Threnody for a Hair Cell

A scream woke me in the middle of the night Saturday. It was a very small scream. Tiny. Very high-pitched. It was a small scream, but persistent enough that I couldn’t go back to sleep while it rang out.

The worst of it was that I was powerless to stop the noise, or even to shut it out. Burying my ears in pillows only made it clear that the scream was coming from within my own head. I tossed,  I turned, I grumped, and the scream carried on.

It was the mariachi band, I realized, as my mind sluggishly started to shift towards wakefulness. The problem with mariachi bands is that the best listening distance for trumpet is approximately a quarter of a mile away through an insulated wall of brick.

Woodwind players understand why well enough: the age-old battle for credit persuades us that trumpet players all go completely tone deaf at a young age, but the truth is that it’s the clarinet players who sit in front of them without industrial-grade hearing protection who are at risk. And the dancers at weddings who can’t both dance and distance themselves from the aural battering ram of instruments.

But what good does it do to blame the trumpet player for my inability to go back to sleep? The damage is done, inflicted with no malicious intent and only joy in the music. And, it must be said, the damage is small.

I read once, in an article I can’t now find, that temporary tinnitus is sometimes caused by damage to the hair cells in your ear. The ringing tolls the bell for one’s ability to hear some frequency as the cochlear cell oscillates its last. An hour on Wikipedia persuades me that the issue is too complex for me to determine the truth of that claim through an hour on Wikipedia, but I find nothing to conclusively dismiss the claim either, and as all good scientists know, sometimes that’s the best you get.

I lay awake, listening to the death knell of this one cell and wondering what cycle of sounds waves I’ll never notice again…hoping, really, that I will never notice that I’m not noticing the sounds.

I realized in my not-allowed-to-slumber state that I perhaps this is the reason I’ve been called awake. When I finally slept again and enough, I woke unable to know what the final damage was. Awake, in the dark, however, I could listen and bear witness as the dying cell sang its final song.

2 thoughts on “Threnody for a Hair Cell

  1. Wow, none of the multitudes of audio cells that have left my hearing pathways even said good-bye…much less threw a party. Love you!!


  2. I believe the reference you are looking for is the book/movie “Children of Men” by PD James. I know in the movie Juliane Moore’s character tells that to Clive Owen’s character.


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