Prognosis and Prophecy
1. WAITING ROOM. EAR, NOSE AND THROAT HOSPITAL, APRIL 2016, DAY.
A windowless, crowded basement room. RAPUNZEL and her friend AMY are waiting. AMY has come along as a physical and emotional crutch for RAPUNZEL in case this is a repeat of February’s awful hospital experience.
MALE CONSULTANT emerges with a clipboard. RAPUNZEL grips AMY’S arm.
Not him. I don’t want to see him again.
RAPUNZEL visibly relaxes.
I wouldn’t worry. You haven’t seen the same consultant twice, have you?
2. CONSULTANT’S OFFICE, DAY. A LITTLE LATER
RAPUNZEL and AMY sit opposite a FEMALE CONSULTANT.
So, the good news is, your MRI scan shows the hearing loss hasn’t been caused by a tumour.
RAPUNZEL is tense, sensing bad news to follow.
However, your hearing test shows no improvement, which means your hearing won’t come back. It does sometimes come back… but never after six weeks.
What….? I don’t understand.
Your ear was assaulted by a virus and hearing cells don’t grow back. It’s just one of those unfortunate things.
And the tinnitus? I can live with hearing loss but not the tinnitus…
Tinnitus goes hand-in-hand with hearing loss. If you have hearing loss, then you’ll have tinnitus.
What?? Forever? But it’s so loud! I feel so unwell. I can’t leave the house, I can’t move my head without this terrible sound. I can’t function, I can barely walk….
Your body will adapt. You’ll learn to live with it.
But the volume? Surely the volume will go down?
No, but your experience of it will change.
RAPUNZEL’S head is in her hands, she’s close to tears.
Is there anything she can do? She’s been trying lots of acupuncture and osteopathy…
No, those things won’t work. It’s just the placebo effect.
What about diet?
(a slight chuckle)
It’s not that type of illness.
RAPUNZEL and AMY share a confused look.
Well, I’ll discharge you and refer you to the Hearing Rehabilitation Centre. There’ll be no physical improvements but in six months your experience of the hearing loss and tinnitus will be different. Your brain will adapt.
3. HEARING REHABILITATION CENTRE, DAY. SOME WEEKS LATER.
The room is decorated entirely in brown: brown carpets, brown chairs, brown walls. RAPUNZEL, seated opposite a HEARING THERAPIST, studies the scenery around her.
Welcome to the Hearing Rehabilitation Centre. This is the perfect backdrop for the diagnosis that’s about to follow and symbolises just how shit my life has become.
You have hearing loss, tinnitus and Sound Sensitivity Syndrome. The human body is naturally very noisy – e.g. your heart is always beating but your brain doesn’t hear it. It’s the same with your ear and tinnitus. The ear is very noisy – there are even sparks in there – but the brain doesn’t focus on them, so you’re unaware.
Sound Sensitivity Syndrome means your brain has lost the ability to zone out the sounds which have always been there. That’s why you’re hearing them now. These sounds have always been there, it’s just your brain is now focusing on them.
RAPUNZEL stares at her blankly.
I don’t understand. After more than 35 years, with no injury to my head, my brain has decided to hear the sounds that have always been in my left ear? If this is what’s happened, why aren’t I hearing the sounds in my right ear too? And I know plenty of people with hearing loss who don’t have tinnitus. None of this makes sense*.
4. RAPUNZEL’S TOWER. MONTAGE. DAY/NIGHT
RAPUNZEL sits on the sofa in her pyjamas, listening on the phone to a series of friends and family members (phone held exclusively to her right ear).
…and she had exactly the same thing as you and basically her life fell apart. Her marriage was under massive strain and they got divorced…
…so she had to move out of London because her ear couldn’t cope with the noise. She was an assistant Chief Exec in a similar field to yours but she couldn’t cope with that either and she gave up her job…
…. I mean it started off like yours but then he got all these other awful illnesses, like it was a precursor of worse things to come…
RAPUNZEL curls quietly into the sofa, fearful and panicked.
He made a complete recovery. His hearing returned after four months.
Four months? My consultant said hearing never returns after six weeks!
Well, his did.
I mean, if she was wrong about that, what else could she be wrong about?
A moment of hope. RAPUNZEL sits up straighter, with a new defiance.
Both the Consultant and the Hearing Therapist are confident that they’ve done their jobs well. They can tick the box on their form saying “Patient informed of their condition” and efficiently move on. The ten-minute appointments don’t allow for anything else.
It occurs to neither of them that they’ve failed to explain things in a way Rapunzel understands or that she leaves the room more confused and scared than when she arrived.
Six months later a Homeopath will tell Rapunzel, “I once treated a schoolteacher who was struggling with crippling tinnitus. Through homeopathic remedies he reached a point where he had an overall sense of well-being and happiness and the tinnitus had reduced to the point where he only became aware of it when falling asleep at night”.
Arguably the Homeopath and Consultant are saying the same thing, i.e. the tinnitus will become unnoticeable and that Rapunzel will be able to live a full and happy life.
But the Consultant’s blunt and fatalistic words fill her with fear and bewilderment for the rest of the year.