Sound of Silence

The healing has moved fast. In fact, I’m back to work, I’ve returned to climbing, training, and this past weekend I went soloing for the first time since the accident. Below is some writing from the recovery period that explores some of the unexpected quirks of hearing loss and equilibrium.

The Sound of Silence:

My perceptions have changed.Not in a smug college-freshman-who-just-discovered-Kafka sort of way, but in a more nuts-and-bolts sort of way. My inputs have been limited and altered. Less like your brain at Burning Man on LSD, more like when your laptop looses half of its screen after you attempt to feed it a shot of scotch down the wrong pipe.

Now I’d like to ask everyone to please observe a moment of silence for that scotch. It shall be missed.

The laptop you ask? To hell with it, got what it deserved if you ask me. Damned lightweight can’t handle it’s liquor. Macs are cool, but apparently they’re not that cool.

I searched for “Mac Whiskey” and apparently this happens more often than expected

To be more specific, I’ve lost the hearing out of my left ear, and with it my sense of equilibrium. I‘m not sure which is more annoying: The loss of hearing, or the fact that it’s been replaced by an incessant ringing. As far as the equilibrium goes, for the first couple of nights in the ICU, I felt like I’d been tossed inside a home-depot paint-shaker every time I closed my eyes. I must note that it’s a bit tough to go to sleep with that sensation, so I opened them again. Close, open, close, open…. Every time the world stopped spinning I’d try closing them again until finally the hospital bed stayed beneath me where it belonged and I was able to catch some sleep. My equilibrium has been re-programming rapidly. I was able to walk out of the hospital.

Your sense of equilibrium is comprised of three sources: Tactile, Visual, and the actual sensory receptors of the inner ear. I can feel gravity’s pull through my hands and feet; I can’t naturally sense it’s pull from the inner ear; so when I closed my eyes the input went from 2/3 correct (manageable) to 1/3 correct and the world spun. No big deal, ultimately I just have to reprogram the cerebellum to keep me upright using only tactile senses and visual input. It’s already starting to work, I was walking before I left the hospital.

In the ICU I slept like a dead thing; after years of insomnia that felt wonderful, but it was short lived. The morphine drip probably had something to do with that, a hefty dose of fukitol will put anybody out, even me. Two nights later I was back to my usual cycles of sleeplessness, even through the pain medications.


Since I’m stuck hearing in mono, that means I can’t hear what directions sounds are coming from. In the warehouse at work if someone shouts my name from a distance, I’ve found it’s better just to remain standing in place rather than look for them… otherwise we end up circling around like we’re both lost. Granted… we are, but that’s beside the point. Nobody cares if you are lost, just if you look lost.

One delightful chain-reaction clusterfuck came as some friends and I were departing dinner. Just to be friendly one of them honked her horn to say “goodbye.” It damn near scared the piss out of me; I couldn’t tell what it was or where it was so I spun in a full 360° circle. Upon seeing Lisa waving at me from her car I figured the whole thing out in time to rase my arm, wave my hand, and perform a backflip over a parked Honda Civic. Turns out my equilibrium wasn’t ready to handle a 360 yet, so I bounced off of stationary objects until I finally quit trying to move and just relaxed.

The final and peculiar affect this has had on me is an odd quirk… I’ve got 28 years of experience telling my brain that the sound of a human should come from the same direction as the visual of that human, so when it doesn’t (which is all the time now) my brain pretends really hard that none of this is really happening. If a waitress comes up on my left side I usually don’t realize it until the third, rather testy, “excuse me SIR?” Whether this happens before or AFTER they’ve explained the daily specials depends on a confluence of factors best determined by cross-referencing the relative position of the planets (excluding pluto, of course. We’re being scientific.) and a Ouija Board.

 

 
So I’m constantly learning how to walk again, and any time my thoughts wander my direction of travel wanders as well. It’s fine, I’ll get there eventually. This is most pronounced in the morning when I’m dehydrated from not drinking fluids during my daily 10 hour faceplant (I don’t actually sleep, I just perform a faceplant and pretend really hard). Usually in the morning I stagger out of the house like a college freshman staggering forth from a frat-party with the smug wiped off his face by a hangover. Kafka won’t help you now, will he? Orange juice on the other hand works wonders. On a related note, given that I wake up every morning more-or-less with a hangover, adding alcohol to that just makes it even worse. Apparently my laptop handles its liquor better than I do at this point, but I’m not really keeping score… We’re both just lucky to be alive.

So things are a bit lonely inside my head these days, I miss a lot of what’s happening in group conversations due to the hearing and the extra vigilance required to avoid walking into a doorway (instead of through it like you’re supposed to). If we’re one-on-one I do well enough, but lacking the ability to hear in stereo has made it significantly more difficult to manage multiple streams of audio at once. I’m figuring it out day by day though, and it’s not as bad as it was initially. The effort of re-learning how to walk, and the stress of managing to hear all of you from limited inputs is exhausting. But there is one nice thing: If I need to recuperate a little I can hear the sound of silence any time I want; All I have to do is focus my attention a little to the left, where it’s ringing loud and clear.

PS: Speaking of figuring things out, deciding when to solo a given route… Those calculations involve planetary charts WITH pluto. Obviously.

PPS: In social gatherings, can we make sure to sit all the assholes on my left? That’d be greaaat. Thanks.

Where’ve you been?

How’ve you been man?” Fucking Terrible. I mean, I almost died. What were you expecting? Sunshine and roses? Lets start over.

“How’s it going man!” Fucking fantastic! No seriously, it’s going fantastic… I’m not stored underground in a pine-box, I can pee by myself, and I claweded my way to the chains on “Rage” (5.12+) with only three takes this weekend! Although… upon reflection I have to admit, the pine box would’ve been significantly easier to afford. #ImNotBitter….. 

  

“Where the hell have you been man!?” Now that’s an interesting question, and it has no short answer, but I’ll try: Yosemite, Dead, Texas, Mississippi, Not Dead, Georgia, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and The Obed. Not bad for two months…. 

I haven’t written much lately. Or at least not anything worthwhile, I mean sure there were a couple knee-jerk posts that roughly amounted to mind-vomit while my brain attempted to clean itself out by purging the effects of its concussion and head trauma, but nothing I’ll really look back on with pride. The thing is that writing anything worthwhile requires a great deal of thought, and lately thought has been an uncomfortable activity for me. Firstly it’s been uncomfortable because thinking had become very difficult, head trauma will do that. Secondly thinking has become uncomfortable because of the thoughts which tend to surface while I think. When thinking is difficult, it takes a certain amount of extra effort to process your thoughts and string them together. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard not to notice, and so I wind up thinking about how hard it is to think, and then think thoughts like “I wonder how bad the brain damage is?” or “am I going to be stuck like this till I die?” 

Those are really uncomfortable thoughts. 

Additionally, I had essentially lost my ability to run on auto-pilot for a some time. Every action required deliberate thought . So I started thinking… worst case scenario, what do I do? If I will be stuck like this for the rest of my life, then what? Get on with it, that’s what. Fuck that, I’ve got shit to do. If the mind is slower, I just need to try harder. Begin with the basics. I began remembering all the meditative practices I’d read about and started to employ them on a daily basis in the moment. I had to, it was the only way I could string sentences together. Meditation, in essence, is simply bringing your mind to bear on a single input. But even so, all that thinking required throughout the day gave me little leftover energy for writing.

And no, I’m still not particularly adept at sitting down on a cushion and chanting “Om.” I’m distractable.

Thanks to the concussion, I’m deaf in my left ear so I’ve got fewer inputs to worry about. And more than that, thinking had become difficult to the point where processing multiple streams of information was too much to bother with. Dealing with groups of people was, to say the least, interesting. Single-pointed awareness was the only thing I had for a while, and so I brought it to bear on every situation I faced. I didn’t need to build a new habit of focused awareness, because my mind had been forced into a state of simplicity. Grabbing a coffee cup? No auto-pilot available? Great, so I pour thought into my head to think out where the cup is, coordinate my arm and fingers, and hope that my hands don’t drop the damn thing this time. The hope I was working on was to deliberately enter into challenging situations that required me to think hard to maintain control of my mind and body, perhaps that way I could regain my abilities by retraining good habits? 

It worked. I’ve re-built a lot of my auto-pilot now.And I can almost walk straight, even if my limp is a bit more pronounced these days. And for that matter, I can’t seem to decide which leg to limp on anymore…

so at least my walking hasn’t gotten any worse

Emotionally it’s been a roller coaster, but I had the opportunity to watch myself freak-out as if it were in third person so it hurt less than it would have otherwise. I’ve been injured and recovered before, so I had a good idea what was around the corner. It’s hard to be surprised when you know what’s coming. Been there, done that, it’s old hat now. Except for those times when something new and surprising came along and threw me out down the rabit hole. Thanks for the support, I needed it.

 And then, finally, my brain started showing signs of improvement, but thankfully the habit of awareness has remained. As far as my mind, the dust is settling, and I think I might wind up better off than I ever was in that regard. This habit of awareness during day-to-day interactions and actions is something I’ve tried to develop unsuccessfully for over a decade now. Turns out all I needed was an appropriate amount head trauma to knock some sense into me. Who knew it would be that simple? Hopefully I can make it stick.

PS: Actually, for the first time in known history I managed to onsight the approach trail to a new crag this weekend. I might actually be walking straighter now! I didn’t fall over even once!

PPS: I tried writing again last week as well, and it came out to over 5,000 words, and that’s so long I didn’t even want to read it, so I’m pulling the pertinent bits out for several separate posts. The mind is clearer now, and I’ll post more as it comes, but I’m not holding myself to any sort of schedule.