Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Learn to listen, really listen April 20, 2017

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A MAJOR proponent of the art of listening. Listening differs from hearing, which is a physical act. Listening requires close attention to what is being spoken.

I don’t hear well due to a severe sensorineural hearing loss in my right ear. If I walk into a room and someone says hello, I may not hear. And if I do hear, I will scan the room to determine the location of the speaker. I can’t pinpoint sound sources. Put me in a group of people carrying on multiple conversations or before someone speaking too softly and I struggle to hear. Add music or white noise (like a fan or air conditioner or furnace) and I won’t hear anything. Whisper into my right ear and I won’t hear you.

For six years now I’ve dealt with this severe permanent hearing loss. And no, a hearing aid won’t help. My brain processes sound at a slower rate if at all. Every single day I need words repeated to me because I simply do not hear them. It is frustrating and difficult. But I manage.

While an unexplained cause (likely a virus, so my ENT team surmised) forever altered my ability to hear, I remain committed to the art of listening. It is a skill I honed decades ago, first as an introverted child and later as I studied journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter. To be a good journalist, you have to be a good listener.


My column on trustworthiness, courtesy of The Virtues Project, Faribault.


I use that skill of listening beyond my chosen profession as a writer. I practice good listening in my everyday life and consider myself a good listener. I wrote on the topic of listening as it relates to the virtue of trustworthiness for The Virtues Project, Faribault. The Virtues Project is a “global initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.” Virtues like honesty, understanding, caring, respect and more are being addressed each week in columns published in the Faribault Daily News. This was my week to write on trustworthiness in a column titled “Learn to Listen, Really Listen.”

From 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, The Virtues Project, Faribault Team will expand on listening during a workshop on “The Art of Companioning.” That process is defined as “just listen to a person when they are sharing their story—without judgment, expectations, or fixing. Often times a hearing ear is just what the other person really wants, and when we do that, we are giving the person a chance to come up with their own solution.” The event will be held in the Buckham Memorial Library Great Hall in Faribault and is open to all at no cost. We could all benefit from learning and implementing the art of companioning.

TELL ME: Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


46 years of serving pancakes for a cause on Super Bowl Sunday February 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:10 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

THEY’RE SYNONYMOUS in Faribault—the Super Bowl and pancakes.

For 46 years, the Faribault Lions Club has sponsored a pancake and sausage breakfast on Super Bowl Sunday, raising funds to support projects that adhere to the club motto: “We serve.”

Let me repeat that. Forty-six years. Wow. You have to admire an organization so committed to helping others. The Faribault Lions expect to feed 1,200 – 1,500 and raise $5,000 at their Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast.

Now I’m no fan of pancakes (ranking them right alongside liver) or of football, but I may have to eat pancakes this Sunday simply to support a worthy cause. I’ll skip the football except for the commercials.

The Faribault Lions provide funding for college scholarships, dictionaries for third graders, food for children in need, and assistance for the visual and hearing impaired, among other projects.

While all are worthy causes, the club’s effort on Sunday to collect used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids and to raise dollars to assist those with visual and hearing impairments resonates with me.

I’ve worn glasses since age four, after undergoing surgery to correct crossed eyes. Without that surgery, I would have gone blind in my “lazy eye.” I value my vision and know that without corrective lenses, I would struggle to see.

Lions Club International’s commitment to helping those with vision issues stretches back to 1925 when Helen Keller presented this challenge during a speech to the Lions:

Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?

And so with that challenge, the Lions became “Knights of the Blind,” collecting and distributing prescription eyeglasses through clinics world-wide. Can you imagine the joy of giving someone the gift of sight?

I just rummaged through a dresser drawer and found four eyeglasses that I can donate to the Faribault Lions Club on Sunday.

The prescription eyeglasses I'm donating.

Faribault Lions have also connected with the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault, supporting numerous projects there, including an apartment to teach independent living skills.

My community is home to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, perhaps another reason local Lions take such a strong interest in helping those who are hearing impaired.

I am among those with a hearing impairment having lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear last March in an episode defined as “sudden sensory hearing loss.” (Click here to read about that.) Unfortunately, a hearing aid will not help with this type of near-deafness.

But for most who suffer from a hearing impairment, a hearing aid will help. The Lions are committed to collecting used hearing aids for distribution to those in need. Can you imagine the joy of giving the gift of hearing?

It’s impressive, isn’t it, how so many worthy causes have evolved from two powerful words: “We serve.”

FYI: The Faribault Lions Club Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast will be held from 7:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, February 5, at the Eagles Club, 2027 Grant Street Northwest. Cost is $6 for adults and $4 for those 12 and under.

The Lions are also selling Super Bowl snacks—8-ounce packages of nuts for $5 – $6—to raise monies for their Backpack Blessings Program which provides local children in need with food for the weekends.

It should not go without stating here that many local businesses and volunteers (within and outside of the Faribault Lions Club) contribute to the annual Super Bowl breakfast.

Bring your used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids, your money and your appetite on Sunday to participate in the “We serve” endeavor.

Click here to learn more about the Faribault Lions Club.

© 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


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