Thursday, May 24, 2012

Interlude (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)

When I lost hearing in my right ear I was shocked, but I thought things were bound to get better. A short period later, I lost hearing in my left ear—fear and confusion stepped in, replacing any semblance of understanding and hope for a speedy recovery. I was unsure of what was going on, but I didn’t have time to think of all of the important or even minute facets of my life that I would truly begin to miss.  In the midst of appointments, tests and, admittedly, my own decision to hide my feelings behind books and countless hours of reading, my mind was clouded. The one thing that I know I miss the most is music.

Sarah and I were driving in the car one day and she started to sing.

“What are you singing?” I asked. I hadn’t even realized that she had turned the radio on. All I was able to see were her moving lips.

Have your friends collect your records and then change your number…” she turned her face slightly to the right so that I could read her lips, singing the lyrics to the song and bobbing her head.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know,” I shook my head as a sadness began to take over.

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know…” she sang louder, annunciating the words and smiling.
I figured it out; but that didn’t make it any better. I stared out the passenger side window, watching the trees and the buildings pass by. In that moment, I realized that if I ever did hear music again, it would not be the same.

Most of the time I like to do my writing in our living room, sitting on the couch with the laptop comfortably rested on my crossed legs. I used to listen to music while writing. I found it put me in a certain mood, depending on the artist I would play at the time—whether it was the soothing, melodic style of Greg Laswell, or the eclectic, indie-pop sounds of The Shins—music acted as a catalyst for how the words would flow. I can’t do that anymore. I write, and I enjoy myself, but I’m missing a huge a part of what made writing fun for me.

I would turn on The Naked and Famous radio station on Pandora, allowing the fun dance music with its heavy base and electronic rhythms to amplify throughout our apartment while I cleaned. I would dust and sweep, wash dishes and put clothes away, all the while dancing around like a maniac. Sometimes—if the right song came on—I would pop and lock (especially when Sarah wasn’t watching) and attempt to breakdance.  Vertigo prevents me from doing any of this, while hearing loss limits me to clean in silence.

This past weekend, March 17th-18th, we visited my parents in New Paltz. This had been the first time we had seen them since I thought I had an ear infection. When we went to church on Sunday, I was thrilled that my hearing in my right ear had improved a bit, and I was able to listen to the sermon through a headset; however, the music was painful. For a moment, I listened to the band play, my dad on lead guitar, and all I heard was loud, piercing noise. I plugged my ears.

I miss hearing all of my favorite artists. Many albums have been released since I grew ill that I will never be able to fully grasp. The worst part of not being able to listen to music is that I can’t hear Sarah’s beautiful voice. Sometimes I can hear her sing, but when I do, it doesn’t sound like her. She sounds robotic and high-pitched. What once was a blessing for me is now an agonizing experience because I don’t believe she will ever sound the same to me again.

My life is now a melody of silence and unfamiliar noise.  If loud enough, what was once smooth and beautiful is now a screeching, piercing reality.  Music is a part of my past.


  1. Hi, Max. My name is Strachelle Wyns. I know your mother from the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz. Just yesterday, I was there with my children and your mom noticed my hearing aids. She asked if I had a cochlear implant, to which I replied no, and then she began sharing with me your story. Yesterday evening, fighting back tears, I began reading your blog. Tonight, as I am barely keeping my eyes open, I have finished reading all your posts. I would love to share how touched and blessed and grieved I feel for your losses and hardships. Perhaps I can share tidbits in days to come when I am not so sleepy. But I couldn't head to bed without letting you know that I am praying for you and for your wonderful wife Sarah as I lay my head on my pillow. I believe it was divine appointment that your mom shared your journey with me. My heart is attuned to listen and learn.

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  3. Hi Strachelle! Thank you so much for leaving this comment and thank you for reading my blog! Sarah and I arrived in New Paltz last night as we'll be attending a wedding this weekend and during dinner, my mom told me about her conversation with you. I too believe that God was influential in leading that particular topic. I thought it was such an amazing testament to His sovereignty.

    I'm glad you are enjoying the blog and I hope it will help to enlighten and bring strength and comfort to those who may be going through difficult trials.

  4. Max, I was wondering how you felt about not being able to hear Sarah's singing. I do pray that you will be able to eventually hear her singing again the way you remember it! I can't imagine what you are going through, but your writing helps me to understand more of what is feels like to you. I'm praying you will be able to hear music again and I want to see you do some of your crazy dancing!!