One year on… My thoughts on my sudden hearing loss

It is one year since the day in the auditorium when I suddenly lost the hearing in my left ear. It has been a year spent attending appointments with various specialists, a year of being observed and tested, and a year of taking different medicines and trying hearing aids. I spent almost a year without working; trudging slowly through my days, with the feeling of frustration weighing heavily down on me. A year has passed and there have been no answers, and no improvement in my ability to hear. It has been a year that has damaged my confidence. A year that has chipped away at me; with every hurdle and setback diminishing my character. Yet it has also been a year of building myself up; grasping at ways to find strength through my adversity.

It still feels very recent. I still wake up every morning to the realization that I can no longer hear in my left ear. A part of me continues to cling on to the tiniest of hopes that one day I will miraculously wake up with the full ability to hear; that my hearing will re-emerge as quickly and as spontaneously as it disappeared. This hope is an inherent part of me that I’m unable to control or even want to suppress. Yet, this doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted the reality of my situation.

In addition to becoming deaf in my left ear, I have been left with: tinnitus, a sensitivity to loud noises, the inability to identify where sounds are coming from, and difficulty hearing in background noise. Yet worst of all, there is a relentless feeling of pressure I feel in both ears, though more so in my left. It is these other issues that are proving to be more difficult to manage than the hearing loss itself.

Living with hearing loss and associated symptoms poses everyday challenges. Even though I have had no actual improvement in my symptoms, I have a better understanding of my hearing loss. I am improving my coping techniques every day; achieving small triumphs that feel like fairy steps of success. Notably, the discomfort I used to feel when this first happened, when going outside my apartment into a world of noise, has now become a habitual sensation. Although it is very present, it is something I rarely think about; an unpleasantness that has now been forced to the background of my focus. Loud noises are still painful. The sound of emergency vehicle sirens, motorbike exhaust pipes, and the clattering of dishes, all cause me physical pain deep inside my ears. But I have also discovered some noises that bring me comfort. The sound of a gentle river, the wind brushing past tree branches, and rustling leaves force my mind from giving attention to any unwelcome sounds of tinnitus. I have found that wearing headphones helps to block out the noise of the Metro and noise associated with trains and public transport. For short periods of time I am now able to listen to my IPod through my headphones, and can enjoy music and listen to storytelling podcasts; this is something I thought I would no longer be able to find pleasure in, due to my sensitivity to noise. I have developed my understanding of practices that can affect my condition. I now realise that if I drink alcohol, eat something with a high salt content, or if I don’t sleep well, my tinnitus will be stronger. The presence of loud tinnitus and tiredness, in turn, means I will find it difficult to concentrate well on hearing tasks. Socializing can be demanding amongst background noise. In restaurants and bars I have learnt to sit in a corner, or with my deaf ear against a wall and my hearing ear facing the person I am speaking to, in order to have some chance at hearing them in conversation. I have learnt that it is only possible to concentrate on listening to one person at a time. I have also learnt that with large groups of people and circular tables comes a lot of frustration!

It has been a year of firsts. There was my first run since my hearing loss, where I started to feel so much stronger, and more ‘myself’. There was my first train journey, where I watched the beautiful countryside through the train windows, with the sun on my face, and when I felt so happy to be listening to music through my headphones; thankful for the hearing I had left. There was my first time in a restaurant since my hearing loss, which taught me so much about the importance of selecting a table wisely.

It has been a year of being proactive; writing articles for hearing loss websites, and getting involved in fundraising campaigns for deaf charities.

It has been a year of ‘silly deaf moments’ and mishearing words: sitting with my boyfriend on a terrace and mishearing him say the word ‘parmesan’, and instead hearing ‘lederhosen’, and wondering why my boyfriend would want such a thing sprinkled on spaghetti!

It has been a year of feeling vulnerable. When I’m on my own in everyday places and situations, such as the supermarket or walking down the street, I worry about strangers talking to me, and not being able to hear them, or even worse failing to acknowledge them; if they have addressed me on my deaf side. I worry about cars pulling out of parking spaces, and not registering them until they are moving towards to me. I worry about crossing the road and hearing the siren of an ambulance, and not knowing which direction to move out of the way.

It has been a year of frustration. I am frustrated in train stations and airports where I can’t hear the Public Address systems clearly. I become frustrated with bars that play their music loud, or that are bustling with chatter too loud for me to tolerate. I am frustrated at people who speak in mumbled words, or who turn their head away from me during conversation; meaning I am unable to hear parts of what has been said. I am frustrated at feeling like a burden with every time I have to ask someone to repeat themselves. I am sad that I am now unable to continue my career as a teacher in a lively classroom. Yet I am proud of myself for returning to work in a less demanding role, which in actuality is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I still feel upset with myself when I struggle in conversation. It’s tiring trying to listen to conversation or to communicate for long periods of time. It’s tiring to be around noise. I am tired a lot of the time from trying to listen. I feel frustration in learning simple things again, such as keeping my balance whilst walking downhill. I feel frustration at there being so many questions that doctors don’t know the answers to. What caused my hearing loss? Is this going to happen to my right ear as well? Why do I often feel dizzy when I’m walking, yet rarely when I am running? Why does shopping centre lighting, stormy weather, and crowds of people, cause me to feel dizzy?

It has been a difficult year also for the people closest to me. I know it is hard for people to know what to say to comfort someone who is not ‘getting better’. I know it is difficult to know how to help. My friends and family have lived through this with me and have shown me overwhelming support. But, it is my boyfriend who has lived the experience closest to mine, and who has felt not only the frustration that I have, but has also learnt with me how to deal with my hearing loss. The unfaltering support, patience and care he has shown me, and continues to do so has undoubtedly given me strength to deal with the new challenges I now face.

This year has been difficult. Yet this year has had a huge impact on my personality, where my priorities now lie, and the way I view my life. I am stronger as a result of this year. It is also because of this year that I have realized the enjoyment I have in communicating through writing. By recording my experiences and thoughts in my blog, I have made sense of my feelings and gained strength. I hope also to have given others an insight into my world, and some of the difficulties experienced by someone with hearing loss.  Writing is a pleasure; one which I can thank that day in the auditorium for the moment the world to the left of me abruptly fell into silence.

Advertisements

A meeting with the white rabbit

I was sitting opposite her, at her desk. The tip of her nose was a smudgy black, and the area between her nose and top lip was a thick oily white, with a modest covering of black whiskers. She looked at me through her thin, black rimmed glasses. When she stood up to make me a cup of tea, I noticed a cotton wool pom-pom tail attached to her lower back…

It had been 8 months since I had lost the hearing in my left ear. It had been 8 months since I had been living with tinnitus, dizziness, a sensitivity to loud noises, and the relentless pressure in my ears. It was almost 8 months since I had last carried out a day’s work. My headteacher had asked me to come to the school to attend a meeting with her. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what the outcome of the meeting was going to be. I couldn’t bear to be around loud noises. Returning to my position as an Early Years teacher – a teacher of 4 year old children – was not a possibility for me at this time. I wondered if there could be any other options for me; any other work in the school that I would be able to do. I wondered if, due to the amount of time I’d been sick, I would be asked to leave.

I arrived at the school on a sunny Monday morning. As I pushed open the stubborn metal gate, I was filled with apprehension and nervousness. I could hear children playing on the other side of the gate. As I walked into the small patio situated in front of the school, I was immediately struck by a magnitude of colour. The children weren’t wearing their usual dark blue uniforms or stripy blue smocks, but instead they were all dressed in fancy dress costumes. It was Book Day in school. There were children dressed as Mr Men characters, The Very hungry Caterpillar, Dr Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Two, and animals, pirates and princesses. One of my colleagues promptly came to give me an all encompassing hug. This alerted the children to look my way, and when they realised it was me, a large group of children, all of whom I had taught the previous year, ran to me and hugged me from all directions. They were chatting to me excitedly; asking me lots of questions, showing me their costumes, and screaming with excitement. My ears were hurting from the noise. I wasn’t able to focus on any of the children’s words. However, it was wonderful to see them, and to be surrounded by the energy of young children again. I stayed for a few minutes on the patio, soaking up the excitement, and receiving more hugs from children and members of staff. I had been working in this school for three years. It was a small nursery and infants school, and I had made close connections with many of the staff members, and of course, with the children. It felt so nice to be immersed again in this vibrant world. It felt so nice to absorb a little of what to me, was my former ‘normality’. I missed working as a teacher. I missed my days of creativity. I even missed the absolute exhaustion I used to feel at the end of the school day; knowing I’d applied all my energy to give my pupils the best possible start to their education I could offer.

I entered the headteachers office. She was dressed as the white rabbit from Alice In Wonderland. She stood up from behind her desk, and as she gave me a hug. I momentarily became aware of the humour in the situation. The irony that such an important meeting, one that could possibly affect my future work opportunities in this school, would be between me and the white rabbit. It was bizarre and felt somewhat surreal. This is the nature of working in an infant school! She asked how I was doing. She told me that because I was good at my job, she didn’t want to lose me. I hadn’t prepared for this kind of compliment, and the weight of it triggered my emotions. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, but refused to release them; breathing deeply and wiping away any evidence of my weakened character. The past 8 months had been difficult, and my confidence was drained. She asked me how I thought I would cope as a teacher, in a busy classroom. I was honest with her, and told her I would find it extremely difficult. She said she didn’t want to set me up for failure. She then went on to suggest some other possible roles for me. There was a language school that was owned by the same company as my current school, where I could possibly work; teaching small groups of adults. There was also a possibility of working with older children. However, these didn’t seem like favourable options. My teaching background was firmly rooted in Early Years education, and it was with this age-range where my teaching passion lay. We discussed other options, and came to the conclusion that working with small groups of children, away from the noise of the classroom, would be a role that could offer me the best chance of success.

After over an hour of talking about my options, my headteacher told me that she could offer me a position as a teaching assistant. It would include some time in the classroom as well as time working away from the classroom; with small groups of children who needed extra support in Literacy and Maths, and in learning English. I had an interest in working with intervention groups, and in Special Needs education. I also had experience in these areas. This role would be a way of seeing how I would cope in a classroom. I wouldn’t be letting people down or feeling guilty if I had to leave the position, as I wouldn’t be responsible for a whole class. I would earn just over a third of my wage as a full time teacher, but this was an opportunity for me to discover my potential and also recognise my limitations, whilst doing so in a familiar environment.

It has been nearly 3 months since my meeting with the white rabbit. I returned to work for the month of June. It was difficult. It was an experience that proved to be challenging and demanding on my diminished confidence, and hearing. My ears were painful at the end of the day, and on returning home each day I savoured times of quietness. But I completed the month, and am proud of what I achieved. I will be returning to the school after the summer to start the new school year in my new role as a teaching assistant.

I am now enjoying my summer holidays; feeling like I earned them, and am now up to date with my story 🙂

The Liebster Award!

 

images

Hello. Thank you so much to Chinedu Victor at victorfitnessblog.com for my nomination for the Liebster Award! This award is all about getting to know other bloggers. Chinedu is a Nigerian medical student who lives in Russia. He writes information about ways of being healthy. He writes about about fitness and health; from personal experiences, medical knowledge and personal research. Please check out his blog at: victorfitnessblog.com.

 

The rules for the Liebster Award:

  1. Acknowledge the blog that nominated you and display the award
  2. Give 11 random facts about yourself
  3. Nominate 11 blogs
  4. Notify them of the nomination
  5. Give them 11 questions to answer

 

Facts about me (Sorry if some of these are repeated from my other awards)

  1. I love waking up to a sunny day 🙂
  2. I don’t like to be in a rush, especially when traveling or on a day off.
  3. I am learning Spanish (slowly!)
  4. I enjoy eating outside, especially breakfast.
  5. I haven’t eaten meat since January.
  6. I enjoy running, and am thinking of doing a half Marathon soon.
  7. I enjoy walking in the countryside and in the mountains.
  8. I love spending ‘quality’ time with my boyfriend – I’m always making plans for us to go on trips in our spare time, or go out for a drink/food after work during the week.
  9. I like to watch films that are based on true stories.
  10. I live in Madrid.
  11. I am currently in England, staying with my sister and her boyfriend for a few weeks – my two favourite people (as well as my boyfriend of course!)

 

My answers to questions from Chinedu Victor:

  1. What does life mean to you?

This is a deep question, and I’m not really sure how to answer it! Life can be good and also difficult. I try to do things every day that make me happy. I worry about wasting my free time, and so always like to be busy during the weekends, and during my holidays.

  1. What would you enjoy doing 7 days a week?

I would like to be my own boss. I would enjoy doing something creative, and something that means I need to spend parts of my days outside.

  1. What’s your birthday date?

7th April

  1. Have you ever had a near death experience? If yes pls brief us about it

No, although I had an operation when I was 4.

  1. Your favourite quote is ?

A day without a smile is a day wasted (Charlie Chaplin)

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?

India to travel.

  1. What’s your dream house?

One day I would like to live in a house with a garden or some land – actually any outdoor space would be nice 🙂 I’d like to grow fruit and vegetables. I wouldn’t like to live too far from a main town/city though, as I enjoy visiting galleries and exhibitions.

  1. Most embarrassing moment

I’m not telling!

  1. Your biggest fear?

Dying

  1. Any regret? If yes what ?

No regrets.

  1. Who’s your favourite author or speaker, maybe both?.

I like F Scott Fitzgerald for his descriptive style. I also like Charles Dickens and Stephen King because I think they are great storytellers. Danny Wallace makes me laugh.

I don’t read much anymore, and this is something I’d like to get back into.

 

My nominees for the Liebster Award are

  1. Picnicwithants.wordpress.com
  2. The Cvillean
  3. Pinkfordays.wordpress.com
  4. www.xunniemarie.com
  5. adamantiumjoy.com
  6. aishwaryasivakumar
  7. rabbitpatchdiarycom
  8. Bluefish Way
  9. a cooking pot and twisted tales
  10. Bold Blind Beauty
  11. roundtriptravel

 

Now my questions for my nominees:

  1. Where do you live?
  2. What is the most delicious food you have ever eaten?
  3. What do you like to do in your free time?
  4. Three things you can’t live without…
  5. What is your guiltiest pleasure?
  6. Describe yourself in three words.
  7. What single quality do you most appreciate in people?
  8. Say something nice about yourself…
  9. Why did you start blogging?
  10. Something that makes you laugh?
  11. Something you want to achieve or do in the next 5 years.

For those of you who I have nominated, please don’t feel like you have to complete this award – these things can take a long time! If you have time, then great. If you don’t, then no worries! I just wanted you all to know that I think you are wonderful 🙂

Carly

More alternative therapy: Part 2 – A scattering of needles

…As soon as he entered the room, the practitioner began to work on my neck. It felt like he was using his fists; starting from my collar bone and then rubbing them up my neck with vigorous force. My skin began to burn from the friction, and the procedure felt like it would have been more relaxing and pleasant, had it been performed with massage oil. After about 10 minutes of the neck burning massage, the practitioner began to slowly push down on my head, encouraging it to bend towards each shoulder. I couldn’t believe how far I was able to stretch. It was as though the stinging massage had loosened all the tension in my neck.

The practitioner then walked away from the massage table and when he reapproached I could see him putting on some blue latex surgical gloves. He asked me to open my mouth. He then inserted his index finger inside my mouth and started to press gently inside my cheek. His thumb pressed lightly through the outside of my cheek, so that it met with his index finger. He massaged using a pressing motion, and in small circular movements. He mumbled something about the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This massage lasted a few minutes and was repeated on the other side of my face.

Again the practitioner moved away from where I was lying. This time he exited the room. After a few minutes he returned, and whilst leaning over me he announced, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Acupuncture”. Oh, I wasn’t expecting that! I had never had acupuncture before. I asked if it was going to hurt. He assured me that it wouldn’t. He swiftly placed the needles in different points around my jaw, forehead, and the top of my head and my collarbone. The needles felt like they were being elegantly scattered in to place. The majority of the needles glided into my skin, with ease, and caused only a slight sensation of my skin being pricked. But, the insertion of a needle in the part of my jaw below my ear, where it forms an angle to make my chin, caused immediate and intense pain. A tender soreness radiated deep into my jaw. I was in pain, I exclaimed, and alerted the practitioner to the offending needle. He responded saying, “Oh, yes that one will hurt!” I was asked to continue to lie still for 20 minutes. I heard the sound of the door close as the practitioner left the room, and I was left listening to the soft jazz and wondering how many needles were in my face, and what I looked like.

After about 10 minutes a woman, who I hadn’t yet met, entered the room. She greeted me with a jolly sounding, “Hola” and told me as she was turning the needles slightly, that she was there to do just that. A few seconds later she left the room. I was again left lying motionless on the massage table, listening to the soft jazz.

Another 10 minutes passed and again the door opened. I could see from my lying position that it was the same woman who had turned the needles, who was now entering the room. She swiftly collected the needles from my face and neck, with the ease in which they had been placed.

This new practitioner was a comical woman. She told me that she was a nutritionist and she spoke to me about my diet. She presented me with a list of suggestions for a healthy diet, that she told me she had spent time translating from Spanish to English, and to excuse any unusual translations; blaming Google Translate for such errors. The focus of the diet was on eliminating animal products, dairy, and sugar. I was amused by the Spanish theme of the diet. I was allowed a typical ‘Spanish breakfast’ consisting of toasted soda bread with crushed tomato and olive oil; this was something I assumed the Spanish clients would refuse to abstain from. Chorizo and sugary products from the Pastelería (bakery) were ‘prohibited’. I started to think about the foods I liked. Hmm, there was no mention of Marmite or PG Tips tea…There was also a list of suggestions for dietary supplements including Vitamin C powder, Omega 3, a B vitamin complex and Magnesium.

Next I was asked again to sit opposite the mirror and she began to explain some exercises, which I would need to carry out three times a day. She laughed each time before beginning her explanation and demonstration. Maybe she was unsure of her translation. Maybe she found it humorous to watch our reflections as we performed the exercises together, which involved contorting our faces into different shapes, putting our tongues in different positions, and making clicking sounds with our tongues on the roof of our mouths.  These exercises I would most definitely be preforming at home, in private!

And so my experience of the craniofacial rehabilitation concluded.  I liked the holistic approach. I would continue to attend appointments every week in the hope that some of the pressure in my ear could be reduced…

More alternative therapy: Part 1 – skin popping included!

My consultation with the maxillofacial doctor, which by this time was 6 weeks previous, had concluded with her recommending some treatments for me to try. One of her recommendations was that I embark upon some craniofacial rehabilitation. This is a form of physiotherapy that can help temporomandibular (TMJ) (jaw joint) disorders, by using a variety of methods; understanding the relationship between the neck and shoulders, and the head and the TMJ.

This would be yet another alternative method I would try, to see if the pressure in my ear could be reduced, by addressing issues with my jaw. At this point in my story I was continuing to see my chiropractor, who was also doing jaw adjustments. I was also wearing my new night guard to help with my teeth clenching and grinding, whilst sleeping. Maybe this new therapy would complement the other things I was trying.

I had come to terms with the fact that the hearing in my left ear wasn’t going to return, and I was developing strategies to manage my life with unilateral hearing. However, I wasn’t prepared to accept that I would have to live the rest of my life with the constant discomfort of the feeling of pressure in my ears. The doctors had been unable to provide me with any medical-based relief, and so there was nothing to lose by seeking alternative help.

I arrived at the clinic on a Tuesday morning in May, and quickly found myself sitting in yet another waiting room. It was early in the day and I was the first person waiting. The clinic had a clean feel to it. There where white walls, and a light coloured wooden floor. In front of where I was sitting was a light wooden coffee table, with a white candle placed in the middle. Also on the table was a small metal tray in which sat an ornament of a Buddha, alongside some incense sticks. On the wall opposite me was a circular logo, with an outline of a head pictured sideways-on. Above the head, were the words ‘Integrative Craniofacial therapy’. To the right of me, hung a small print of one of Picasso’s paintings; adding a slight touch of lively colour to the otherwise sterile-white wall. Around the room were a variety of different sized leafy pot plants; some small, and perched on top of shelves, and some bigger and nestling into the corners of the building. The feeling of serenity was complete when the music speakers were turned on; initiating the low and warm tones of Nina Simone singing jazz, that floated around the clinic.

First I met the main specialist. I immediately recognized him from the website, and I believe it was he who had originally set up the practice. He asked lots of questions. This initial meeting was conducted at swift pace and with seemingly professional efficiency. He asked me questions about my general health, my diet, whether I was stressed, and about my sleeping patterns. He didn’t seem surprised when I told him about my sudden hearing loss. He scribbled down notes in scrawled handwriting. He felt around my neck and jaw and asked me to open and close my mouth a few times. He said I have issues with my TMJ muscle. He then took me to the room adjacent, where I met another practitioner, this time a woman.

The woman spoke in English and gave me a lot of explanation about what my treatment would consist of. She explained how first she would work on my lower back, and then gradually work upwards towards my neck and face. She began by massaging outwards from my spine. I sat in my underwear, on the edge of a massage table in front of a mirror. I watched as she worked her way up to between my shoulder blades. The therapist was very friendly and seemed to be using her time with me as an opportunity to practise her English speaking skills; which I was very happy about, as it meant that I was able to relax and forget any language-based stress. Whilst I was gazing into the mirror, focusing on nothing in particular, she told me she could see (without touching me) that there was inflammation on the left side of my jaw. I glanced up and looked at my face in the mirror. I could see the inflammation too. I had seen it in my reflection since the day I’d lost my hearing. Yet I couldn’t recall if there had been swelling there before my hearing loss.

I was then asked to lie down on my stomach, on the massage table. She started pulling at my skin around the base of my spine. As she pulled there was an occasional loud popping sound. This was a new experience that no amount of massages enjoyed and endured whilst living in Thailand could have prepared me for. It was quite a painful and uncomfortable experience, yet was also quite satisfying – like tension was being forced away from my back with every pop. The practitioner explained that she was releasing my skin from the bone.

I asked the practitioner if she’d ever seen anyone who’d suddenly lost their hearing. She said she had. She said she had seen people with all sorts of problems: problems with facial muscles, problems with senses, neck problems etc… The walls around the small massage room were decorated with posters. The posters were diagrams of the mouth and teeth. The posters showed the connection between the ears, nose and throat. The posters showed how issues with the neck can affect other parts of the body and face. Hmm, these were all familiar issues.

I then asked the practitioner more directly if she thought my jaw problems could be connected to my hearing loss. She immediately replied, “Yes”, as though it was a question that didn’t require any thinking time to answer. She then quickly added, “But obviously I don’t know what’s going on inside the ear…” When I told her that my MRI scan results had been normal, that there was no virus, that my blood tests had been normal, and that the doctors couldn’t explain my hearing loss, she said, “Well, if they don’t know, then 99 percent I think it could be connected to your jaw.” She also mentioned some other possible attributing factors including stress, serotonin levels, and hormones.

After about half an hour of massage, the woman left the room and the original guy returned…

Action On Hearing Loss Fundraising campaign

Hello blogging friends!

I am taking another short pause from my story to share something with you all that I am so happy about.

A few months ago I was contacted by the UK charity Action On Hearing Loss. They wanted to know if I would be happy for them to use my sudden hearing loss story as part of a fundraising campaign. Of course I say ‘yes’! I spoke to them about my experiences and they asked me lots of questions about how I had lost my hearing and how this has changed my life. During the last few months, they have been writing a letter about me and my experiences, and also outlining the type of research the money raised will fund.

The aim of the project is to develop a new way of getting drugs into the inner ear more effectively than the current method of injection through the eardrum. With the injection, very little of the drug gets through, and the treatment is rarely successful. This is because the inner ear is very difficult to reach. The project is developing a ‘magnetic injection’, whereby tiny iron particles can be used as carriers to deliver drugs to where they are needed. The team has developed a system which uses a magnetic field to ‘inject’ drug-carrying particles across inner ear membranes and into parts of the ear that are not normally accessible.

This could enable effective treatment of people with sudden hearing loss, as well as other types of hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo.

Today the letters for the research appeal are being mailed to the charities supporters!

Here is a link to the webpage for online donations for you to take a look at:

https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/you-can-help/donate/sudden-hearing-loss-treatments/

I am so happy that I have been able to get involved with something that means so much to me. I really hope that enough money will be raised, and hopefully one day a treatment will be available for people who experience sudden hearing loss 🙂

Dentist mission: part 2

… A few days after my first Spanish dentist experience, I was back in the brown waiting room, waiting to be seen by the little dentist.

When I entered the dentist’s room, he greeted me again with a muffle. His younger assistant was also present, and looked keen to begin part 2 of my dentist journey. I had thought that maybe my mouth guard would be ready, but I was told they needed to take some more measurements before making it, in order to make sure it would fit my mouth properly.

The measurements were extensive. First I had to sit with a small cotton roll between my front teeth, and I was told not to close my mouth. I didn’t quite understand why I was doing this – something to do with my jaw muscles. I was accustomed to doing things by now, just because I’d been asked to, blindly obeying specialists’ instructions, unsure of what they were doing or why. I sat for some time with what was basically a small tampon between my teeth! My jaw muscles started to spasm, and my teeth felt like they were shaking.

The dentist melted some small pieces of blue mold in a metal heating basin. The basin was the size of a tissue box, and was filled with what I assumed was water. This blue mold was different to the pink putty which had been used previously to take impressions of my teeth, and was instead a soft plastic-type material with a texture similar to toffee. Imprints of my front teeth and back teeth on both sides were taken one at a time, in three stages. During each stage my translator gave me clumsy instructions in a mixture of American English and Spanish, as to what to do with my mouth. The blue hard gums were placed in my mouth and I had to bite down on them, and then cold water was sprayed from thin tubes into my mouth, followed by cold streams of air; to set the gums in shape. Next came more measurements.

I was asked to open my mouth as wide as possible, and a rectangular metal plate the width of my mouth was forcefully inserted so that it filled the whole of my mouth cavity. Attached to the plate was more gum-type substance, this time a red colour. An imprint of my teeth was made by me biting down onto the gums, and then the metal plate was removed. The next contraption featured stethoscope-style ear plugs that I had to insert into my ears, whilst the dentist moved the attached metal arms of the device around to my forehead. He used a screwdriver to slightly tighten the arms in place. My entire head was encased inside these metal arms. Then came the finale. For the final measurement I had to open wide again and the metal plate was again inserted. The ear buds and head-hugging metal armed contraption was also moved into place. I sat in the chair unable to move my mouth that was full of metal, and with my head imprisoned by the metallic arms. Yet another moment in my story of looking completely ridiculous! The buds were forced tightly into my ears and I bit down on the plate as they pushed it upwards. The dental technician lifted the ear part and the dentist used his screw driver at the same time to tighten all the screws in the device. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a more comfortable way of taking these measurements, such as using a laser… ‘Ya!’ I heard the dentist say – ‘finished’. I carefully removed the ear part of the facial device and handed it to the dentist, and he took the contraption to the side counter and wrote down all the measurements.

During my time sitting in the dentist chair, the dentist and the technician had been chatting continuously. It seemed like the younger of the two was trying to pursue a conversation about a trip he’d recently been on, whereas the older was intent on explaining the measurement procedures to him, step by step.

Oh, but they hadn’t finished. The doctor was concerned about my jaw. I hadn’t mentioned anything about my jaw to him, or the fact that I had suddenly lost my hearing nearly 8 months ago. They only knew that I was deaf in one ear and that I needed a new night guard. The dentist was explaining and gesturing to the younger, and was pointing to parts of my mouth as he mumbled insistently. I heard the Spanish word, ‘articulación’ – which I thought meant ‘movement’, but when I later translated it, I found it meant ‘joint’. The little dentist spent some time feeling my jaw joints again. He asked me to open and close my mouth, and to move my bottom jaw forwards. He then asked his companion to stand opposite me and I had to smile widely at him as he observed me. I felt a bit like an animal in a zoo, or some kind of unusual specimen to be prodded and observed. I think they were talking about the deviation of my teeth and jaw. I hadn’t previously told them any information about the maxillofacial specialist in the hospital…maybe next time I would tell them more of my story. But at the moment I was impressed with how thorough they were being with their observations. The little dentist seemed interested in finding out more, and in trying to help me. He was obviously extremely knowledgeable in his specialism.

They would send my measurements to the laboratory, so that my night guard could be made. I was to wait for them to call me, and would return in about 10 days to have it fitted. They also wanted to do another x-ray of my jaw, which they described as a cross-section, so they could see what was ‘going on in there’. The dentist shook my hand, taking his mask off to say goodbye, and he gave me a friendly and almost a humble smile.

I ended up returning to the dentist before I received their phone call. About a week after I had been measured for my mouth guard, one of my back teeth broke, of course it was on my left side. It had broken due to my teeth clenching – a clear sign I was in need of the mouth guard. This was also strong evidence to the amount of pressure I must have been putting on the left side of my face.

Let’s see if wearing a night guard helps reduce some of the pressure in my ears…