Rush tells his fans of his hearing loss

October 7, 2001

I had intended to start today’s program by telling you what I’m about to tell you. The outbreak of our attack on Osama bin Laden made it necessary to deal with that and bring everybody up to speed first on that and to place that in perspective. But I have, throughout my career – at least as far as this program is concerned, now into its 14th year – have been as upfront and candid with all of you, first, as possible. This is as opposed to, say, calling a press conference to announce something or doing it in some other way.

The relationship that I have always enjoyed with you is one I consider to be familial. I see evidence of it each and every time I venture out in public, and I’ve been overawed by that. I will never take it for granted. And around Christmastime and Thanksgiving time, I always try to make an effort to express my gratitude and thanks for how much your support has meant. Because so many people have told me over the course of the years how much this show has meant to them because, when it started, there was nothing like it in the national media. There were all sorts of liberal talk shows, both TV and radio, but they were at night, and the people who think as you and I do had to endure being laughed at and made fun of and impugned on a daily basis. And finally, here came a guy, Rush Limbaugh, who didn’t tell you what to think but simply reflected what you already thought, what you already believed. He validated what you already thought and believed.

That made you feel confident, and you relished the fact that the show was there, and you made no bones about expressing that. There was never any market research. We didn’t survey the market before the program started and say, “What’s missing out there,” and try to fill the void and then come up with decisions. “Hey, there’s no conservatism in national radio. Let’s go do that.”

That’s not at all what happened. We just decided to try something based on a passion and do it – and the passion to do it continues. That’s the first thing that I want you to understand. The passion to get up every day – I talked a moment ago about pursuing happiness and how I was going to be mentioning this a lot in the coming days and weeks. Well, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching this past summer because of some things that have happened to me that have caused me to redefine what’s meaningful and what is happy and important and what’s not.

Simply put, I noticed on the 29th of May – I’ll never forget the date – that I could not hear anything in my left ear. So I went to the doctor. They assumed it was earwax (as they always do; I’m 50 years old) and took my oral history and found out that there’s some genetic hearing loss in my family, and immediately chalked it up to that. The bottom line is, from May 29th up until about, I’d say, ten days ago, I lost hearing every five days, to the point, ladies and gentlemen, I’m now totally deaf in my left ear.

I cannot hear a thing in my left ear. Hearing aids, the most powerful made, mean nothing. I have the ability to recognize sound but not identify it in my right ear. I cannot communicate with people. I can occasionally talk to people in person one on one if their voice frequency happens to fit the range that I can still hear, but I cannot hear radio; I cannot hear television; I cannot hear music. I am, for all practical purposes, deaf – and it’s happened in three months.

I have been to what I learned were the finest doctors and clinics throughout the country, focusing on one, and every effort has been made to stabilize the loss, with the hope of restoring it. No success has been reported in either stabilizing it or … restoring it. Now, all during this summer, the loss, even though rapid – by the middle of July, for example, I was told that from the end of May to the middle of July, I had lost what the average person loses in 15 years, in terms of hearing. Hearing aids are of such improved quality today that they accommodated the loss.

My hearing wasn’t normal, but I could function. I could have one-on-one conversations. I could do everything but listen to music. Music was just a mass of noise. I was unable to hear it. I still don’t know music. I haven’t been able to recognize a song I’m hearing since the middle of July. I have been able, though, to get powerful enough hearing aids to where I can communicate one on one with people and, up until about ten days ago, was able to listen to things on radio and TV.

But I can no longer do that, and the odds are that within another month or so if the pattern keeps up, I will be entirely deaf – 100% – and at that point, a decision has to be made as to what to do about it, because my desire is to continue doing this, and there are an infinite number of ways of continuing. I mean, I’m doing this program today, ladies and gentlemen, in effect, total deafness. I have taken two phone calls today and have not heard a word any of the callers said to me.

I’m not going to explain to you how we’re doing this. Put two and two together, if you wish, but as long as the passion exists to do it, then we’ll find a way. I’m at that point now. This is where I am. What do I do about it? Now, I’ve been luckier than most people will ever be in life. I can retire if I wanted to and not suffer. I don’t have a worry in the world when it comes to finances. That’s how fortunate I’ve been, and as such, I have options.

That’s, again, getting back to what I was referring to earlier when I talked about all the options that we as a free people have. I can still, even with this, get up, and if I want to, with the help of other people, come in here and do this radio program. I can do this radio program every day without taking a phone call if I have to – and in my mind, still, outrate 99% of the people who do it. Or, if I want to take phone calls, we’ll find a way to do that. In fact, we already have. That’s what I was doing all last week was rehearsing ways in which to conduct this program in a way that would allow me to perform in such a way that it would meet and hopefully continue to surpass the expectations that you have.

So that’s my challenge. How to structure this in such a way as to continue to be able to do it at the highest levels – my desire, my expectations, and yours – without dwelling on the loss. It’s happened, and…there are things that are being done. You would not believe the medication that is flowing through me in an attempt to reverse this. There is a theory as to what’s happening, but I’m going to keep that to myself. It is not genetic. There’s something more going on than that. I have been through every conceivable medical test and exam this summer, you can imagine.

All those times that you thought I was on vacation or playing golf, I’ve been in an MRI machine or getting blood drawn, or on a stress EKG machine or at a cardiologist – wherever – hearing aid doctor, the hearing doctor, where have you. The only thing that is really going to change is that I may have to be absent a day here and a day there, more so than I would like, just in order to see the doctors.

Now, if it eventuates that the medication that is literally – I mean, I’m popping pills [and] I’m shooting up stuff. I’ve never done stuff like this before. If this stuff doesn’t work, then there is one other option that is relatively new, but it’s not something that has been done enough to where a pattern has been established to say that it’s acceptable. There’s always the last resort – the cochlear implant. It’s the last thing they do because it’s irreversible. Once you do that, you’re finished, and if it doesn’t work, then nothing they can do to go back and put you back the way you were.

So you must wait until you are entirely deaf for approval for this. I mean, the FDA even gets involved in this because it’s surgery which involves the brain. I have not yet spoken to people who have received cochlear implants, but I’ve talked to a number of doctors who say that it would be an improvement over the situation I’m in now. To describe for you the way I hear things now, I understand what I’m saying -but I think it’s more because I know what I’m going to say rather than I’m actually hearing it.

Hearing what I say, I don’t really know if I am or not. Other people, depending on their voice range, if they’re loud and speak slowly enough and are close enough to me, then I can hear them, but this is relatively new. The past ten days, it’s been this case. Ten days ago [and] two weeks ago, I was able to conduct a normal conversation, just a couple of times, “Say that again, please?” But now it’s deteriorated to the point that, for all clinical, practical purposes, if I take the right-side hearing aid out, I do not hear a single thing – zip, zero, nada.

I don’t hear smoke alarms, and you know how loud they are. I’ve tested the loudest things that I could find to see if I hear them, and I don’t. Now, I do hear certain sound frequencies. I hear myself walking on a concrete floor. I hear the toilet handle flush now and then. But when it comes to the human voice, I hear not enough to have any kind of a productive conversation with anybody. That doesn’t mean that I cannot continue to do what I love doing here. It’s just a matter of finding out how and the best way to do it.

Now, one other thing here before I go to commercial break. I know a lot of you are sending e-mails about my voice, and I know that a good percentage of them are what I call seminar e-mails because you are so far off track, you’ve got to be making it up. Somebody’s got to be telling you what to say. “Rush, I hadn’t listened to you for four months, and all of a sudden, you sound like you’re Bill Buckley all the time.” Or “Rush, I haven’t heard you in six months, and you sound very pompous.”

That’s just flat-out BS, but there are some people who are writing who are saying your voice pitch is lower, or you sound like you’re speaking slower than normal, what have you. My friends, it could well be that my voice is changing. I don’t know. I cannot hear myself well enough to know. As far as I’m concerned, my voice is as normal as it’s ever been. My energy level is as normal as it’s ever been. And when we were in rehearsals last week out in Los Angeles, we discovered, in fact, that some of the people in the rehearsal were also concerned about the voice quality, and they were stunned as to how normal I sounded.

So we’re looking at technical things. Is there something in our technical circuitry, in the connections from here to New York, to wherever our signal goes to get the program to you that’s causing some of these fluctuations to take place, in addition to whatever may be happening with my voice? But as far as today is concerned, everybody that’s surrounding me tells me I sound as normal as I always have when they’re in the room with me, that there’s no change whatsoever today.

We have made some technological changes because people have been complaining about the lower octave, so I think we’ve made some minor changes to raise the pitch of the voice electronically today as were trying to figure out what’s going on but as far as I’m concerned there’s no change, it’s very frustrating my voice is my voice and I’m not trying to change it in any way, shape, manner, or form.