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Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

Alan's Hearing Loss

Alan had a very acute sense of hearing when he was young and he was a good mimic. I had vague dreams of forming a trio with Alan at the piano, Yolande on violin and me playing cello. I was giving both youngsters lessons in ear training - solfege - so they would not be handicapped as I had been in case they should develop into good musicians. Alan was also taking piano lessons from Clayton Horne. Alan had no trouble learning to read music at sight - we used numbers from 1 to 7 instead of the do-re-mi syllables - until one day he was having trouble getting the pitch right. He complained that he was hearing bells so I let him go without finishing what he started. I talked to Yvette about it and she told me he seemed to be getting hard of hearing. I hadn’t noticed it but a few minutes later when we called down to the recreation room in the basement to have him come up for lunch he didn’t answer. I had to go to the bottom of the steps before he heard me. We knew then that something was definitely wrong with his hearing.

We got the name of an ear specialist and Yvette took Alan to his office for a check-up. There was a hearing loss of about 30% and the doctor thought the trouble was in the nerve. When we took Alan back for further tests the doctor had left for a long vacation and a substitute was handling his patients. He recommended that we have Alan’s tonsils removed; that was one of his specialties. The operation made Alan quite sick but he was brave about it. It was his first stay in the hospital. After he began to mend his hearing was tested again and it was worse than before.

Yvette began to make inquiries and found out that there was a good hearing clinic in Montreal at McGill University and also one at Johns-Hopkins University in Baltimore. We made plans to go to Trois Pistoles for the summer, returning by way of Baltimore so we could have Alan checked at both clinics. I was not allowed to stay with Alan during the long series of tests they put him thru in both Montreal and Baltimore. Only one parent was permitted in the room. The clinic at Johns-Hopkins recommended that Alan be given a series of treatments at intervals of several weeks. They were not sure the treatments would improve his hearing but they should prevent it from getting worse.

Yvette took Alan back to Baltimore for his first treatment. They had to change trains in Detroit and again in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the middle of the night. The date was December 7th, 1941. The news spread among the passengers that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday and I was at the Methodist church in Muskegon practicing for a Xmas performance of Handel’s Messiah when we were informed of the attack.

After the first trip with Yvette along to show him what to do, Alan was able to go to Baltimore and back alone. I couldn’t see that his hearing was improved after the treatments but it didn’t get worse. Hearing aids were just being developed in 1941 and they were cumbersome and inefficient. The one we got for Alan was enclosed in a black plastic box about 4x6 inches square and three quarters of an inch thick. Yvette made a sack so he could carry it under his shirt, the wires to the ear molds going up the back of his neck. It was such a nuisance, really impossible to wear when he was out playing with his friends, that he resisted wearing it. I can’t see that his grades suffered too much; he made the honor roll when he graduated from high school and without exerting himself more than average. By the time he started college hearing aids had been developed to the point where they were much smaller and more efficient.

We never knew what had caused Alan’s sudden loss of hearing but we suspect it was due to a blow on the head when he was playing sandlot football. Yvette says he complained of being dizzy once after playing with a group of boys and they all piled on top of him.

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Our First Concrete Block House
Our Trip West in 1934 (1935?)

Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:31