Cicadas and the sounds of silence

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

One of the things I enjoy in every season except winter is listening to the sounds of our backyard. We are blessed with about 100 yards of “woods” behind our house that is home to all kinds of birds, bugs, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes and the occasional fox family. While not synchronized, the fireflies put on shows for us fairly regularly.

This year, we also have cicadas, which have delighted visiting friends who didn’t hear them at their homes and were wondering what all the fuss was about. Our cicadas are pretty loud, but, except for a few “attacks” on my husband as he mowed the yard, have been harmless.

I am immune to the siren song of cicadas. Unfortunately, I live with my own cicada song in my head every day.

Several years ago I went to the ENT doctor because I had this strange “ringing” in my ears. It frustrated me that my husband couldn’t hear it. I even tried putting a tape recorder to my ear and taping the sound. Nothing.

What I learned was that I have tinnitus. There can be several causes but mine is – wait for the bad word – “age-related” hearing loss. It affects about 15 to 20 percent of the population, mostly older adults. The noise isn’t external, so other people can’t hear it.

I did quite a bit of research – journalist gene – after my diagnosis and talked to my ENT on a follow-up visit. We tried a few things, but basically, it’s just something you live with. Some people have excessive ear wax or tinnitus caused by a medication which can be treated, but, for most, the recommendations are noise masking or hearing aids.

I haven’t gotten to the hearing aid point yet, but the noise masking was a complete waste of time for me. My brain thought it was illogical to just replace one noise with another, so I just live with my buzzing.

One of the interesting things was identifying which tinnitus sound I have. There is, of course, an app for that, put out by the British Tinnitus Association. Twelve different sounds made me stop complaining – well, almost – and count my blessings.

My tinnitus is not dissimilar from the cicadas. Not as loud, thank goodness. Other sounds common to hear for those with the disease include one that sounds like the emergency warning signal, a loud whistle, a motorcycle, several that remind me of waves crashing on the shore and even a thumping/heartbeat sound. All-in-all, mine is a softer buzzing sound – number 3, if you follow this link to hear for yourself!

I will admit that I sometimes miss the simple sounds of silence. Still, while getting older can be trying, it’s a blessing for which I am thankful. Many I loved were denied that opportunity.

When you hear the cicadas in these last of their days, enjoy the sound of one of nature’s quirks. Then go inside and listen to a few moments of silence.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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