Dr. Li always told me, Practice on the phone with your mom

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One sting, two stings, three stings. Dr. Li inserts acupuncture needles, one by one, around my left ear which is deaf. I lay on the somewhat comfy exam table, staying as still as possible with my head resting on a pillow. I close my eyes and try to listen to my surroundings. From behind the drawn curtains, I could barely hear my mother’s muffled “How long will she be?” as I drift off to sleep.

For years I have kept my weekly acupuncture appointment, afraid to tell my mom that it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t bear to shatter the hope that she so carefully pieced together throughout the years. It all started when my parents finally realized their little kindergartener couldn’t hear from her left ear. I went through doctors and tests like a dancer went through shoes. Hearing tests, MRIs, CAT scans – nothing. And then there was a shred of hope: acupuncture. I remember Dr. Li explaining to my parents that as long as I came for acupuncture every Sunday and “practiced” hearing with my left ear, that I would able to regain some ability to hear with it. I saw the bright gleam of hope in my mother’s eyes.

Dr. Li always told me, “Practice on the phone with your mom. Use your left ear.” Easier said than heard. I can’t simply choose to hear with my left ear. I’ve tried it before. After a few years of unsuccessful acupuncture, I finally broke down one night. I sat on my mother’s lap sobbing that it just wasn’t working. She embraced me and asked me “Why didn’t you tell me before?” I mumbled that I was scared of disappointing her. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I will never be disappointed in you.”

I took a deep breath and replayed the last few seconds in my head. Everything became clear. I wasn’t afraid of disappointing my mom – that’s what I masked my fear to be. What I was terrified of was breaking out of my shell and facing reality. The reality was that I was born with a deaf left ear. I’ve tried all these years to change that, not realizing that this little trait is a part of who I am. I’m the girl who walks on the left side of her best friend, who sits on the left side of someone at the movie theater, who only listens to music using the left earphone. And I’m all right with that. I’m finally all right.

Instead of focusing on what I can’t hear, I take pleasure in everything I can. The soft music in my single headphone playing over the rumble of the subway, the sound of the city as I walk its streets, the booming roar of an oncoming storm, the laughter of my friends, the bells that start and end my classes, even the occasional wrong note I play on my violin. Hearing is feeling. It is excitement, grief, serenity and I embrace all the “noise” around me.

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