I thought I had really done it this time.

I thought, well, that's it, it's all caught up with me at last.

I thought, I'm screwed.

It's the secret worry of anyone who has spent a lifetime in and around rock music: 

I am losing my hearing.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been experiencing some problems with my ears, including ringing, muffled hearing, and sensitivity to sound. Two visits to two doctors offered little relief and not much info, other than I wasn't sick or wax-bound. Nasal sprays and a short course of steroids and two visits to two doctors didn't solve the problem. It was time to visit a proper ear, nose, and throat doctor to get my hearing thoroughly tested.

To say I was nervous is great understatement. I have never experienced anything like this for such a long period of time, and was near-panicked thinking that I might be told that attending loud music events would further damage my hearing and that I should stop, a loss that would be profoundly sad on many levels for me as a music photographer, friend, and fan.

As I stepped in the audiologist's tiny sound-proof booth for the test, I noticed he was speaking pointedly and loudly to me. I felt like crying, but instead concentrated on the instructions he gave me for the multiple tests. I was hooked up to machines that caused a pressure in my ear, made teeeeeeny little beeping sounds, and spoke words rapid-fire at me, which I had to repeat back through a microphone. It was really exhausting. The beeps were far quieter than my own breathing sounds or the rustle of the headphones on my hair. I just had no idea if I was doing well or poorly. I was preparing myself to hear what I didn't want to hear after the tests were done.

As the audiologist was printing out my results, he asked me another question:

"Do you wear earplugs at the concerts you go to?"

"Yes," I replied, offering a sad smile. "Every time, and I have used them since I was a teenager."

He smiled, and showed me a chart. "Well, congratulations, because that has paid off for you big-time."


He continued, "Your ears are perfect. Your hearing is perfect. You don't even have the loss one would normally expect for anyone your age, not even counting your music noise exposure. You could not have had a better result."

"Really??? Oh my god. Oh my god, thank you!" I felt so grateful I could have kissed him, but refrained.

I mean, I have been to a LOT of shows since the '70s, and have been next to speakers so loud, they blew my HAIR. I thought, eventually, I would pay for it in hearing loss, no matter what I did to try to avoid it. But they worked. The earplugs worked!!!

The ENT told me to chill and to enjoy my perfect ears, keep going to shows, and keep using those earplugs. My current problems, he thinks, are just a little seasonal allergies and should recede soon.

So the purpose of me telling you all this isn't to let you know my ears are OK -- it's to tell you to also 
at concerts, or if you don't use them, start NOW. There are many different kinds, and most are very inexpensive. If they are uncomfortable or not effective, try out some different brands and kinds -- everyone's ears are uniquely shaped. Keep losing them? Buy 'em in bulk! Always forget them? Keep some in your purse or car, or ask if the venue sells them -- most do. Don't even WASTE time thinking you will look uncool or not macho or won't enjoy the show as much when wearing earplugs! Just do it, my friends. Just do it, so you never have to end up in a tiny little sound-proof booth not hearing any little beeps at all.

The Shag, "Stop and Listen"