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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 2

In Part One, I shared the story of what actually happened to my ear. Here’s the rest of the story (with apologies to Paul Harvey).


What I Learned Through This 

I’ve been dealing with the whole left ear thing for about 6 months now, and I’ve learned a few things in that time:

  1. SSHL can hit anyone at anytime: One of the ways I’ve always handled situations is to get as educated as possible about the topic, so I’ve read a LOT about SSHL and know there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. It just happens. So sleep well tonight, everyone!
  2. Hearing loss has been tied to accelerated mental decline: This was surprising to me, but after reading about it, it makes sense. I notice I’m more withdrawn in group situations, and I still have one great ear! Imagine having almost no hearing. Experts think that the gradual withdraw from all social situations impacts brain stimulation, which can accelerate dementia. They aren’t sure yet, but the National Institute of Health has a study that will be completed in the next few years that should shed some light on it.
  3. Hearing aids are wicked expensive and seldom covered by insurance: My hearing aids will cost more than $3,000. If I was under 18, they’d be covered by insurance. For adults, there is very limited support. Even Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids fully (if at all). I’m lucky to be in a position where I can afford them (as well as the constant purchase of batteries). The fact they aren’t covered, and yet may help those suffering from cognitive decline, really bothers me. Luckily, Costco and other discount offerings are available for some models. [Note: In a kind of cosmic circle of life, my mom reminded me that my late Uncle Billy had multiple patents on hearing aid technology. It would be kind of cool if his work ended up in my ears.]
  4. Diagnosis and treatment took a lot: All told, I had 1 urgent care appointment, 3 specialist appointments, 1 MRI, 1 CT-Scan, and 1 hearing aid fitting. Oh, and I still need to actually GET my hearing aids, then do a follow up, and get yearly checkups. All of these appointments have happened at different times and at very different locations (opposite ends of town). Because I have good insurance and a job where I’m allowed to leave for doctors’ appointments, this wasn’t (much of) a problem. My out of pocket was negligible (yeah – even with an MRI and CT-scan). I can’t imagine what I would have done if I was in an hourly position trying to juggle childcare and no sick time, making $11/hour with a high deductible healthcare plan. We really need to work on this as a society and not make basic healthcare something that can threaten someone’s job and/or financial security just because they need to go to the doctor.
  5. The reactions of others were surprising: When I started sharing the diagnosis and ultimately the prognosis and need for hearing aids, I got different reactions. Some people chose to make a joke (note: probably not a good idea to make a “what?” joke to a person who just told you they are now deaf in one ear). My guess is these people didn’t know how to respond. Other people reacted like I told them I had a serious disease. I appreciate their sympathy and concern, but felt like it was out of place. I’m not dead. I’m not kept from doing what I like to do. I’m going to be okay. Really.
  6. It’s still pretty freaking annoying: If anything, my left ear is an inconvenience to me. I get frustrated sometimes – I can’t sleep on my right side and hope to hear anything, like an alarm, so I have to be aware of my sleep position. And the tinnitus gets annoying sometimes, but I’ve already adjusted somewhat. It’s tiresome to have to use my right ear for phone calls because now I have to hold the phone with my left hand but write with my right hand, which means I drop the phone. A lot. This may be one of the things I’m most looking forward to fixing with hearing aids. It’s the little things.

    Another “lend me your ears” joke. I clearly have a problem.


Why I Shared This Story:

A few reasons. It’s a quick way for me to update people I know but don’t see on a regular basis. It’s a way to help people understand why I may not have been paying attention to them in a crowded setting. I didn’t find much shared from people who experience SSHL, so maybe this will help someone else who finds themselves in this situation. Sharing my story is also a way to help people realize that health stuff hits people anytime, anywhere, for no real reason. So if you’re one of those people who blame people for their health problems, you’re likely to hear from me…and it won’t be pleasant.

I also thought it would be good to shed some light on the challenges of ongoing healthcare for a non-life threatening issue. Loss of hearing in one ear is hardly comparable to cancer, MS, ALS, or any of the other thousands of health issues facing millions of people every day. It does require treatment, though, which includes follow-up care. Does the fact that you can’t immediately notice I can’t hear out of my left ear impact the way you’d react to my requests for time to see the doctor? It could. Do you have an employee who misses a lot of time for doctors’ appointments? Do you find it suspicious? I bet someone in the office has made a joke about job hunting about that person (or even me, for that matter). Our health issues are supposed to be confidential, but make no mistake – people who are managing health issues KNOW others are judging them and often share details they’d rather not share just to avoid the ongoing bullshit and side-eye they get from their coworkers or boss.

I also shared this story because I was surprised at what I learned about hearing loss and mental decline, particularly in the elderly. I hope the National Institute of Health’s study points to some tangible actions we can take to help mitigate this and maybe throw some damn funding towards helping more people get GOOD hearing aids who need them. Technology has improved tenfold (my hearing aids will have an iPhone app), but prices have not come down. Yes, technically you’re getting more for your money now, but that money is a pretty high amount, especially for those on a limited income.

I hope to get my hearing aids fitted some time in January 2018. I’ll keep you posted on what that process is like and how they impact my day-to-day.

In the meantime, sorry if I was only half-listening to you the last time we spoke.

At least I have an excuse. 😉

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Authenticity

 

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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 1

Part One: The Story of What Happened

In June 2017, a few days before the national SHRM conference in New Orleans, I noticed that my ears felt kind of clogged, particularly my left ear. I’d had allergies so I wasn’t particularly worried. Then, later in the day, my left ear kind of went dead. As in…couldn’t hear anything at all. I thought my phone was broken because I couldn’t hear the ring tone when I held it up to my ear. Still, I wasn’t worried because I figured it was congestion. I’d just take some Sudafed and use some Swim-Ear to dry it out.

The next morning, I still had no hearing in that ear.

Knowing I was getting on a plane in less than 48 hours (and knowing how PAINFUL it is to fly with a clogged ear), I went to Urgent Care to see what was up. The doctor there took a look up my nose and in my ears and said it was most likely congestion as he didn’t see any infection. Told me to take Sudafed and use nose drops for a couple of days and it would clear up.

Those of you who saw me at SHRM17 knew I couldn’t hear you if you sat on my left side. I suspect a few of you took advantage of that (bless your evil little hearts). By the end of the conference, I was starting to get some hearing back, so I was confident the doctor had been right and I’d be hearing again in no time.

A “lend me your ears” joke. I regret nothing.

Not so much.

Six weeks later, my hearing hadn’t really improved in that ear and I was starting to get tinnitus (not really a ringing – more like what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear). I went to an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist who informed me it wasn’t congestion; rather, I was one of the lucky folks who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). This was most likely caused by a deep inner ear infection I didn’t even know I had that damaged my cochlea. Even better…it turns out that had the doctor at Urgent Care recognized it, he could have given me steroids that would have given me about a 70% chance of getting my hearing back. As it stood, it was too late to do anything. The ENT said this with such remorse, I had to tell her it was going to be okay.

That first hearing test showed my right ear was fine. But my left ear was down to 75% word recognition.

I was told to give it a few months to see how it stabilized, then get retested. Oh, and I got to get an MRI because in a few cases (not many, but you want to be careful) some people (hardly anyone, but still) turn out to have a benign tumor growing in their ear bones (really, this hardly ever happens, but let’s just be sure).

No tumor. Nothing structurally wrong.

At the time of my second hearing test, I’d developed pulsatile tinnitus (so imagine hearing your heartbeat in your ear REALLY LOUDLY only it sounds squishy). Oh, and my left ear’s word recognition rating went down to around 35% – meaning it can’t really recognize any words at all, and most frequencies are right out.

Because of the pulsatile tinnitus, I was sent to get a CT-scan with contrast because sometimes (not that often, but you want to check) pulsatile tinnitus is caused by a vascular issue, like a growing aneurysm (don’t be worried…but schedule it soon), so it’s good to check these things.

Thankfully, the CT-scan showed no problems. And the technology is wicked cool, but I couldn’t have my eyes open because apparently it would have made them not work anymore. Which is a bummer, because I really wanted to see how it worked. This lack of underlying cause means 1) I’m in the 30% of people for whom there IS no cause of pulsatile tinnitus, and 2) I may never get rid of it. Or it will come and go.

Having been medically cleared of weird ear things, I made an appointment to be fitted for hearing aids.

I’m 43, by the way.

In case you’re wondering, yes – it does kind of suck to be told you have permanent hearing loss. It sucks even more when you did what you’re supposed to do and went to the doctor right away, just to not be given the right treatment. But I’m not mad about that because I was very congested and have had blocked ears my whole life, and the doctor went with the diagnosis that was the most likely scenario (when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras). It could have had a better outcome, but wasn’t guaranteed. Besides, I can’t do anything about it now, so what’s the point? And my right ear is still at 100%.

I was mostly worried because I’m a singer. And you really need to be able to hear the people around you (and yourself) to be able to sing properly. Luckily, it didn’t impact me TOO much – I just noticed I had to listen differently. I’m sure it impacted my pitch a bit, but no one threw anything at me, so I’m calling it a win.

I do notice that in crowded areas, or in a group discussion, it’s hard to follow anything going on across the way or from my left side. This causes me to pull back in group settings even more than I normally would because it’s just too tiring to try and follow everything that’s being said. I figured if someone REALLY needs me to respond, they’ll repeat themselves.

I’m not writing about hearing aids just yet, because this happened in 2017. Hearing aids are expensive and I need my flex spending account to kick in so I can go buy said hearing aids. I need 2 because just amplifying sound in my left ear would be useless (I’d hear mush LOUDER, which seems pointless). So I will have a receiver in my left ear that will transmit sound from that side to a hearing aid in my right ear, which will interpret the sound as though it’s coming from my left. HOW COOL IS THAT??? Hearing aid technology has come a long way. And I’m hopeful it will help the tinnitus. Basically, tinnitus is a result of your brain freaking out that it can’t hear something from an ear anymore, so it creates fake sound to trick itself into thinking the ear is working. It’s like phantom pain from a missing limb. Our brains are so freaking weird.

Next up: Part Two – What I learned.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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Fasten your seatbelts: 2018 may be a bumpy ride (a NON-prediction prediction post)

I typically avoid writing predictive blog posts. What the hell do I know about the future? I mean, I watch a lot of Black Mirror and all, so clearly I’m aware that our technology is leading us to a dystopian landscape that will suck away our very souls, but leadership and HR trends? My guess is those will be the same as they’ve always been, only faster and more intense.

The thing is…I’m seeing some interesting behavior online and in real life (IRL for you cool kids out there) and it’s enough of a shift from what I’ve noticed in the past to make me want to write about it. (To be clear, it may be that I’m just more aware of this behavior, but whatever, it’s my blog. Hush, you.)

In the past, I think most people just read an article or post or tweet and were pretty passive about it. If they liked it, they may click the little button, or share a smiley face. If they didn’t like it, they moved on. Nowadays, people are pushing back and challenging more. I’m not talking about those out there who challenge EVERYTHING. Those people have been and always will be there. I’m talking more about those on the sidelines – the people who keep up on current trends and articles and follow the “influencers” but don’t necessarily post or tweet much. THESE people are speaking up. What they may have let slide in the past is no longer something they’re willing to ignore. 

This is where the #metoo movement came from. This is where we are being pushed to discuss inclusion and racism like never before. This is where we are humbled by our preconceptions. This is where we learn.

Frankly, I think it’s awesome – particularly in the leadership/HR world. We build cliques and comfort zones. We help promote each other, and are excellent resources for each other. These are the good things! But we also sometimes fail to push back on each other. We think, “that’s just so-and-so” and let a questionable statement stand unchallenged for fear of damaging a relationship. These are the bad things.

My friend Laurie Ruettimann wrote a fantastic post about healthy debate (go read it, really). We need to embrace that. We who choose to write or post or speak must be okay with people challenging us. We must also be willing to listen when we’re told a statement we made may be offensive. We must ALSO be willing to stand by some of our more controversial statements if we believe in them – which means taking the time to expand upon them or maybe state them differently to add clarity.

I screw up ALL THE TIME. I’m a fast typer, so I tweet at the speed of sarcasm. I’m flippant. I’m sassy. I don’t suffer fools. While I think this makes me charming, it also can get me in a lot of trouble. Unless I’m willing to back up and listen to someone who pushes back, I won’t know how to respond. Crazy person? Probably won’t spend much time on it. Person who’s trying to explain to me why my words hurt them? I owe it to them to try and understand why. I won’t necessarily agree (seldom do), but if someone is willing to share their pain with me, it seems like I should listen. If you want to know what this looks like, Sarah Silverman is your role model. I am not at that level – may never be. #lifegoals

If you share your thoughts with the universe, be prepared for the universe to “share” back. If you write controversial things specifically to spark discussion – which, by the way, is totally cool and a useful way to get people talking! – be willing to engage in that healthy debate.

By the way, this isn’t just for the online community. There are quiet folks in your organizations who typically keep their heads down who are starting to speak up. Their voices may be quiet. They may be asking for confidentiality. But they ARE speaking up. For those of you in HR, have you noticed an uptick in investigations and complaints lately? Visibility breeds awareness breeds action. I’m okay with this. It’s time that the vocal among us make room for those who haven’t felt like they were allowed to speak, or felt like they didn’t have something to say.

 

So here’s my prediction: If you’re not prepared to hear from those who typically haven’t spoken up until now…2018 is gonna be rough.

 

 

 
 

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You’re never too big to care about people

Almost every day, my delightful Mumsie Poo starts her morning by going to her local neighborhood Starbucks for a cup of coffee (grande in a venti cup – the woman likes her cream), chats with the baristas and some of the customers, and then continues on with the day’s activities. The agenda for these activities are usually sent to me in a daily text; I assume that’s so I can find her when she’s kidnapped for ransom money due to her secret royal status. Or because deep down she’s an arch nemesis and her texts are tiny daily monologues about how she will take over the world. Still figuring that one out.

Actual cake baked by Mumsie Poo for her Starbucks friends.

Anyway…Mumsie Poo celebrated her birthday on December 13th. In her daily text the next day, she told me that the Starbucks folks all chipped in to buy her a new coffee tumbler and paid for a month’s worth of free coffee for her. She was so tickled by that. She even baked them a cake to say thank you.

The thing is, this Starbucks has ALWAYS done great things for my mom. She’s a retired lady on a very fixed income, so going to buy a daily cup of coffee is a bit of an indulgence. She does it to get out of the house and to say hi to the friends she’s made at that shop. And they repay her – they “accidentally” forget to charge her for her coffee one day. Or they recharge her Starbucks card “just ’cause.” They know her by name and always ask her how her day is going. In return, Mumsie Poo bakes them birthday cakes, brings them Christmas cards, and gets too involved in the stories of their personal lives. (You can take the woman out of Chicago….)

They have built a wonderful little community at that Starbucks. On the times I’ve gone with Mumsie Poo, they all tell me how much they love my mom and what a great baker she is. They are incredibly nice to everyone who walks in, but are especially nice to their regulars. They really do go above and beyond to make Mumsie Poo feel welcome and comfortable. And they give her a hard time when she deserves it, so they get extra points for that.

My point in sharing all this is not to brag about my mom’s local Starbucks. It’s to point out that even though Starbucks has almost 14,000 locations IN THE US ALONE, they are able to create an individual connection with a customer. It’s not about profits, and it isn’t about marketing (although the word of mouth doesn’t hurt). It’s because they genuinely like what they’re doing and like their customers. And they understand they are making a difference in one person’s day.

There’s a lesson in all this for businesses and leaders alike.

Connect on a human level. Be generous. Care.

That’s all you really need to do to make a difference, no matter how big you are.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Authenticity

 

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Too much crazy

Today, another person I respect and adore decided to take a hiatus from social media. This is something like the third or fourth person (that I know of) in the last 6 months.

There are a lot of reasons people take time off from social media. Some want to spend more time with family. Others realize it’s keeping them from doing what they love (reading books, painting, overthrowing governments, etc.). And one very special person claims quitting Facebook it has helped him learn to move 10 lbs objects with his mind. (He’s totally lying – he’s only managed 4 lbs, and that’s being generous.)

The most common reason I’ve heard lately, however, is that there is just too much crazy.

People can’t seem to be civil anymore. The 24/7 news cycle has turned every little thing into an “event.” And many wake up in dread over what may or may not have been tweeted overnight.

They might have a point. There are numerous studies suggesting that quitting Facebook – even for just one week – has benefits. Middle school students may be particularly susceptible to issues with social media, with online bullying becoming a real danger for kids as young as 10. They’ve even come up with a new term – bullycide – for when a child takes his/her own life because of bullying. It’s heartbreaking.

I’ve contemplated taking a break. I haven’t because most of the people I know I communicate with online (#introvert). But I have cut back. And I find myself avoiding crazy as much as possible – it’s too exhausting. Not everything needs to be an argument, and not every post needs a dissenting opinion.

I think the way people are interacting online right now is a mix of opportunity and motive. Online comments lend anonymity and distance and accountability is almost nonexistent. And as for motive? There are a lot of people out there who have either felt they never had a voice and then found it, or have always had a voice and think everyone needs to hear it.

It’s unfortunate – we’re like kids who broke the expensive toy because we couldn’t respect it. Or because we played with it too much and it fell apart. I worry because I see how we interact online bleeding over into our real world interactions, and it’s getting ugly. I also worry because all the noise can block out all the good that the internet can enable.

I hope the crazy calms down. I hope those who are struggling with memories and feelings that the relentless news cycle brings are able to find peace. I hope we find a way to talk instead of yell.

I hope we keep finding funny cat videos to share online. (Thug Cat is THE BEST.)

I hope we find ways to remind each other that the world is a beautiful place and that people are worth saving.

If you need a break, take it. But please come back.

We need you.

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2017 in Context, Personal Development, Self-Awareness

 

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All I want for Christmas…is $10

In February 2018, I will be participating in the Hustle Up the Hancock in Chicago, IL.

This event, which raises money for an excellent cause, sees almost 7,000 participants climb 94 floors of the Hancock Building in Chicago. That’s a lot of stairs. I may not have thought this all the way through. [insert mild panic attack here]

But I’m committed to getting breathless by choice to help those who are breathless because of lung disease.

I accept your thoughts and prayers, gentle guffaws, and outright mocking for attempting something like this while being woefully out of shape. What I really need, though, is your help.


The primary goal of this event is fundraising for people who suffer from respiratory disorders – from those who struggle with quitting smoking to people whose lungs are on the brink of no longer working. I have committed to raising $1,000 for the Hustle. All donations will support the mission of Respiratory Health Association to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research, and policy change.

I know $1,000 seems like a lot. But if I can find 10 people who are willing to go to my donation page and offer a $10 donation, it would help! If 1,000 people donate $1, that would be awesome, too. (And I would not turn down 1 person offering $1,000, but let’s not get greedy).

If you can donate, I’d appreciate it. If you can’t donate, that’s cool. I’ll take those thoughts and prayers.

The important thing is raising awareness for an organization that has done some truly amazing stuff.

Thank you!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Personal Development, Teamwork

 

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I hate your sunshine.

During a recent #Nextchat, the conversation turned to making sure current employees were honest about what life was like at the company when talking to candidates. I think I said something clever like, “Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows at any org, no matter how great it is.” Then Anne Tomkinson (a co-host of the chat) said something even MORE clever, “And you also never know what is positive or negative to someone. They might hate your sunshine.”

And while my life goal is to now have a situation in which I can turn to someone and yell, “I HATE YOUR SUNSHINE!”, I also love what Anne said. Because she’s right. Something you find fantastic at work, another person may hate.

Let’s take open floor plans.

Some people love them – they think they foster creativity, collaboration, and create a bright, open atmosphere that makes the office great to be in. And then there are normal people who just want to be able to close a door and get some damn work done every once in awhile.

See? Someone hated your sunshine.

Leadership styles aren’t immune from this, either. You may think a hands-off approach is the best way to work. All employees want a manager who stays away until needed, right? Believe it or not, there ARE employees out there who want a little more direction and guidance on their day-to-day work and wouldn’t see it as micromanaging. They’d see that as support.

Sunshine hated once again.

As leaders, we have to be careful that we aren’t forcefeeding sunshine to our employees. We have to be aware of the different preferences in our workforce. We can’t always accommodate them (sorry, you can’t really wear pajamas all day…), but we can at least stop trying to get them to love the same things we do. Be realistic, for goodness’ sake.

That whole credibility issue leadership seems to have in so many organizations can be tied to our inability to recognize how our people actually feel about things that are going on at work. It’s OKAY for you to think it’s awesome that the cafeteria is moving to healthy food only. You can even tell people that you think it’s awesome. But don’t try to persuade people who hate the idea. Just say, “I get it. It’s not for everyone.” And move on.

Sunshine is subjective. As soon as leadership recognizes that, we’ll be in a better position to build trust and credibility with our teams.

And that should bring a little sunshine to all of us.


Author’s Note: If, like me, you immediately started singing Len’s Don’t You Steal My Sunshine upon reading this article’s headline, I truly apologize. It will take you roughly 72 hours to remove it from your brain. 

 

 

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