Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 08.02.06
Stanstead, Quebec


Bugs Redux (this time in my head)

The hot days of summer can be confusing for me. I have tinnitus, an almost constant buzzing in the ears that varies in pitch and intensity. Sometimes it sounds exactly like cicadas singing in the trees in the heat of the day.

(Cicadas: I'm never sure whether to pronounce it "sic-ay-da" or "chi-cay-da." Either way, it sounds like I'm trying to fake some Spanish, so sometimes I just call them "locusts," which is inaccurate but sounds much more biblical - "Lo, a plague of locusts hath descendeth upon yon yew!")

So I'll be outside and say to a companion, "Man, listen to those cicadas singing today." And she'll say, "What cicadas?

" And I'll say, "Oh, sorry. I mean 'locusts.'"

And she'll say, "No, I mean I don't hear anything."

And I'll say, "Pardon? I can't hear you. The cicadas are singing too loudly."

How do I know I have tinnitus and not just, say, waxy buildup? Because I've been diagnosed. By Google.

I much prefer seeking medical advice from the Internet than suffering the inconvenience and de-personalization of a doctor's waiting room. Plus, I get to keep my pants on. Or at very least it's optional.

The other benefit of medical advice from the Internet is that second opinions are readily available and immediate.

If, for instance, I don't like one website's preposterous suggestion that tinnitus is age-related, I can dismiss it with a haughty back-click and find a much more reasonable diagnosis that blames the ringing on damage caused by a sudden loud noise.

In fact, I can trace my tinnitus back to two instances of loud noises.

The first was about eight years when I fired a hand pistol for the first and only time in my life. It went "bang" and my ear went "pop." This never happens in the movies.

(Police: "Stop shooting and put down your weapon." Shooter: "Put down my wigwam?" Police: "Your weapon!" Shooter: "I can't hear you. Can someone shut up those damn locusts?")

This incident merely weakened my hearing apparatus. The real damage was done when Abby was about a year old. I was changing her diaper and she wasn't happy about it. She was over my shoulder when she let out a piercing shriek right into my ear. It's still buzzing from the effect.

I'm happy with this explanation because it has nothing to do with being over forty. Plus, it's always good to have something to blame on the kids. Guilt is excellent for compelling them to take care of you when you're old and, since I don't have stretch marks, I'll use this.

Some people find tinnitus debilitating. I'm lucky in that I can generally ignore the white noise in my head. And in a way, I'm grateful it's only a buzzing and not Donovan's Greatest Hits or voices telling me to assassinate Ben Mulroney.

Plus it stays in my head.

Some people have what's called objective tinnitus, in which the sound is audible to other people. While this is very cool, I think it would be tiresome having people put their ear up to yours at parties and saying, "Hey, I can hear the ocean!"

The only time it really causes a problem is when I'm trying to have a conversation and there's a lot of background noise, such as traffic or television.

Someone will say to me, "Are you magoiuerhmm in combustion with bbmrrrpllee trmmr chainsaw?"

And I'll smile and say, "Ha, yes, exactly." This, coincidentally, is also how I converse in French, which makes me bilingually deaf.

All this to say that if you call out to me "Hey, where's that twenty bucks you owe me?" and I smile, wave and walk away, I'm not ignoring you. I just didn't hear properly. Honest.