It’s Monday morning in Dr. Lisa Libertore’s East Side office.
Four boxes of medium, sterile, powder-free latex exam gloves crowd the Victorian-themed waiting room here on 85th and Lexington. Eight of us wait restlessly, shifting in our chairs, evading eye contact, and tapping at our respective devices.
I fill out a clipboard lousy with forms, scribbling the kind of information only Abbi would know, then wait.
Smooth jazz (CD 101.1FM, I assume) wafts nearly-inaudibly from a stereo behind reception, ironic, I suppose, given that I’m here to test my hearing.
In December, as I lay my head on my pillow in the dead-silent environs of Bray’s Island, South Carolina, I noticed a deafening ringing in my ears.
Given twenty years of rock shows, Walkmen and iPods, that I may be suffering some hearing loss isn’t surprising, but it is scary. I like hearing things, especially music. Mozart may have been able to pull it off, but I won’t.
Dr. Libertore’s examination room is like any other, if a bit more warmly lit. There’s not one piece of equipment in the room that I recognize (except more latex gloves). I hang my jacket on the back of the door, and settle onto the edge of the table.
Dr. Libertore joins me a few minutes later. She’s younger than I expected (but then I’m older than I expected), with short, blonde hair and wide, curious eyes. She dashes through pleasantries and gets right down to business.
“So what seems to be the problem?”
I explain the ringing, when it began, and what it sounds like with a few semi-relevant job and avocationally-oriented sidebars. She quickly dismisses the obvious rock trauma, and begins asking about my physical and mental health. Then she examines my nose (“My wife would not envy you that view”) and ears visually.
“Do you take aspirin for soreness after you run?”
“No, I take Advil. I take Excedrin after I drink beer.”
“Ok,” she grins. “Did anything change in December? Diet? Stress?”
“Well, work turned pretty difficult, yeah.”
“That can do it.”
She fits a pair of earbuds over a hand-held device, the slides it into my right ear.
“You’ll hear some musical tones, but you don’t need to say anything,” she explains (clarifying the difference between this and my fourth grade hearing test).
A few, faint chimes ring in my ear, then ascend in a scale. She repeats the procedure again in my left ear where the tones are noticeably louder. She presses a button, and a narrow ribbon of receipt paper displays the preliminary results.
“That’s some Star Trek shit!” I say.
She shows me the receipt paper. Two sets of bar graphs illustrate my response to various frequencies.
“Yup,” she says, having scarcely pierced her no-nonsense veneer, “You have some hearing loss.”
“There’s a lot we can do with diet and vitamins and even acupuncture, but we need to give you the full exam when our audiologist is in, ok?”
With that, I’m back in the smooth jazz waiting room, back in front of reception. I make an appointment, and step out into the afternoon sun. I slip my iPod into my bag, and walk home to the city’s symphony of sounds.