On or around March 1, 2022, I woke up with a ringing in my right ear. It wasn’t your regular ringing or what people would describe as tinnitus. The ringing in my right ear was more like pulsative tinnitus, as you can hear your heartbeat. I’ve had tinnitus before, and after a few months, it went away.
But this wasn’t going away. Day after day, no matter what I tried, my ear was still ringing. What made this tinnitus interesting was that if I moved my head a certain way, the sound would get louder or quieter. The noise would increase if I placed my hand on my head just above my right ear. The sound would decrease if I put my hand on my head just above my left ear. When I opened my mouth, the sound would decrease. I knew I hadn’t experienced this before and needed some answers.
I made an appointment with an ENT to discuss the ringing and my ability to get multiple sinus infections yearly. I was tired of getting sinus infections, and the local urgent care was tired of treating them with antibiotics.
The day finally came, and I was excited at the prospect of getting some relief. The constant noise is annoying. On the one hand, hearing your heartbeat is comforting. I can tell when my heart is racing and when it is resting. On the other hand, the sound is loudest at bedtime. All is quiet, and all you hear is your heart. It’s a catch-22.
“What are you here for?” asked the doctor.
“I’m tired of multiple sinus infections every year. And I hear my heartbeat in my ear 24/7,” I replied.
“When did you start hearing your heartbeat in your ear? Can you pinpoint a specific instance that triggered it?”
“Well, I can’t pinpoint a specific event as there are three possibilities.”
“What does it sound like? Ringing?”
I replied, “It sounds like my heartbeat. I can hear my heartbeat.”
“Tell me about the specific events. You mention there are three possibilities?”
“Yes. I started a gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diet the last week of February. I made it ten days, and then my daughter brought home Crumble, and it was game over. Doc, I don’t know anyone that can resist Crumble. That’s one possibility. Another is I woke up one morning with a very stiff neck. It took two massage appointments to get the kink out. And the third is I carried my grand nephew on my shoulders around the block. Stupid, I know, but he wouldn’t walk anymore, and we were a long way from home, so I carried him.”
“How old is he?” he asked.
“Three, and he weighs 36 pounds. Doc, all three of these happened in the same week, so I am not 100% sure which event triggered it, if any.”
The doctor looked in my ear to see if anything looked out of the ordinary. Then they did a hearing test, which I passed. After going over everything, including discussing the frequent sinus infections, he looked at me and said, “Hearing your heartbeat in your ear is not normal. Because three different scenarios could have brought this on, I do not want to say for certain it is one thing or another. Your ears look clean. We need to do more testing. I’m going to order MRI and MRA testing. Depending on what those tests show will determine our course of treatment.”
While the sound of MRI and MRA testing sounds scary, and I know some people who must be knocked out for those tests, I was grateful he wasn’t grasping and prescribing medicines that may or may not work.
A few weeks later, I arrived for my imaging appointment in the evening. If you have never had an MRI, they can make you feel very closed in as the machine is like a giant metal tube.
You must remove ALL metal for the test and put on a gown. The machine is a giant magnet, so if you wear any kind of metal, there will be an issue. If you have metal inside your body of any type from surgery, you must tell them upfront because that can be a dangerous situation for you. You lay on a small table that enters a giant tube. It’s very tight, so if you have some size on you, there’s a good chance you will be touching the machine. The inside of the machine is not as dark as you think it would be, but dark enough that bright lights are not shining in your face.
Once inside the machine, they place headphones on your ears to block the sound. Believe me, you want those headphones on and them playing the music loud. Even still, you can’t escape the noise. The noise when the test starts is so loud that you cannot escape it unless you’re somewhat deaf.
Have you ever heard of a horrible drummer who only knows how to play one drum, and it’s offkey? Combine that with a slow jackhammer that constantly runs for 10 minutes without breaks. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, and on it goes.
And the essential part of the whole testing experience? You MUST lay perfectly still no matter how long the test takes. One wrong move, a sneeze, a sniffle, a gaseous release, a twitch, or even taking a deep breath skews the test, and in many instances, you have to start over.
I had to lay completely still for an hour and a half, with a few minutes break between tests. The noise was so loud. For me, the earphones didn’t drown out the sound of the tests.
You might be asking how I managed to get through the tests.
As I lay there all by myself in this giant tube inside a big room, headphones covering my ears, light music piping in, with a tech staring at me through a small glass window, all I could do was pray, sing, and recite Bible Scriptures.
I focused on the Lord and what his word says. I recited the Scriptures I could recall. Praying about my current situation and admitting to the Lord I was scared helped me get through the hammering of the machine. Focused on my breathing while laying still, I recounted all the ways the Lord had provided over the years. I thanked God for all the blessings he had given me and thanked him for whatever was to come.
When lying in the big tube, you’re alone with the occasional interruption of the tech, who advises that the next set of images is starting. What takes ten minutes seems like an eternity when you have to lay still while the jackhammer is pounding around you. It can be intense, and some people I know hate MRIs.
But as I lay there, I kept reminding myself I was not alone. The Lord is with me and goes before me every day.
The Lord knew long ago that I would take this test and knew the outcome. And through this trial and walking through the unknown for the next several months, God would place people and doctors in my path to help me see through this health scare.
The tests showed a possibility of a significant condition, and I would spend the next several months chasing down multiple specialists to get to the bottom of the findings.
On July 19, 2022, the last neurosurgeon (he was my third and final opinion), who is a well-known brain surgeon, looked at me and said, “There’s nothing for me to do. You have chased down every avenue, and from everything I see, I think this has been much to do about nothing. Until you start showing symptoms of fluid on the brain, losing eyesight, daily headaches, or anything else, there’s nothing to do. We cant fix tinnitus, so you’re stuck with that. It may come and go or stick around for the rest of your life, but you are free to go and enjoy your life.”
It was the best news I could receive about a possible condition that caused the pulsative tinnitus to appear. The tests didn’t show any tumors, signs of strokes, aneurysms, or blockages.
I do know someone who did have a small tumor behind her ear. Her pulsative tinnitus led to that discovery. Thankfully she is doing well today but still has tinnitus even though the tumor has been removed.
On August 9, 2022, I saw an ear specialist again at the top of his class. Only the Lord could open doors to these top-rated doctors. The ear specialist told me that I would win a Nobel prize if I could figure out how tinnitus happens and successful treatment. So, I heard him say there is no successful long-term solution. I will probably hear my heartbeat in my right ear for the rest of my life.
The Lord had seen me through another trial. I was blessed to see the Lord work in my life, moving in and around my life, reminding me daily, sometimes every minute, that I am to rely on Him fully. The Lord will provide, and I am to trust him daily with whatever is to come. Through the faithful prayers of family and friends, help, meals, and shoulders to cry on, I could see how God used all these people, including all the doctors and medical staff, to help me draw closer to him. God never left my side.
When a doctor tells you that there may be fluid on the brain, and you may lose your eyesight and endure daily headaches and nausea, it shakes you.
I am grateful for all the support I received during what seemed like very long days for months.