Why I Write Poetry
It was the day after my 40th birthday and what should have been a peaceful transition into middle age for me began a five month ordeal. I woke just after 6am with a tremendous pain and ringing in my left ear. Scared and confused I did what most grown men would have done and called my mother. Mom suggested I take something for the pain and get myself to the emergency room.
After an almost seven hour wait the doctor examined my ear, said the drum was completely shattered and asked if I listen to extremely loud music or have been on the receiving end of any blows to the ear. I explained that I went to bed in slight discomfort and woke in extreme pain. Leaving the hospital I was optimistic. With prescriptions for pain and infection in hand I promptly scheduled a follow up visit with a specialist.
The medications I took faithfully and it’s true much of the pain was gone but there was one thing that the meds couldn’t touch. Have you ever heard the sweet sound of a teapot whistling? It’s quite pleasant for about the first twenty minutes. You see, I had a constant, often loud ringing in my ear, never ceasing, twenty four hours of every day, every moment, and every second.
Within a week of my emergency room visit I noticed a slight pimple on the left side of my face, near my ear. In a few short hours it grew to the size of a small egg and protruded from my face. This resulted in another hospital visit where the doctor enquired if I had been taking my antibiotic as prescribed.
The next four months were the worst in my life as several new and reoccurring infections popped up in various places on my body and gradually the pain meds did not work as well. It seemed as if I was on an endless cycle of doctor visits and stronger antibiotics, as the doctors agreed that they could not even think about reconstructing my eardrum until the infections were under control.
I became depressed; sleep deprived, and lost weight. For the first time in my life I could empathize with the person who might consider taking their own life. Before this time I would think such a person was weak and if I wasn’t raising a son who had already lost his mother to suicide I would have seriously considered that option.
The ringing was simply dreadful and I was slowly losing hope as I tried to function in my new job as a special education teacher. Most of my sixth grade students had behavior issues to begin with and took full advantage of the fact that I could not hear out of my left side. It was pure torture.
After a few months my mother came down from San Diego to care for me and I would often cry, curse or lose my temper. I remember being constantly agitated and looking for a fight.
The thing that transpired next literally changed my life. During a particularly painful weekend of anger and self pity my sister handed me some paper and a pen and asked me to write a poem about our dad as I would occasionally write family poems and other silly rhymes before my ear woes.
After snapping at her I decided to try. The next forty minutes went by fast as I wrote three of the most crappy poems you can imagine as well as several short rhymes. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I realized I had been so engrossed in the creative process that I was completely detached from the ringing, that awful, awful ringing. I remember thanking God as it was truly a beautiful moment and a short reprieve in over four months of suffering and chaos. It gave me hope, something to cling to and a little joy amongst the pain.
Within days of this one of the specialists recommended more tests and blood work and a few days later I got the call with my results. It seemed I had contracted an extremely rare staph infection quite likely during my first ER visit. This infection was fast spreading and non-responsive to any known antibiotics but it did respond to one type of medication. So I took that round of meds, all the infections went away and they reconstructed my eardrum with skin from my canal.
It’s been almost ten years since that defining moment and the best I can describe it is that my brain associates so much pleasure and the absence of pain to writing poetry. I set a goal that weekend to always improve, write at least one respectable poem a week and at least one a month that would make Shel Silverstein proud.