My recent loss of ability to hear sounds in the upper frequencies – probably the result, so I’m told, of too many hours on a pistol range forty years ago without adequate hearing protection- and the difficulty of finding the right hearing aid, has made me reflect on an experience in my mother’s life.
My mother, Virginia Lee Hicks, died in 1988, of emphysema brought on by a lifetime of smoking. She was not quite 70, seven years younger than I am now. Years earlier she had been the beneficiary of a medical procedure about which I marvel even to this day. She had been plagued with poor hearing all her life. It was the result of punctured eardrums from her early youth, and it had steadily gotten worse. They were repaired in the most remarkable way. Little snippets of blood vessel from the inside of her elbows – artery or vein, I do not know, but it probably mattered – were placed over her eardrums. They were not stitched but just adhered with blood, and they grew into new eardrums. The part that makes this exponentially even more remarkable is that the snippet for her right ear had to come from her left elbow and the one for her left ear from her right elbow. When she came home after this was done, she was overcome with tears of joy. There were so many things she could now hear that she had not realized she was missing because they had all faded away so gradually. I remember especially her delight at three simple things: crickets, soft rain on the roof, and the purring of her cat on her lap.
Think about it for a moment – about all the years of research and experimentation that led to this being done for her. Who first had the thought, “I wonder if I can repair a punctured eardrum by putting something on it that might grow into a new one.” And who first tried it, and how? And what tissues did they try – like Thomas Edison looking for the right filament for his light bulb – before they tried tissue from a blood vessel. And I say ”they” because I imagine this was a long process of discovery by researchers who might not have known each other or even been contemporaries but who meticulously shared the results of their collective progress in research papers published in scientific journals. And in this long process – which must have been marked by a string of unsuccessful attempts – who hit on the breakthrough idea of using tissue from the left arm in the right ear and from the right arm in the left ear? Where does that inspiration come from? And from whence comes the dogged determination to keep trying this and trying that until success is realized? Whence comes the faith that success is possible to someday even be realized.
So give thanks for all the men and women who are even today putting their creative imaginations to work, and daily overcoming their frustrations with all their failed attempts, to discover new marvels such as this. You won‘t see them in your doctor‘s office or at the hospital, but they and the body of knowledge they amass are just as much a part of the healing touch as those who actually lay their hands on you.
“God of grace and glory, you create and sustain the universe in majesty and beauty: We thank you for all in whom you have planted the desire to know your creation and to explore your work and wisdom. Lead us, like them, to understand better the wonder and mystery of creation, through Christ your eternal word, through whom all things were made. Amen.” (From “Holy Women, Holy Men” page 738.)
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Albanś Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 9-September-2014.