By December 2007, I had been dealing with single-sided deafness for nearly six months. Within weeks of loosing my hearing and mobility, I was eager to plunge back into life to regain as much normalcy and control as possible. In September, I returned to college and started a new internship. For many weeks, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the commute, meeting new people, and trying to engage my new classes and work.

Riding the bus was a challenge – imagine riding a roller coaster to and from work each day for 30 minutes. I boarded the bus in a mellow, suburban neighborhood of DC. The first time, I took my usual seat in the elevated area over the left rear tire. We accelerated slightly then braked for a stop sign. Then accelerated again and braked briskly for a speed bump. I held the metal bar and closed my eyes hoping it would ease the feeling that I might topple over. The world whirled by chaotically. I opened my eyes moments later as we gained speed down a fairly steep hill, and my heart raced as the bus driver forced the brakes again for the stop light at the bottom of the hill. By the time the bus pulled up to the metro station, I had to will my wobbly knees to carry me to a bench where I sat with my eyes closed until my head stopped spinning and my heart settled. After regaining composure, I made my way to the escalator, gripped the railing firmly, and focus my eyes on my feet to prevent loosing my orientation on the long descent to the metro platform. The movement, the echoy noises in the metro, and a constant sense of chaos made me wonder if this is what a bad acid trip feels like. So went my commute for a few weeks.

With time, the commute and being in noisy public places did become easier. Two turning points occurred in those first six months. First, I regained my ability to drive and second, my ability to ride a bike. The world still moved at a fast, disorganized pace around me, but I did feel I was getting a better grip on it. I was proud of myself when the semester ended and I had completed four courses and an internship with my new disability and my grades had not suffered. Over the winter break, I had the opportunity to work for a research institute on a small project formatting data for a website. I was able to work from home, set my own hours, avoid the bus for a few weeks – yey!, and generally not have to worry about my hearing and balance. Happy winter break to me, I thought!

In January, I returned to classes and my internship. The bus ride to the metro was just as terrifying as it has been my first week in September. All progress that I’d made on my balance was lost. I worried something terrible had happened in my ear or my brain to cause such a severe reversal in my progress which prompted me to schedule an immediate visit with my audiologist. I received a full battery of tests the next week including an Electronystagmogram (ENG). After and hour and a half of testing my eyes and balance, the audiologist determined that nothing was out of the ordinary.

What could possibly cause such a quick reversal in my balance? It just didn’t make sense. I was the audiologist’s final patient of the day and the last person had just left the office. It was just us. Frustrated and confused, I explained how hard it was to take to the bus and how my balance had improved throughout the fall. She listened. This was the first American medical professional to listen to my anecdotes and concerns since I’d lost my hearing. I was so thankful and relieved to simply talk to a medical professional who was patient and kind and I trusted would know what was wrong with me.

After asking some excellent follow up questions, the audiologist simply said, “You’re healthy but your balance is off. From here on out you need to retrain your brain constantly where your new balance is. And to do that, you must simply stay active. That’s your prescription – to stay active.” And that has been the truth of it. During my several sedentary weeks in December, my brain had completely forgotten all of the lessons I had taught it with my ye-ha bus-escalator-metro rides. It took a few weeks to regain the balance I’d had by December. And still today, two years later, if I spend a lazy weekend inside watching TV, I notice it in my balance on Monday.

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