Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hearing Around Corners

Recently, I was in to see Dr. Marlan, an ENT doctor, about my left ear which wouldn’t “clear.” No pain, no ringing – just this sense that I couldn’t get it to fully open up. Ordinarily I would have ignored something like this – why take up the doctor’s valuable time with something that isn’t really causing me any discomfort – translate, it’s not making me crabby! Nonetheless, with a scuba diving trip looming in a few weeks, I wanted to make sure that I was on top of this problem before dropping to the ocean floor.

A surprise part of this appointment was a very thorough exam by an audiologist. He placed me in a small room with headphones on while from another room, he spoke a series of words – first single syllable and then multi-syllabic - which I repeated if I heard the word. “Cat. Rain. Coat. Baseball. Doormat. Coat rack.” His voice became increasingly quieter until I wasn’t sure if I was “hearing things” or not. The word recognition test was followed by what I will call the “bird song” test. With a set of earphones on, all sound was blocked in one ear while a tone or note was transmitted to the other ear. These sounds began in the middle range and then moved up and down the scale. After both ears were tested in this fashion, “white noise” was played into the non tested ear, and the tone test repeated.

I am a pretty competitive person so you may know I tried my darndest to hear every word and note. This facet of my personality merits mentioning because I think it fair to say I put more effort into this “test” than I normally might do when someone is talking to me about something I am only mildly interested in. Not long after the hearing test is completed I am ushered into an office to meet with Dr. Marlan. Admittedly, I am far more interested in the results of this recent test than I am in the matter I came in for. And, the doctor didn’t disappoint me.

“You have amazing hearing! Don’t let anyone sell you hearing aids! You’ll never need them!” I drive home from the appointment in a self-satisfied fog, remembering one of the “family jokes” of my childhood that didn’t make much sense to me at the time. Mother had “suggested” that our father get his hearing checked. At the time, I didn't know why she might have thought this was necessary but now, from the vantage point of being married to a man approaching seventy, her motivation is crystal clear.

“The doctor says I can hear around corners.” was the report dad delivered, following this appointment. Everyone laughed, including me, but like other family jokes, I laughed because I realized that it must be funny, even though I “didn’t get it.” In reflection, there are a lot of family jokes I didn’t get – literal children rarely do. Surely everyone can hear around corners. Maybe the doctor said dad could “see around corners”; now that would be something worth bragging about. I could easily accept that my dad could see through walls – after all, I had pretty credible evidence that my mother had eyes in the back of her head.

My husband Fred now wears aids in both ears, after fully utilizing the “seven years of denial” that apparently is typical for men with hearing loss. Once more, it is fun visit with him over dinner or in the car. For several years, I just quit telling him things as it was way too tedious to repeat all of the salient aspects of the conversation.

Of course, no hearing aid has yet been invented to cure SSD - selective spousal deafness. “Who did you say was coming for dinner? Where did you say my sunglasses were? We are going to what concert tonight? Why didn’t you tell me? You never asked me to clean out the litter box!” The list goes on. Still and all, on most other matters, normal conversation has pretty much been restored and we are both grateful for that. True, I don’t try to talk to him when he is in another room because, well, it wouldn’t be fair. Even with hearing aids, he can’t “hear around corners!”

Well, evidently I can and, you know what? I think I finally “get it!”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Certain Smugness

There is nothing like getting something done that I have been putting off forever to make me feel smug. Over the weekend I found myself engaged in two such projects and I am currently feeling so pious, that canonization surely can’t be far off.

They were both house cleaning chores that had been on my mental “to do” list for quite some time but finally made it on to the “to do or die” list. Without the final permanent black ink status that only a sharpie can deliver, some things will never get checked off. By Friday afternoon, it was clearly “now or never” with the upstairs bathroom and shower so, with the promise of a movie and dinner out when I finished, I launched my assault. Armed with bleach, glass cleaner, sponges, rags and a toothbrush, I took off my shoes, rolled up my jeans and climbed into the tub.

The first area to take a hit was the tile that forms three sides of the shower stall and had taken on a patina the color of “Tang”. A liberal application of bleach/water mix from the spray bottle, followed by a scrub with an old towel, and voila! The tile returned to its original gleaming white. From there I moved on to the shelves at the back of the shower that hold the miscellany that we seem to think necessary – shampoo and conditioner, body scrub and body butter, a soupy soap dish, and plant fertilizer! (Talk to the orchid guy!)

First to go were the partially full bottles of shampoo and conditioner that had been abandoned for newer offerings, each promising miracles of thickness or sheen, as yet unrealized. Next, an assortment of brushes and exfoliating sponges that had either lost too many bristles to be effective or were simply too gross to hold on to. All were tossed into the wastebasket for final deportation. By the way, the best use I know of for one of those exfoliating scrubbers as a vegetable brush. Warning: One time a houseguest finding such a scrubber by the kitchen sink, took it with her into the shower and more likely than not exfoliated potato skins!

An old toothbrush is the very best tool for this type of cleanup. Grimy grout and pesky accumulations of crud around the faucet are a thing of the past, once I zero in on them with my trusty toothbrush and spray bottle of bleach! By the time I finished the tub and cleaned the sliding glass door, I was soaked. But what a satisfying sensation knowing that the shower and I were both “clean and sober and mildew free!”

This is a chore that I suspect most people simply attend to while they are in the process of taking a shower. Actually, I have considered it myself but in all honesty I rarely if ever jump into the shower when I don’t have to be dressed and out the door fifteen minutes later. So, as temptingly efficient as it sounds, it has never worked out for me.

The self satisfied glow that descended upon me after Friday’s foray prompted me to head back upstairs on Sunday afternoon and tackle the shelves and drawers in our bedroom. Coincidentally, my timing managed to line up with the Superbowl kickoff. I had been making excuses to avoid this project for weeks. And really, the kind of time I normally spend in the bedroom is not necessarily conducive to cleaning. I am either getting undressed and ready for bed or getting dressed and going somewhere; as long as I could find what I was looking for, the jumbled drawers and disorganized shelves remained unscathed.

One shelf at a time, everything came off and went onto the bed. Once the shelf was vacuumed and wiped off, the sorting began. Too old, too worn, too small, too” not me” – these things all had to go. Actually, I hold onto a lot of old stuff; I pretty much like what I have and rarely buy replacements. At some point, however, this loyalty must give way to at least a modicum of standards. A comfy flannel shirt or an old pair of sweats is one thing; ancient underwear is quite another matter. Gray and frayed undershirts go into rag bag, after ripping them down the middle, so they can’t weasel their way back onto the shelf. Stretched and stained undies go directly into the trash! Like others of my generation, I live in mortal fear of finding myself on a gurney at the hospital, wearing ratty underwear and being visited by the ghost of my mother. She looks down on me, shakes her head. “Didn’t I tell you this is what would happen?”

Fred’s t-shirt drawer is an ongoing challenge. It won’t shut! I swear that those shirts must duplicate themselves by some sort of knit cell division. I have to proceed with caution and a measure of respect as most of these shirts are souvenirs of his many adventures, picturing fish and coral reefs, or iconic climbing rocks and mountain ranges; others are gifts from friends with references to dogs and beer or political commentary that often challenges my commitment to free speech. Dealing with the drawer requires just the right mix of diplomacy and deception.

Despite the fact that the drawer holds over sixty shirts, there are only about six that are worn on a regular basis. A less experienced “purger” might just toss the old shirts and assume that those remaining would become the new favorites. That approach is not only na├»ve but will lead to a counterproductive contretemps with the shirt owner. “Leave no trace” is the motto I have co-opted. A few of the favorites must remain in the drawer to insure the success of the enterprise. Though I am not above “encouraging” an incipient tear, I remind myself that the primary goal is not to set a new sartorial standard but rather to reduce the number so that the drawer will shut. Consequently, most of the shirts that end up in Goodwill bag are the ones from the bottom of the drawer. Many have never been worn and probably won’t be missed. A few of the favorites I place on the top with the oldest at the bottom where ultimately, they may be forgotten.

Before I left the job site on Sunday, I sorted and reorganized my jewelry drawer; refolded my scarves and handkerchiefs – yes, I still use those relics of a bygone time, and reduced our combined sock collection by about a third. Unless I am vigilant, the “clutter creep” will commence again and before I know it, the present orderliness will be but a dim memory. But for now, I am still feeling smug. Stop by to see me and I will invite you to come upstairs and see my drawers!