Medicine: Never Mind Marie

When she was a sophomore at Boston's Simmons College 23 years ago, Marie Hays woke up one morning with a "woolly, thick" feeling in her head. Her roommate, closing the windows, shouted at her to get up. But Marie could not hear a word. Overnight, she had become deaf.

The college doctor diagnosed her case as influenza, and assured her that her hearing would be blocked only temporarily. Her mother prescribed travel in Europe. A specialist suggested that she take up lip reading. She consulted a famous Viennese otologist, who advised her to marry his nephew.

None of this advice improved her deafness,...

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