Well, if that subject header made you think I was retiring, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that. But it’s time I talked about something I’ve dealt with since April, 2009.

Yes. That long ago.

I had written about the incident then, but hadn’t really discussed what happened next because, well … because talking about one’s hearing when in the music business can be a bit tricky. People will make assumptions once they know someone is dealing with a hearing issue.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning.

On April 23, 2009 I had vertigo, which was something I’d not experienced before. I remember telling our conductor that I was feeling a bit dizzy, just to warn him that I was sort of “off”. On April 26 I had an awful migraine in the morning and then had to play Carmen that afternoon. I get migraines on occasion, and I call them “eargrains” because the tragus of my left ear is so painful to touch and I know that means a migraine is coming on.

But on April 29 I had a horrible experience. I had vertigo, and a headache that actually caused me to cry and worried Dan so much he asked if he should call an ambulance. I couldn’t stand or I’d throw up. And I had opera in two hours. (Fortunately I was able to call my wonderful sub and he came in for that performance.) I was a mess, and the next morning ended up going to the doctor. She said she thought it was labyrinthitis, sent me home after doing some tests to make sure it wasn’t something worse, and I waited it out.

It did pass. I felt better. But then I had tinnitus in my left ear. It was pretty awful and I went to see an otologist. It turned out that not only did I have tinnitus, but I also suffered hearing loss. It wasn’t horrendous, but it was still troublesome.

Fast forward some years (and more migraines) later. I returned to have another hearing test and my hearing had deteriorated enough to qualify for a hearing aid. It was a tremendous help at parties and restaurants: the hearing had gotten to a point where I just withdrew at noisy events because I couldn’t hear. The funny thing was I was MOST comfortable in the orchestra: I didn’t notice the tinnitus, and I didn’t feel the hearing loss caused any problems with my playing. The majority of my colleagues didn’t even know I had the hearing loss problem (I didn’t wear the hearing aid at work because the sound was so darn tinny).

About a year or so ago I went in for a new hearing aid. I’d been neglecting wearing the old one a large part of the time. My audiologist said that was a mistake — the ear can just shut down eventually if it’s not working. But oh this new hearing aid was a life changer! I could wear it at work. The sound was marvelous. I was overjoyed. And I nearly felt normal. Still, very few in the orchestras knew about my situation: I was still not ready for the looks, the possible judgments on my playing if I was out of tune … that sort of thing.

Again we fast forward to a week before our huge trip this past summer (so mid-June). Dan and I were walking downtown and I told him I felt like my head was in a bubble or something. He suggested perhaps I had a clogged ear. I tried to get the wax out using the drops one can buy. No change. In addition my hearing aid seemed broken … until I held it up to my right ear and realized it was working just fine. So I made an appointment to see a doctor. She took one look in my ear and said it was as clean as can be. NO wax. So off to get a hearing test I went.

Profound hearing loss in the left ear. Sigh. When the speech recognition bit was done I simply couldn’t understand anything! It was all distortion and ugly sounds. The doctor suggested prednisone and, thankfully, said I could travel. My hearing aid was useless, so while I brought it with me on the trip, hoping the ear would somehow heal itself, I never could put it to use.

I thought my career was over.

I have always said “I am not my oboe,” and I still believe that to be true. I still, though, hoped to play a bit more. One possible goal was to play through the 2025/26 season so I could say I’d been with symphony for 50 years. Could that still happen?

Yes. No. I don’t know!

What I do know is I played last week and if people are being honest I was fine. I use an earplug in my left ear the entire time to avoid distortion. I use the right earplug when everything is tremendously loud (I do NOT want to sacrifice that ear!). So I am taking one day at a time and we’ll see what happens.

Oh, and if you are wondering, the damage was NOT caused by loud sounds. The doctor made that very clear. It was the migraine, most likely. Did you know migraines can result in hearing loss? Now you do.

So that’s my story. And I’m ready to go public with it because it helps people understand why I might not respond if they are to the left of me. I am going public because I think people should know that music really can continue even with hearing loss. I’m going public because, despite my loss being caused by something other than loud sounds, I hope my colleagues and students will wear earplugs when they are able since we all know that loud sounds CAN certain cause hearing loss. I’m going public because it is my way of processing this loss.

I’m writing this quickly, and odds are I’ll go back and edit on occasion, but I just wanted to finally get this out there for all to read.