How Covid injured a musician's ears, but not his spirit
Updated: Sep 10
Do you know about Ludwig Van Beethoven? Chances are that you do, and even if you don't, you've heard his work. Composed in 1810, Fur Elise is a melody which has practically become a part of our lives even without us knowing about it. Just like Moonlight Sonata (his other magnum opus), Fur Elise is a great piece of music which has become the sound of muzak. At about 210 years old, it's safe to call it timeless.
But music aside, Beethoven had an incredible life story. At age 28, he reportedly developed a condition called Tinnitus. Simply put, Tinnitus is when you hear a sharp, painful "beep" in your ears continuously. He also developed something which is now recognised as Hyperacusis, which is when your ears get pained when exposed to sounds of regular environment. They become extremely sensitive. Going to a restaurant, for example, becomes tough as the noise seems like it's stabbing your ears. Imagine his life, especially as a musician. It's said that he became extraordinarily depressed, contemplated suicide, and wrote letters to his brothers where he told them about his struggles. He confessed that he had to keep it all a secret, because if not, he'd be fired from his job.
But Beethoven then turned heroic. In one of his letters, he said he intends to "seize Fate by the throat", as "it shall certainly not crush me completely". He began experiencing hearing loss, but kept making music. Turned aloof and stopped going to events, but somehow managed to give performances at loud venues. His hearing declined, and he died at age 44, but one of his final concerts with the masterpiece called The Ninth Symphony was met with extraordinary applause. The thunderous claps made him cry like a baby, as the sounds probably hurt him (whatever he could hear of them), but his legacy was cast in stone.
"I'll seize Fate by the throat; it shall certainly not crush me completely". Ludwig Van Beethoven
When I read this story a few years ago, I didn't understand half of it because words like Tinnitus, Hyperacusis, etc. went over my head. All I could say was "Damn! Life's so fragile, man. Life's so fragile!". While being respectful of the tragedy; as a young man, I never thought any of these things could ever happen to me. Because who thinks like that?
Enter Covid, Vaccine & personal injury
21st October, 2021
A personal injury recently happened to me. But before all that, I'd like to tell you that I've always believed that "small wins" are very important in life, especially when you're in pursuit of something big. Small wins give you the peace of mind you need to preserve for a long journey. They give you inspiration; they give you hope. Quite simply, they keep you going. Even though I'm a passionate entrepreneur who started up in the freshman year of college and built a multi-crore company by the time I was graduating, I've been a musician for a long time and coming out with songs has been my way of achieving difficult, but beautiful 'small wins'. But it all became very different this time around.
I was working on my new song Sahi, and while the process of singing and playing all the instruments in the studio by myself is hard enough, I noticed serious Tinnitus and Hyperacusis right after my Covid vaccine. When I first caught a hint of what's happening to me, it felt like a strange and cruel conspiracy. Like my life is slowly, and secretly being stolen away from me. But nothing was confirmed, just as yet. And then, one of these days, I went to a restaurant with family to celebrate my father's birthday, and it blew my head off (even though I had my ears capped with cotton and a pair of tight fitting headphones, just to be safe). It was then that I knew it was done. There weren't any doubts anymore. My ears were shot.
I showed myself to four doctors, one of whom is still treating me. But nobody's really sure. My ringing (due to Tinnitus) had turned really excruciating and my ears became extremely sensitive (even the sound of ceiling fan now caused real, physical pain). But thankfully the Audiometry tests came out alright, which means my hearing is intact. I was getting slightly better after a 60 day steroid therapy, but the situation drastically reversed after I was exposed to the excruciating sounds of the MRI machine without any protection. The medical negligence of the attendants at Venkateshwar Hospital (Dwarka) was bewildering and I'm suing them. But while struggling with the mess, I read a report by Times of India, according to which "7 to 15 per cent of adults affected with COVID-19 reported audio-vestibular symptoms. The most common symptom happens to be tinnitus or ringing in the ears, followed by hearing loss and vertigo".
I'm not the only one.
The usual imaginable pains aside, the most painful repercussion of this condition is that I'm not being able to listen to my songs as I used to. Earlier, I enjoyed my song's master tracks for hours before jotting down notes for my producer buddy so the track could be improved. But forget hours, this time I found myself hurt after just the first listen. So I worked around it by asking my family members & friends for cues after training them on how to evaluate the sound. It's a pretty strange but interesting journey which has taught me how to take that leap of faith in people. I still listen to the track a few times at really low volumes whenever possible, but earlier I was a control freak. Now I've learnt to be easier.
The journey has taught me how to take that leap of faith. I was a control freak, who's learnt to be easier.
My spirit is intact and my latest song has broken out!
After being stuck in the production hell for a long time, Sahi is finally out. At the risk of sounding aggrandising, I feel it's incredibly beautiful. Each note of the guitar, vocal melody and bass means something, and every lyrical phrase and drum rudiment bleeds unreasonable passion; for that I'm incredibly proud. Despite the song being quite esoteric in nature, I was sincerely hoping that it yields me a sleeper hit (wishful thinking!), but was pleasantly surprised when Spotify featured it in their Fresh Finds India list. This is especially beautiful because until now, my songs reached over 20,000 listeners & 50,000 streams without any support whatsoever. This is a level up! I'm eager to see what happens now. Godspeed!
As I've grown up, I've realised that the journeys of an entrepreneur and an artist are strikingly similar. And while some obstacles might seem insurmountable, we must rise up as heroes in our little worlds. Just like Beethoven, I had to "seize Fate by the throat", as "it shall certainly not crush me completely". Because to be honest, there was no other way...
Edit: 9th September, 2023
It's been over two years that I've been dealing with Tinnitus and Hyperacusis. I still remember the date I got the Covid vaccine. 21st July, 2021. How it changed my life! After spending Lakhs on doctors (and finally hearing that this has no cure and my hearing is also at risk), I took matters into my own hands and began researching on these disorders. I experimented with a few medicines and they thankfully worked for me. I feel much better. My ringing is now subdued and even though it's still there, it's manageable. My Hyperacusis is a still a problem, but it's gotten a bit better due to my meds, and I've found out the way to deal with them with the use of a special class of ear plugs referred to as Filter EPDs (Ear Protection Devices). They really help. I can honestly say that they've saved my life.
I'm managing my condition well. And I've come out with nine more songs since Sahi. I now have fourteen songs in my roaster with over half a million streams on the internet. My songs are in over 1500 playlists on Spotify alone, and I'm incredibly proud of every single one of them. One of these days, they're going to break out and everyone will be surprised, except me.
On my audiologist's request, I had uploaded a video of my journey with Tinnitus and Hyperacusis. And to my incredible surprise, it went viral. With over 100,000 views and growing everyday, my Tinnitus videos have helped thousands of people across the world (including many doctors) in dealing with these disorders. I started getting so many messages and calls on Instagram, that I had to make another video to tell people to please stop doing that. I'm incredibly glad to have been of some help, and thank god for the opportunity every day. Here are the clips, in case somebody needs them.
Here's wishing all the luck to everybody. Thank you for reading!
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