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Managing my tinnitus: Greg Hart

In January 2007 I was hospitalised with an illness that effectively brought my career to an end. The choice was simple: change one’s lifestyle or continue to have health issues. Fortunately I was able to take early retirement, albeit with the legacy of the illness. Although I can provide a story that comforts me about how and why I became ill and how it has affected me since, it may not be a complete explanation. A few days after I was discharged from hospital I lost my hearing. I was totally unprepared for this and can still recall coming downstairs in a strange silence unable to hear the everyday breakfast table noises. I could guess what the sound should have been like but could only repeat I can’t quite hear you. It could be described as being present without participation. The loss of hearing along with the tiring illness engendered a feeling of being out of control. How do you explain that you cannot hear what is being said and being gestured at to stop shouting. First its denial, this is a short term thing, nothing to worry about. Then you sense distress. You say and do things as normal and begin to help tidy. You say you are Ok and not to worry as they prepare for school and going to work. I can cope. The following days the hearing gradually comes back. The right ear is quiet. The left side has a whistle that interferes with your hearing. Soon the whistle is high pitched in the left ear and a lower pitch in the left ear. The whistling is all pervasive and it hurts. The eyes seep tears as the mind struggles to make sense of the sensation. The not knowing is the greatest fear. No one else can hear this whistle. If I had a broken arm, it is plain what the problem is and people make allowances. I did not know anyone else with noises, tinnitus, in their minds. I was still waiting for an ENT appointment, the GP was supportive but how do you get to sleep at night and is there is quick fix? Stuck at home I searched the internet.
The BTA and RIND were informative, if not a bit academic and detached. But us is amazing what is out there and for a few dollars I could buy a cure ranging from a candle in the ear, a course of herbal tablets and a self help guide, all with glowing references. Eventually I chanced on a local tinnitus support group led by Audrey Carlin. The telephone contact was through Audrey’s daughter Joanne at TRUST. For the first time I spoke with someone who experienced tinnitus and could empathise with me. More important Audrey was able to reassure my wife and myself offering ideas to manage the tinnitus. We attend the monthly meetings and spoke with many others who experienced tinnitus. The group’s contacts included Margot Boss, a Hearing Nurse at the Royal Hospital. The ability to talk to others and reflect on the strategies to cope with tinnitus was an essential step in taking control. It helped improve self esteem and confidence to cope.
Similarly, Audrey helped my wife appreciate the finer points and how best to support me. By the end of 2007 I had developed sufficient strategies to cope and get on with life. We continued to support the local meetings. During 2008 I attended the BTA Tinnitus Counselling Course. It became clear that clinicians may understand the causes of tinnitus and its likely affects, but few could empathise and relate to those who struggle to come to terms with this disability. I wanted to support those with tinnitus and the course meant I could make a practical contribution to the work of the support group. I have continued to support the group. Together we have developed and delivered a PHSE unit for use in schools and supported other groups including Dr Gander’s NHS project in Nottingham. Hopefully, the revised website will further enhance our ability to provide support.