March 22, 2021
Since I’m older than 65 and fully vaccinated, I’m apparently supposed to be out carousing with my fellow geezers, celebrating my return to a normal life. Instead, I’m worrying over the death of someone I didn’t even know.
That person is Kent Taylor (above), founder and CEO of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, who committed suicide last week. His family and the company say he’d been suffering from post-Covid symptoms, “including severe tinnitus.”
I’ve had tinnitus for years. Though it affects over 50 million people in the USA alone, it’s largely invisible because no one else hears the ringing, hissing, and other noise in the ears that sufferers do. Probably for the same reason, it’s not a well-known effect of Covid. However, studies have found the virus can cause tinnitus and hearing loss, or make existing tinnitus worse. Like the loss of taste or smell, these problems may persist after the victim has otherwise recovered. The pure stress of the pandemic can aggravate the ringing, too.
When my tinnitus set in, I was bewildered and scared stiff. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that two million people have extreme, debilitating cases. For Kent Taylor, “the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable.” He not only battled back for himself, he committed to funding a study to help members of the military fight tinnitus. He gave up his own salary and bonus last year when the restaurants lost all their customers. He sounds like the kind we can’t afford to lose, yet he was just one of thousands who died last week.
Meanwhile, cases are trending up again, some caused by variants that the vaccines might not stop, and we’re still besieged by anti-vaxxers and non-maskers. Between all that and the prospect of another frightening flareup in my tinnitus if I get sick, I’m not celebrating. After making it this far, I’m damned if I’ll risk everything for a burger, a haircut, or the pleasure of trudging around a mall on sore feet.
If you’ve recently developed tinnitus or a long-term case has gotten worse, the ATA can help you understand what’s happening and find a provider. If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You’re not alone, just like none of us have been alone for the past year. Take care and be safe.
Update: These articles have more detail about the Covid-tinnitus link:
- Can Covid make your ears ring? Here’s what we know about its possible connection to tinnitus. Washington Post, 3/24/21.
- Some Covid-19 Patients Say They’re Left with Ringing Ears. New York Times, 3/24/21.