in March of 2011.

In the grand scheme of health issues, hearing loss ranks rather low. Sure it’s inconvenient and annoying and bothersome. But it is not deadly or painful or totally life-altering. I can live with this disability.

And there’s at least one benefit. I live along a busy street, meaning traffic can sometimes keep me awake. Now I need only sleep with my right ear up, left ear pressed against the pillow. And, come morning if I’m still sleeping in that position, I won’t hear the alarm.

CLICK HERE to read my first post last March about this hearing loss.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I’d rather not be in Vegas April 6, 2011

I've lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear due to a sudden sensory hearing loss.


I’ve walked through a Minnesota casino twice and failed to pull a single lever on a slot machine or drop a single coin.

I prefer to play it safe, to not risk losing for the slim possibility of winning. It is the reason I don’t buy lottery tickets. I feel like I’m throwing away my money.

That is partially why a decision I am currently facing is so incredibly difficult.

Do I have surgery or not?

Will I be among the 25 in 100 who benefit from a sac round window graft? Even the name of the surgery is daunting. I don’t know enough right now about the outpatient ear surgery to decide.

But I have the statistics. For only one in four patients, the surgery successfully restores some hearing. But the percentage of hearing regained is perhaps only 20 percent. The slim possibility exists—about two percent—that the surgery could cause me to lose all of my hearing in my right ear. That really doesn’t matter given I’m basically deaf in my right ear anyway due to a sudden sensory hearing loss that occurred a month ago.

I currently have only 30 percent hearing in that ear. I hear only “noise,” nothing as distinguishable as a word. I also suffer from tinnitus, ringing in my right ear.

On Tuesday when I met with a renowned ear specialist in Minneapolis, I was presented with the surgery option. I was not expecting this, was not prepared with a list of questions. My immediate thought was this: “I don’t want to have more surgery.”

Already in my life, I’ve had seven surgeries, the first at age four to correct my vision. Since then, I’ve had oral surgery to remove my wisdom teeth, three Caesarean sections, inguinal hernia surgery and my last, total right hip joint replacement, not quite three years ago.

I am not anxious to rush into another surgery.

But time is of the essence. Apparently the sooner the surgery is done after the hearing loss, the better. I don’t understand why and I didn’t think to ask.

My doctor offered no recommendation on the surgery. I asked. He says he doesn’t recommend, only presents the options and information and allows the patient to decide.

I am at the point now of researching, pondering, praying, considering a second opinion, losing sleep over this decision.

What should I do?

Should I risk throwing away $3,000—my health insurance deductible? Should I risk not having the surgery if it could restore even a small percentage of my hearing? (A hearing aid will not help with the type of hearing loss I have.) Should I risk the risks that are always there whenever you have surgery?

I’m not a gambler. But right now I feel like I’m in Vegas.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I can’t hear you March 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:01 AM
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COULD SOMEONE PLEASE answer the phone, turn off the radio and fix the potholes?

That isn’t going to happen. Not for me now, anytime soon or perhaps ever.

Welcome to my new world of ringing telephones, annoying transistor radios and bothersome potholes. I’ll explain after giving you some background.

Three weeks ago I suffered a sudden sensory hearing loss. One minute I could hear mostly fine in my right ear. The next minute it was as if someone had closed the door to my hearing.

At this point, why I suddenly lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear remains an unknown. It could be related to an ear trauma three years ago at a Wisconsin waterpark where a waterfall pounded my head. That caused permanent nerve damage, and some hearing loss, to my right inner ear. Or it could be the result of a viral infection, or something else.

Whatever the cause, I now have only 30 percent of my hearing in my right ear.

Thus, the ringing telephone, the transistor and the problem potholes have become issues for me. It’s not like I didn’t try to eliminate all three.

I tried a 10-day mega dose of inflammation-reducing steroids in an attempt to salvage some, if not all, of my hearing. The Prednisone didn’t work, only made me jittery, sleepless and emotional. I noticed no improvement in my hearing. The drug is typically most effective within 48 hours of symptom onset and my treatment started long after that.

I see a specialist next week to recheck my hearing and perhaps get some answers.

I took this photo of my eyes last week when I wasn't getting much sleep due to the effects of my steroid treatment. I'm still having sleep issues.

For now, I’ve accepted the fact that this is my new world of hearing. Sometimes the tinnitus is so bad that I joke to my husband, “Can you please answer the telephone?” Only problem, the telephone is inside my right ear.

As for the transistor, those of you old enough to remember transistor radios will also recall how they were often plagued by poor reception resulting in lots of static. I’m hearing that type of static now in my right ear more often than I like.

With my “bad” right ear I hear just “noise,” nothing as clear or distinct as an individual word.

Driving over an uneven roadway surface, like a pothole or a crack, hurts my ear with the thump echoing unpleasantly inside my ear.

I’m trying to adjust to this hearing loss. But, honestly, it’s not always easy. I can barely tolerate the organ music in church and singing isn’t too much fun any more.

My right ear, in which I've lost 70 percent of my hearing due to a sudden sensory hearing loss.

But most difficult for me, like anyone with a hearing loss, is the inability to clearly hear conversations. And for me, a blogger and writer, that’s a very big deal. I need to hear, and hear accurately.

All too often I find myself asking others to speak louder. I’m sure they’re thinking, “Why doesn’t she just get a hearing aid?” It’s not that simple. An audiologist and an ear/nose/throat doctor have told me that a hearing aid will not help, not with this type of hearing loss.

Put me in a room full of people, and I struggle to hear.

The other night while waiting in a check-out line at the grocery store, I was frustrated because I couldn’t hear everything the young male checker in the lane next to me was telling the bagger. He was offering her relationship advice, something about his fiancée who’d gone to college on the East Coast and who’d cheated on him. I caught the advice about hanging on to someone you care about and to, basically, not mess it up. It would have been a great blog topic, but I couldn’t hear enough of the conversation to accurately pull together a post. My days of eavesdropping may have ended with this sudden sensory hearing loss.

Despite all of this, I realize my health issues could be much worse and that many people suffer from severe hearing losses.

Like all other challenges I’ve faced in my life, I’ll adjust, adapt, accept and move on.

Yet, if I feel the need to cry, which I have several times already, I’ll cry.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Suddenly going nearly deaf in one ear March 21, 2011

THE ELDERLY COUPLE stood in line next to me at the pharmacy gripping their skinny white canes.

He fidgeted, a plastic grocery store bag rustling in his hands. I wondered how much he could see through the thick lenses of his glasses.

She waited beside him. Calm. Steady. Sure. I doubted she could see me, only sense that I was there, close by.

I considered for a minute allowing them ahead of me. But I’d already returned for the second time to the pharmacy and didn’t want to give up my spot.

So I stood there, health insurance and debit cards clenched in my right hand, arms folded across my chest. I did not want to be there sandwiched between the mom with a clearly sick child and the visually-impaired couple. But, mostly, I did not want to be there because I did not want the prescription drugs I was picking up.

Eight hours earlier I laid on my back, head strapped down, face covered with a mask, as my head and upper body slid inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine.

Several hours after that, I sat in a sound-proof booth getting my hearing tested.

A half hour later I braced myself for the MRI results, hoping for the best, semi-prepared for the worst. The news was good. No tumor. No stroke. No anything abnormal, the ear specialist told me. I breathed deeply, the release of tension in my body palpable.

But the hearing, that was different. I had lost most of the hearing in my right ear. I had “one shot,” the doctor told me, to restore some of my hearing. There were no guarantees.

That is when I cried, although the tears had been building since the audiologist pointed to a graph showing that I had lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear. I verged on tears when she told me, too, that a hearing aid would not help me.

I listened to the doctor tell me that a 10-day mega dose of steroids could possibly restore some of my hearing. No promises. The Prednisone is most effective within 48 hours of symptom onset. Four days had passed since my symptoms—sudden hearing loss and eight hours of dizziness and nausea—began.

“You’ll cry some more,” he said, explaining that the steroid will throw me into emotional mood swings, cause insomnia, make me jittery, maybe even nauseated. He minced no words: The treatment course “will be difficult.”

And then I asked, “Is it worth it?”

He told me this was my “one shot” to regain some of my hearing.

Do you know how difficult it is to photograph one's ear? This is my best shot after many attempts. I could have done without the photo, but images always add to a blog. So there you have it, my right ear that I am hoping, praying, will be healed. Yes, I see the wax. Yes, I know my ear is not petite. Typically it's draped by my hair. But I don't care about lack of prettiness right now. I care only that I get some, or all, of my hearing back.

AND SO I FOUND MYSELF waiting in line at the pharmacy, next to the visually-impaired couple. As I watched them, I asked myself, “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” I don’t mean to offend any of you readers, but that is, honestly, what I was thinking.

The debate swirled briefly through my brain. As the store clerk placed the visually-impaired woman’s hand on a bottle and told her it was fish oil, I chose deafness. I determined that I would rather deal with the loss of hearing in one ear than lose my ability to see.

And so the next 10 days will reveal whether a portion of my hearing can be salvaged. Ten days. I am trying to steel myself for the negative physical and emotional side effects I am certain to experience from the high steroid dosage. I’ve been on the drug before, for whooping cough. I hate it.

I am trying to prepare myself, too, for the very real possibility that this course of treatment will not work—because I waited too long. I did call my clinic within an hour of the symptom onset, but was advised only to come in if my condition worsened. Within several hours, I was feeling better, although my hearing had not improved.

I thought I might be suffering a Meniere’s disease attack related to a previous ear trauma as my symptoms matched those of Meniere’s.

I am writing this post because I need your prayers for healing and strength through my treatment.

I am also writing to warn you that, should you ever experience sudden hearing loss, see a doctor immediately. Don’t wait. Ever. I waited four days to schedule a clinic appointment, another day to get in and then another day to have the MRI and get the diagnosis.

My ear doctor saw several patients just this week with the same sudden sensory hearing loss, leading him to believe a viral infection of some type is going around the Faribault community.

Since developing this issue, I’ve had several friends tell me of acquaintances who’ve suffered the same snap-of-the-finger hearing loss. One regained her hearing; two did not.

The cause of my sudden sensory hearing loss has not been determined. I’m following up with another specialist in several weeks, the same expert I’ve seen since that traumatic ear injury at a Wisconsin water park several years ago.

In the meantime, I am adjusting to the ringing and static (like a bad transistor radio) and partial deafness that are now a part of my world.

I am learning to position myself with my “good” left ear to anyone who is speaking to me.

And I am holding on to hope.

FOLLOW-UP: Today I started my fourth day of steroid treatment. Thus far I’ve noticed no improvement in my hearing. But I am still hopeful that some of my hearing may be restored. Many family and friends are praying for me and for that I am grateful.

I am feeling the effects of taking the Prednisone. Yesterday afternoon and into the evening, I was unsettled and sat twirling my hair, which is not a regular habit of mine. I had trouble falling, and staying, asleep.

Yet, through all of this, I remain cognizant that this diagnosis could have been something far worse than a hearing loss. In the realm of possible medical issues, this is minor.

If, by telling my story, I can prevent one person, even one, from delaying treatment for a sudden sensory hearing loss, then something good will have come from this.

Seven more days to go…

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling