An experiment in story-writing and sonic narrative (part of qmat.net work at Queen Mary University of London)

Ototoxic – A short story

I don’t find it pleasant to revisit that fateful day, but my recollection is crisp. It is, unfortunately, one of the few memories that has resisted fading…


It is the 6th of January 1982. Professor Ragged is delivering his annual lecture to a robust audience which had gathered due to the unspoken yet clearly heard expectation that all faculty staff should be in attendance. I am excited yet distracted; my own work over the past couple of months has been immensely fruitful, and I have become somewhat bewitched by my findings. Truth be told to the point of utter disinterest in anything else, I’m sure my husband will ratify that.

[“…and Gentlemen I am over-joyed to be sharing with you a remarkable piece of research from one of our most promising doctoral students…”]

As usual Ragged was gibbering on about a student’s work, he had ceased pontificating about his own, mostly because his mental faculties had started to erode. Here he was boosting his faculties using the faculty. I chuckled at my own joke and switched my internal attention back to last weeks remarkable lab results, I really do think this could be the breakthrough we’ve been searching for.

[“Thank you Professor. I am delighted to be here to share with you all our latest findings from the lab. We believe that our work in the field of otologicalpsychology will change the way that…”]

Otologicalpsychology? Why is this post-grad talking about my research area?


A subtle ringing in my ears. I looked around for signs that it was coming from the room, but no-one else reacts. It passed. I tuned back into the lecture.

[“… so the early results of this are showing that there is a correlation between the…”]

She seems to be talking about… No, it’s impossible, I only just finished the analysis. No-one can possibly know yet.


Ouch. That was painful. Why wasn’t I consulted on this lecture.


What on earth is that noise? My ears have started playing up, ringing and now a weird hissing. He could have asked me before shoving a student on the platform. That man has never forgiven my public denouncement of his department’s spurious claims that they’d isolated the Crupskan gene. Even though it was nearly 30 years ago now.

Anyway, what is she talking about? I’m finding it hard to decipher her words, maybe the air-conditioning has kicked in. It’s typical that now I actually want to listen she’s started to mumble.

[“… it is likely that the cure for this chronic and widespread affliction is in the palm of our hands. Substantial peer review feedback has enabled us to finally confirm that we have successfully isolated…”]


The whooshing and cracking in my ears is amplifying,


Again, Christ,

[ “…Thank you Sandwich for that splendid summary of…”]


My head feels like it’s expanding, I can’t hear a damn word he is saying, sounds like he’s wrapped in foam…

[“…Professor Pearce’s work. We are overjoyed that she has managed to join us today, and I ask you all to congratulate her on a truly world changing breakthrough. Professor as you are here, perhaps you would like to join me to accept…” ]

He’s probably fawning over some hackneyed Professor who’s overdue for retirement, he is such an irritant. My nose has started running, and I push a handkerchief to my face. It was blood, pouring from my right nostril. Gah. I’ve had enough of this infernal racket, on top of some young woman stealing my work. I’m leaving. I stand up and turn to leave –the bulk of the audience seem to be peering at me. Good grief, a little blood and everyone freaks out. “I’m fine, nothing to worry about.” I mumble as I rush out through the fire exit.




So that was it. The event that triggered the spiral into an inescapable torment that sucks the joy from every facet of my waking life. It’s a common misconception that deafness equates to silence.

Heather Pearce, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Psychology, Kings College, University of London, June 1984

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/39212475″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

With thanks to Grantby.

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