Huey Lewis has lost his hearing, now what?

Huey Lewis was in Dallas January 2018, heading to the stage with his long-time band the News when he says, “I heard this huge noise. It sounded like warfare was going on in the other room. I yelled, ‘What is that?’ They said, ‘It’s just Pat, the opening act.’ I put in my in-ear [monitors] in and couldn’t hear anything.”

Once the opening song began, “I thought the bass amp had blown a speaker,” he says. “I just heard this horrible noise and I couldn’t find pitch or even hear myself. It was an absolute nightmare. The worst thing. Just horrible.”

This was not new for Lewis. In 1987, at the height of his Top 40 success, something happened in his right ear. “I felt like I had been in a swimming pool and my ear was full,” he says. “I couldn’t shake it out or pop my ears. I went to all kinds of doctors and an EMT finally said to me, ‘Get used to it.’ I said, ‘Get used to it? I’m a musician!’”

He got used to it.

Now, thirty years later, this – the other ear. “I was suicidal,” he says. “There was literally a roaring tinnitus in my head. I just laid in bed. There was nothing I could do. I’d just lay in bed and contemplate my demise.”

Would you rather win the lottery or go for a walk every day for a year? Everybody says the lottery, right? It’s smarter to take the walk. It turns out that we adjust as humans relatively quickly to really good things (winning the lottery) and really bad things (losing your hearing). It’s called hedonic adaptation. Blips up, blips down, for the most part (not with extreme things like abuse or PTSD) after something happens we return to near our original level of everyday happiness. We’re resilient.

“It turns out you can get used to almost anything,” Lewis says. “I told myself things like, ‘At least I don’t have pancreatic cancer …’” 

His hearing varies daily now. “Ten is what it was before this happened,” he says. “I’m at a five now right now, which means I can hear speech fine with hearing aids in. Under a three, I can’t even hear the phone ring.”

But music is of course harder. “Music is much harder to listen to than speech because even one note occurs in all frequencies with harmonics and overtones and undertones,” he says. “I call it distortion. When I hear a bass part that goes ‘bump, bump, bump,’ I just hear [imitates the sound of loud, crunchy static]. I fight for pitch and I can’t find it. If I can’t find pitch, I can’t sing. It’s horrible.”

He hasn’t done a full gig since that night in Dallas over two years ago. 

Now Lewis is focused on his health. “The inner ear is one of the things that medical science knows the least about,” he says. “It’s cased in bone and there’s no surgery. But I’m taking stem-cell stuff and trying everything. With my hearing always fluctuating, my body is doing something itself. What I have to do is stay healthy, exercise, and hope my body will slowly take care of itself.”

I’ve noticed this from tearing my PCL in my right knee while skiing just over a year ago. It’s never going to get better, and that continues to be hard to fully let in. And yet…I’m at probably a similar level of happiness than I was then. And I’m about as active – just now I wear a brace and choose activities that won’t trigger too much pain. I’ve adjusted, and will continue to adjust.

So when you lose something you care deeply about – and you have, and you will, we all will – there will be a time for a descent. Like Lewis lying in bed contemplating his demise. 

And then there’ll be a time when your resiliency kicks in and like Lewis says, “it turns out you can get used to almost anything.”

And lastly, if you’re willing to do the work, you’ll return to the level of happiness where you usually live. Like Lewis, clearly a naturally ebullient person.

 “I have a great life,” he says. “I’m a lucky guy. No matter what happens, I’m a lucky guy. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that. But I am.”

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