My Inner-Ear Virus: No Progress Yet…

9 weeks post inner-ear virus (for now, until we rule out anything more serious, this is what the ENT has diagnosed me with–Labyrinthitis), and I’m still waiting for that miracle day that my ear might “release” and all of a sudden, I will get my hearing back in my left ear just as quickly as it went.    If there is such a thing as a Christmas miracle, I’m here asking for it!  The truth is, however, that the hearing loss is not the most difficult part of this.   I still have some hearing in my left ear (enough to carry a conversation), so for that I am extremely thankful.

The hardest part of this journey, has been the long list of other symptoms that you are left with after an inner-ear virus.  Because, presumably, there has been some damage either to my hearing/balance (vestibular) nerve, or to the hair cells within the hearing organ, or both.   So this has left me with dizzyness/lightheadedness, trouble concentrating, and the worst part of it all–Tinnitus.   I have a hard time walking my dog without my vision getting blurry.   Grocery stores and malls are torture right now–the more busy the environment, the more foggy I get, because my senses have not adapted to the damage that has been done to my left ear.    Sometimes I have trouble concentrating when engaging in conversation–one of the things I enjoy doing most.    All of these symptoms get worse when I’m tired.   But here’s the kicker:   because of the Tinnitus (loud ringing noise within my left ear, caused from the hearing loss), I am now an insomniac.   I’ve tried white noise, meditation, exercise, etc…nothing is working.    The unfortunate part, is that Tinnitus gets worse at night (at least for me), and it seems to get worse with stress (which can become a vicious cycle) Very little healing can happen to the body with no sleep, so my current quest is–how can I get some sleep???    Maybe I need to give it more time, but as of right now, I’m at a loss.

I’ve had (more than one) emotional breakdown in the past few weeks because of this.   My family doctor, who is literally RETIRED as of this month, called me in last week because he was so concerned and wanted to help me.    He wasn’t even seeing patients anymore but he had the compassion to reach out and see what he could do.    He gave me an anti-anxiety med with a short half life, that could (hopefully) help me sleep, and was safe for breastfeeding.   Although this has not fully been the answer to a good night’s sleep, it’s helped me somewhat with getting more than what feels like watching the clock the entire night.   I conceded to the doctor, that if this hearing loss/Tinnitus were going to be permanent, that I needed to learn to cope with it better.   I asked him, if in 40 years of medicine, he had seen anyone come back from something like this.  And on my last visit with this doctor, he left me with the message:  “It’s WAY too early to give up hope.   These types of illnesses can take a very long time to sort out.”   And although I was a wreck on my doctor’s last day in office, I cannot thank this man enough for his compassion.   Sick people and the world in general need more doctors like this.

Historically, my timing with health-related adversity has always been terrible.   This virus hit me 6 weeks postpartum.   (Mix in sleep deprivation, adapting to motherhood, and some postpartum hormones, and the result at times is a special kind of crazy).   The last significant challenge I had with my health was in the year 2000.   As a competitive swimmer, with only 12 weeks before Olympic Trials, I dislocated my shoulder.   The doctors said I could have surgery immediately, but that surgery would keep me out of the water for at least 12 weeks.   For me, at the time, my only choice was rehab–surgery was not an option.  There was no way I was not going to compete at Olympic Trials after the hard work I had put in to make my Olympic Dream come true.   I had also lost my father to cancer 6 months earlier, and swimming was really the only thing I had left in my life that was keeping me happy.   So, with very limited training and some very last minute rehab, I chose to spend the next 12 weeks preparing for Olympic Trials with an injured shoulder.  Although the end to the story was not picture-perfect (I came 4th at Olympic Trials and to make the Olympic team, you need to place in the top 2), I came out of that competition with a feeling of tremendous personal gratification, because I felt that the adversity I overcame was more significant than any time or place within the swimming competition.   2 years later, I dislocated my shoulder again while doing an ocean swim in California, and that accident forced me to finally have the surgery.   12 weeks was just the tip of the iceberg.    That was at least an 18 month rehab with a lot of pain and intense physical work.   It took me a good 4 weeks post-surgery to even be able to brush my teeth.  But you know what?   It was worth it, because I had a purpose–I still wanted to swim.   And now I have an even greater purpose:   my daughter needs a healthy mom.

The thing that makes this type of adversity difficult, is that there are no definitive answers when it comes to hearing loss.    The most highly trained specialists seem to base their diagnoses and prognoses on a process of elimination.   Some advocate drugs, others say to just give it time.   Some are hopeful, where others give you a cautious outlook.   In other words, there is very little that’s within my control in this situation–other than my attitude.   Hearing may or may not come back.   It’s not as if the doctor can just say “if you follow (x, y, z) regimen for 18 months, you’ll get better.”   So at this point, I’m trying my best to be grateful for the health and great things I have in my life, hoping that things don’t get worse, and praying for a good ending to this story.   By nature, I am an OCD control freak, so this is very difficult for me.   (Obviously the universe is trying to teach me to have patience and faith?!)  I have researched this topic to death, and there are no conclusive answers–only best guesses.    It does seem that alternative therapies might offer more than conventional therapies–at least at this time–but I am on top of whatever cutting edge research is being done with regards to hearing loss.    Below is an article that seemed encouraging:

So far in this journey, I am working with family doctor, a very compassionate ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist), a Naturopath, a myofascial release therapist, a massage therapist, and next week I am going with my sister on a 2-hour drive to see a chiropractor who specializes in restoring balance.   This week, my other sister even treated me to reiki/tibetan massage, with a lady who works as an angel healer.    I will try anything.  I have tried just about every type of (breastfeeding safe) drug and natural remedy out there.    (Both family doc and ENT recommended Lipo-Flavonoids–a citrus/B vitamin supplement for Tinnitus).   I am waiting for an MRI to rule out anything more serious, and I have a follow up hearing test in January to see if there has been any improvement.

I do believe that things happen for a reason, although it’s not really clear to me at this time what good will come of this, I have to go by this motto to stay positive.   My sister suggested that “inner ear” represents my inner voice, and I know that there are some changes I have been wanting to make in my life for a while but have just not taken the initiative to do so.   This is definitely giving me the kick in the ass that I needed.  Some have even suggested to me that this type of thing presents the opportunity to build a relationship with God (or whatever higher being people believe in), or to manifest a higher self, where I can do more with my life to positively affect others.   I have always been agnostic.   I do believe that there is a higher power, but without proof I’ve always questioned what that higher power is.   However, becoming a mother has made my faith much stronger.   Babies are nothing short of a miracle.   Period.  Now I see that we as humans cannot be here by accident.   So maybe this is my time to form a relationship with a higher power.  Maybe this is happening so that I can be a better mother.   My father was diagnosed with something way worse when I was only 8 years old:   terminal cancer.   And through his adversity, he taught my sisters and I life lessons that we would probably not have otherwise learned.   Though truthfully, I’d trade in those lessons if it would bring my dad back, but I have to try to see the positive.

So for now, I’m going on what I have to be thankful for.   I am thankful that I am on maternity leave, because with this illness, I don’t think I could put in the work days that I was accustomed to; I would have probably have to have taken a leave of absence.   I am thankful for my beautiful, good-natured, gem of a daughter.   She comes with me to doctors appointment after doctors appointment, sits with me in the waiting room, and spreads love wherever she goes.   Her smile lights up my world.  It’s amazing to watch that my daughter intuitively seems to know who in the room is the most ill, or needs a smile the most, and she shares it!    I have a wonderful husband, and a supportive family who are helping me to stay positive.   I have youth and health on my side, so I can only hope that a month from now, things will be a little better.

As always, if anyone out there has stories to share, I would love to hear them.   Thanks for reading.

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