As the daughter of a hypochondriac, I am regularly on the lookout for such symptoms in myself. And, yes, I recognize the irony of that sentence.
Sometimes, when I hang around people that are a bit older than myself, my own latent hypochondria seems to feel the need to make an appearance, and I start worrying that I am being far too nonchalant about the obvious signs that my body is about to disintegrate. This happened to me the other day.
I was helping MILlie, an 81 year old woman, to do some Christmas shopping. When I’m with MILlie, I become more aware of sounds. She has problems hearing, particularly when the environment is noisy. So, I become sensitive to noise as well.
Generally, when MILlie is in the car with me, I turn down the radio so she doesn’t have to listen to my daughter’s horrifying taste in music, or my equally (to her) horrifying taste in National Public Radio.
We were walking into Hobby Lobby after a short car ride the other day, and I couldn’t help but wince at the very forceful bell-ringing being produced in front of the store by the Salvation Army representative. It was so demandingly loud, that I steered MILlie as far away from the donation bucket as possible so she wouldn’t have to be subjected to the less than dulcet sounds. I’m pretty sure that was not the goal of the bell-ringer – to scare away potential donors. But that was the effect.
When we got inside the store, I could still hear the bell as we shopped. The entire time we weaved our way through the crowds and tried to determine the best gifts for those left on MILlie’s list, I was acutely aware of that darn bell cussing me out for avoiding the donation bucket.
The checkout shuffle we had to do in order to make our purchases momentarily distracted me from the ringing. First we stood in the back of one line of 6 or 7 people, then were told that line was closing. We moved to a different line (after I explained to MILlie why we were deserting our well-earned spot) and were told again, 5 minutes later, that the line would be closing. I almost climbed on top of the register and shouted, “Can someone direct me to a line that will stay open until I exit the store?” – but I did not want to confuse MILlie any more.
We finally finished paying, and were rewarded with the running of the gauntlet past the bell and bucket once again to reach my car. When we finally got in the car, I immediately started the motor, even though MILlie was still climbing in, hoping to drown out the sound of the darn bell that was destined to haunt my dreams.
Finally, I edged the car out of the parking lot, and headed to the street. But, as I got farther away from the store, the bell-ringing continued. And I had a dread thought.
Tinnitus. I had heard a story on NPR the other day about someone who developed it at a relatively early age, and it seemed to be an excruciating torture. Maybe this entire time, what I had thought to be the Salvation Army attempting to guilt me into submission had merely been my inner ear collapsing.
“I still hear the ringing,” I said desperately to MILlie, as we distanced ourselves from the only obvious bell in our vicinity. I glanced peripherally at MILlie to see if she was wearing some kind of damn bell necklace or earrings or headband or something that could explain why I was still hearing the ringing.
“Huh?” MILlie asked, clearly stating that she had no idea what ringing I was talking about.
“The ringing!” I said, with just a hint of hysteria in my voice. “It’s still ringing and we are nowhere near the store. WHAT IS THAT RINGING?”
And then I noticed my radio was still on, but I had turned the volume down. Apparently not all of the way, though. I flipped the volume to the right, and nearly blasted us both out of the car. With the ringing. On NPR. Doing a story on God knows what.
MILlie gave me a fearful look and I turned the radio off. Blessed silence.
“Sorry,” I said, as she primly put her hands in her lap and wisely said nothing.
I think I’ll be institutionalized way before I am hospitalized.