My name is Brett and I have Exostosis

It’s true and I’m not ashamed. By the way, exostosis is a bony growth in your ear canal that eventually surrounds your ear drum until you go deaf. Yes, I have hearing loss so please don’t blame me ignoring you on my state of sobriety, I may not have actually heard you but for real. I know, it’s every man’s dream excuse!

Anyway, exostosis is usually caused by cool or cold water entering the ear canal, which the human body despises. In an effort to prevent water from entering the ear, the body creates bone around the outer ear canal in a vain effort to stop the inner ear from being drenched by the incoming tide. And then you go deaf.

So I went to Kauai with my family a couple weeks ago. There was a lot of water associated with our visit; much of it went into my ears. The same ears that have not enjoyed sea water entering them for the past 30 years while I’ve surfed the more frigid waters of the west coast. Wouldn’t you know it, my ears shut down. Well, they actually got infected by bacteria in the warm sea water that got trapped BEHIND the exostosis rather than just staying the hell out. Good job body, got any other great bony ideas???

So I went deaf in a matter of days. First it was deaf like I could kind of hear but everyone sounded like they were talking normally but in the next room. Then it sounded like everyone was talking in the next room but talking through cheese cloth in front of their mouths. Then my left ear just completely shut down and refused any incoming messages at all. This was in the course of a few odd and depressing days of vacation. So I bought some swimmers ear plugs and kept on playing; and going deaf.

Segue to last week, the first week I was home from paradise. My hearing wasn’t improving even though I was using the prescribed drops even more than prescribed as I really, really wanted to hear again, like 30% more than the doctor wanted me to hear based on the added frequency I was medicating my ears. Still, no go. By this past Saturday morning I was 100% deaf. I woke up and surprisingly couldn’t hear a single sound. Not my wife snoring (she doesn’t snore, strike that, she’s an angel when she sleeps), not the cats scratching the bed in early morning hunger protest, not the air conditioner, which is loud as shit. Nothing.

I got out of bed, slogged downstairs, made coffee, then got on YouTube and started watching American Sign Language tutorials. Yes, I was that deaf. I actually learned quite a few words in the past week and I’m going to continue on, I really actually enjoyed learning sign language, although I thankfully don’t need it personally, at least yet!

Little did I know my wife had come downstairs and was standing directly behind me. Here I was in my office chair learning how to say “What is your name?”, and she was genuinely concerned I had realized my hearing would never come back. I greeted her a good morning and she did her best to mask her concern because she knew I couldn’t hear a thing. I assured her I was only preparing for the worst and I was confident my hearing would return soon enough. She feigned confidence and then fetched us some more coffee. Other than my lack of hearing, the morning went fairly smooth after our cup of Joe.

I plodded about for awhile and then decided I was going to go paddleboarding with or without my hearing. I think I declared out loud my intentions and Beverly gave me the yeah-ok-stupid-man shrug, but she didn’t contest my desire to paddle. So I gathered my gear and headed to the river.

I didn’t yet realize that Saturday morning was the first morning I’d forgotten to inject my prescribed ear drops as I had been doing for the past 8 days, but there you have it, I absently went against my doctor’s orders. Freakin rebel activity, that’s what that is.

Aside from the lack of hearing, the paddle started like most of my paddles start. Upright and with a paddling motion. Things were going smoothly overall, no boats were mowing me down and I hadn’t hit a single person or vessel yet. It wasn’t for another twenty minutes or so before I noticed a sound. It was Kim Reuter paddling the other direction and wishing me a good morning. She sounded muffled and a little distant, although she was a little distant, but I expressly heard her greet me a good morning and ask if I could hear her, and I could! I paddled another ten minutes or so and then realized I was hearing the passing of two motor boats. I was hearing again! I heard birds and homeless boaters and their dogs, I heard traffic passing overhead on the Ross Island Bridge, it was coming back! By the time I got back to the dock it felt like my hearing was nearly back to normal. It felt like a miracle had occurred. I called Beverly on the phone and told her to say something, anything. I could sense the relief when I repeated back her words, which I believe were “I love you”. Yes, I was nearly in tears.

When I got home Beverly demanded to look in my ears, which she has been diligently examining for the past week. She surprisingly declared the white, infected capsules covering my ear drums had fractured in both ears, which was why my hearing was finally improving. It wasn’t the medication that was healing me, it was paddleboarding in fresh air. Paddling along at a moderate clip apparently allowed enough of a breeze into my ears (never mind the headwind!) to dry out the moisture from the infected masses and more or less kill it off. While I love modern western medicine, this time it didn’t do the trick. Paddleboarding in the summer breeze gave me back my ability to hear.

About the author

A lifelong surfer and now a regular SUP'r, Brett has lived in Portland, Oregon for 16 years. With a lifetime of shoulder wear from paddling, SUP was a logical transition to keep him on the water. Now he SUP surfs, downwinds, races, and recreationally paddles with friends and family as much as life will allow.