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This fundraiser ended on 12/01/12

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The family and friends of Judith are uniting to try and help her gain a hearing aide. Read her story below. Then, please donate today!

After little more than 3 hours of sleep in more than 24 hours, I still cannot believe what has happened to me and what this means to my life. I won't belabor the concern that so many have shown for me, so I will get to it.

Yesterday, for the first time in 47 years, through the care and attention of the only doctor I respect in the audiology business from now on, Dr. Sean McCalvin of Beltone Charlotte, I heard out of my right ear.

I don't think I can convey what this means to all of you, because it may not be possible for you to understand all of the implications this has for my life. All I can do is give you a glimpse of what this means. This will not be short. It can't be.

From the time I could go to school, I knew I was "deaf" in one ear. Going to the eye and ear doctor was as regular for me as riding a bike. Every year, twice a year, they tested and said the same thing; she cannot hear anything. Attending school before there were such things as ADA and IEPs, my mother would march into class the first day of school and announce, she cannot hear out of her right ear, and she is nearsighted. She needs to sit to the front and to the right of the class, no matter if her last name starts with a W. Back in the day, that always started the stares, the jokes and the teasing. I grew up, learning to be strong, but very isolated. As I told the doctor, gym was brutal, lunch-time was horrendous. I longed for peace and quiet, and people who know me today will say I still favor quiet environments.

In my adolescent years and into my 20s, I adapted, taking less noisy classes, more individual tasks and avoiding jobs that involved a high volume of noise. Since I was trained in administrative work, this meant working in a photography studio instead of Wall Street. It meant pursuing administrative spots with single bosses instead of being a conference and trade show coordinator, even though I was good at it. Along with other illnesses and physical problems, those high energy, high noise occupations were too strenuous.

I didn't try to talk to anyone about my ears again until my 30s. Now, the consensus was that it was nerve damage, total and complete. In fact, by 2006, after a very bad bout of Bell's Palsy on my right side, doctors were convinced that if there were any nerves left, they were now destroyed, resulting in permanent vertigo along with the hearing loss. Every visit was a confirmation of the previous one. Years and years of confirmation.

Last year, I decided I wanted to be a disability advocate as a full-time occupation. It doesn't matter I am not paid. After moderating online groups and supplying information and support, I knew it was a passion, a love and a worthy goal, whether or not a monetary benefit was or ever will be attached to it. I knew I was going to begin to work offline as well, and the thought scared me. Between eyes and ears, I was still at such a disadvantage. I didn't have an "Anne Sullivan" to be my companion, and I tried not to lean on my friends more than necessary.

But, things began to look up. I found a great eye doctor who fitted me with contact lenses, and was so supportive. Now, if only I could find an ear doctor. Surely in all this time, I could be helped.

What rapidly transpired were two of the most depressing and miserable appointments with two different doctors within 2 months. Both of them were positive not only was I deaf, but they could not help me at all. Not only was there the lack of help, in one case, there was outright prejudice.

I was shocked, hurt and so miserable. The level of defeat was unbearable, especially when both of these doctors live in my community, and showed they had no respect for the oath they took as doctors. Even after advocating for many years for myself and my children, the blatant, dismissive treatment was a shock.

And, yet, something in me would not give up. My mother used to call it downright hard-headedness. So after picking myself up, I tried again. This time, it took finding the last doctor in all of Charlotte, and one of the few in North Carolina covered by my insurance. This doctor was Sean McCalvin of Beltone Charlotte.

His wife, JoAnna, made the appointment, which I almost cancelled because I was so dispirited. I didn't want to have the umpteenth ear evaluation. I didn't want to hear AGAIN how nothing could be done. JoAnna assured me and nearly pleaded with me to please come in. I did.

It began like any other visit.

Fill out forms, tell me your history, what is it you want to accomplish. I could do all of this in my sleep, but Dr. McCalvin, or Sean, as he insisted I call him, was not the usual pre-occupied doctor. He took lots of time. He looked me in my eye. He seemed, no, he was interested. Encouraged, I told him what I thought I needed; a CROS device, a device that would allow me to hear on my left side sounds from my right. I needed something so I was not at such a disadvantage in crowded rooms or restaurants. He instantly said I didn't need that.

"Oh, no!" I thought. "Here we go again!" was my next thought. He is the doctor, and he is going to tell me what isn't for me. In fact, I was expecting to be out of the office in 5 minutes, crushed again. But, he didn't do that. Instead, he took a magnifier and studied my ear drum. Yes, there was a great deal of damage to the right one, and some scarring on the left. Dr. McCalvin began to fill my head with information regarding my ears, describing for me visually so I could follow along. It was more than I had ever heard from doctors before. He wanted me to know what I was seeing, and that there were no tumors.

Then, he wanted to do a hearing evaluation as well. Same old hearing test to be sure. I know the routine by heart. Sit in the chair in the sound-proof booth. Let him push the little plugs into my ears, nice and snug. Click the button when you hear the sounds in your ear. He said he would start with my right ear, because he wanted to know for himself what was going on. I listened like I always do, and as I could feel the vibration but no sound, I sat mute. Suddenly, I could hear a faint sound on my left side. I pressed the button. It got louder. I made the mental note to tell him that he had it so loud, I was hearing the sound on my left side.

When his voice came over the loudspeaker, I will never forget the words. "You know you are hearing in your right ear."

"No," I replied. "It is so loud, I can hear it in my left ear."

"Are you sure?" he asked, in the calmest voice. "No, it is in your right ear. When the right ear hears, it crosses over to the left side of the brain, and vice versa, so you think it is your left side hearing."

Now, I was confused, and said so, still convinced 40+ years couldn't be wrong. He sent a few tones to my left ear, and then fitted me with a bone conduction device. Again the sounds came and this time, I sat utterly confused, mute and rapidly descending into shock.

Was it the left side or the right side? Was it my left ear or my right ear? What the heck side was it coming from? I literally could no longer tell. Every bit of me was awake, alive, on edge and straining for explanation.

At that point, Dr. McCalvin asked me to come out of the booth, and sit in the chair. I watched my partner, Ralph, sweating and breathing hard. Usually jovial, he was having almost as hard a time as I was having. Dr. McCalvin seem so excited, it looked like he could hardly contain himself. I half-listened at this point as he explained what was happening. Yes, I am severely hearing impaired in my right ear. Yes, my left ear was normal and had been doing all the work all these years. But, no, I was NOT completely deaf. I could hear, and I could use a hearing aid.

I have to admit the next 20 minutes after that first conversation were a blur. I remember the hearing aid inserted into my ear. I remember him standing behind me on my right and beginning to speak. At first, it was still my left ear that heard him, loud and clear. Then suddenly, I stuck my finger in my left ear, and there it was...his voice. Still coming. Still asking questions.

"It was impossible!" I thought as the tears began to well, and I felt I would burst. This couldn't happen. It never happened! But, the voice went on with individual words, and then questions. "Coach, bathe." "Did I like coffee?" Simple questions with all the importance of an avalanche.

You would think this was enough. No. Next we went outside; standing, listening to the outside world. Cars drove past. I heard all of this before and yet it was richer, deeper, more nuanced than I had ever known. The questions continued and I answered. One, then another. Dr. McCalvin was standing on my right side, asking me what I had for breakfast. With my finger stuck in my left ear, I distinguished every word, every letter. As I turned (to the right for the first time in my life!) I realized he was walking toward me from over 10 yards away. At that point, I ceased to know anything anymore. While I remained standing and smiling and talking, my mind ceased to be the mind I had always known. I became someone else.

At first, I didn't understand it. But, on the way home, it became clearer. Even my vision was not the same. I watched everything with a clarity that wasn't there before. It was as if someone had opened my brain and deposited the rest of it. Or someone had flicked a switch that caused dormant parts to spring to life. Even without the hearing aid, for the rest of the night, my mind seemed to move quicker, stay more focused and attend to the world around me with a sharper point. I found I couldn't sleep more than 3 hours that night; something I hadn't done in years. I woke with a mind processing faster than just 24 hours before.

I know there are others, who have had similar experiences, or even richer ones, if they had hearing loss in both ears. I know I join the ranks of children, elderly, cancer survivors and others who thought their hearing was lost, and then had it handed back again. This feeling is overwhelming and mind-blowing. It can barely be described. Please realize that I have only brushed the surface of my feelings, and the changes I feel in my mind. I have tried my humble best to do the best I can in sharing this with you.

Now, I have to stand on my soap-box. Our hearing is a sense we rely on so much and take for granted. We can lose it bit by bit; from viral attacks, medications (even over-the-counter ones!), and disease. It is a hallmark of Alzheimer's and dementia. And, tumors can go undetected for many years. Please do not take your hearing for granted. Do not expose your ears to loud noises on a regular basis. See your ear doctor or audiologist regularly and keep good records of all your health evaluations. If there is a problem, do not give up. Find a doctor who cares and is interested in helping you. Advocate for yourself, but also listen and learn as much as you can. There are solutions for you. Continue to ask. Continue to hope.

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