By Robert Macklin
I call it ‘the hidden scream’. The correct medical term is Tinnitus and it is affecting an increasing number of Australians of all ages. Indeed, the latest figures suggest that victims are getting younger. And with the population ageing
I have been a sufferer for about seven years; it’s getting worse with each passing month; there are times when I think I’m about to reach the end of my tether.
When that happens, the scream won’t be hidden anymore. I will open my mouth and shriek to the heavens, anything for a moment’s surcease. All that holds me back is the knowledge that it will do no good at all. When the bellowing dies, the hidden scream will still be there, like a hundred cicadas trapped inside my skull.
That’s when I thank goodness for our firearms regulations. I would be terribly tempted to blast them with a shotgun.
I first heard of the disease about 20 years ago when I interviewed the famous Australian soprano, June Bronhill. It had effectively destroyed her singing career; at the time she was reduced to performing simple ballads in small nightclubs. Soon afterwards she ceased singing altogether.
I have since learned that the same condition struck down Barbra Streisand. Indeed, the list of famous people who have been victims of the hidden scream is very impressive. It includes Beethoven, Schumann, Howard Hughes and Vincent Van Gogh.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.
It begins when you wake each morning and when you retire at night it fills the darkness. I find some relief at my coastal weekender where the pounding of the surf seems to interfere with the soundwave pattern. When at home in Canberra we often play a CD – discovered by my dear, long-suffering wife – of a tropical storm and birdsongs. There’s another of a thunderstorm over Uluru but it’s not as effective and we’ve yet to find one of the rolling South Pacific breakers.
But the really agonising aspect is that the medical profession has let us down totally. They don’t know the cause; they have no idea how to cure it; and no one seems to be doing any worthwhile research.
Part of the reason is that it’s not seen as life-threatening (though Van Gogh might disagree) and doctors who don’t have it cannot know the torture we endure. So the research – and the funding – are devoted to other sexier areas where celebrities and politicians can parade their humanitarian concerns.
I had hoped that Australia’s leadership in cochlear implants and similar audio advances might lead to an effective treatment, but alas, nothing. Indeed, I try to avoid websites on the subject because that only leads to hyper-awareness of the scream itself.
Hard mental work, the more absorbing the better, is the choice I’ve made. The result is no fewer than eight books, two screenplays, scores of columns and articles in seven years. So I guess I have something to be thankful for.
I tried red wine and it was helpful at the time, but I soon realised there was no future in that so I gave it away. Now I just wait and hope.
And every day it gets that little bit harder.