Brrrringgg. Walter woke and slapped at his cell phone. The ringing continued. When, through the sleep in his blinking eyes, he managed to get his screen in focus, there was nothing on it. The ringing melted into buzzing. It was steady; there were no gaps like his ringtone. Walter put the phone down and dropped his head into the pillow. The tinnitus ringing continued.
It’d been 13 days now. Tinnitus woke him up and tinnitus hummed him through the day and tinnitus made him afraid to try to sleep at night. Someone had installed a vuvuzela in his eardrum. He compensated with a whirring box fan and some music (Pandora) from his cell phone at night. During the day, the buzzing threatened to swallow conversations and concentration.
Walter hadn’t subjected his ears to concerts. He listened to music — on the rare occasions when he turned it on — at an appropriate volume. He could count the times he had used in-ear headphones on three hands. Wikipedia claims 20 percent of 55 – 65-year-olds cite its symptoms. How did 47 years of careful, conservative living land him in the worse-off 20 percent?
At work, Madge babbled bubbly about some new protocol. A new shortcut key. All Walter could hear was ringing. He wanted to answer the phone. He wanted to click Stop. He wanted to stab a screwdriver in his ear and hear, even momentarily, silence. He wanted the doctor — appointment on Tuesday — to tell him this was temporary. He said, “Nice. Got it, Madge.”