[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It contains medical facts which are obviously false and others which sound true but aren't. Whether the characters are real has not been proven to the author's satisfaction.]

It was a slow day in Tech Support, as usual. The whole bunch of us were playing a long game of Five-Legged Deskchair Wastebasketball when, around four thirty, a call came through on my headset. It was Tod, one of our newer Field Support Technicians, with a problem he couldn't solve on his own. No suprise there-- but it turned out to be tougher than I thought.

"This lady has a persistent ringing in her ears," he said, "but all the diagnostics come up negative. No extra fluids; no pressure imbalances; no infections. It's not in the brain, though; I can measure the signal on the auditory nerve."

I had to admit I was stumped: Tod had already tried everything I could think of. I asked around, but none of the other underwires had any better ideas. "I'll have to call you back," I said. I called Kathryn up in Engineering.

"I don't get it," she said. "He ruled out everything." For the first time it occurred to me that Tod might have found an actual design flaw.

Kathryn said she'd forward the fault description to her Boss. I was deeply impressed. The Boss designed the whole system. I had never had such close contact with Him before: only one person separated us. And then, within minutes, I got an e-mail-- addressed to Kathryn, and CC'd directly to me!

I would almost have been insulted, if I didn't know how brilliant and busy the Boss was, and if the message hadn't been so prompt. It was mostly cut-and-pasted from a standard Web page designed for curious users. But it got the job done.

        Received: 21-May-1997AD 22:47:04 GMT
        Message-ID: B67800FF5AF96653579FETC
        From: god@hq.heaven.com
        To: kathryng@eng.heaven.com
        CC: aldel@support.heaven.com, tod@support.heaven.com
        Reply-To: kathryng@eng.heaven.com

        (Excerpted from http://www.heaven.com/body/input/ear/inner.html)

        Tinnitus (ringing in ears)

        The ear has a built-in "automatic gain control" that turns
        down its sensitivity in loud environments and turns it up in
        quiet environments. In extremely quiet environments, the
        sensitivity is increased by so much that low-level electrical
        noise, which is present in all biological systems, is
        amplified to the point of audibility. This is normal and
        familiar to most people.

        Certain disorders, however, can increase the perceived noise,
        which often serves as a first indicator of more serious
        problems. These disorders include various infections,
        internal pressure caused by restricted drainage due to

        (end of excerpt)

        It sounds like you've eliminated the common causes. My
        hypothesis is that a higher concentration than usual of sodium
        and other ions in the perilymph have increased its
        conductivity, allowing more electrical noise to reach the
        nerves. This has been known to happen in people with junk-food
        habits. In any case, since the problem is apparently within
        the cochlea, the solution is to replace it (on both
        sides). The old ones should be sent to us for further testing.


              Allah, The Lord Thy God, The Almighty, whatever...

                          "Let there be light."

              1-800-HEAVEN  www.heaven.com/~god  (or just pray)

I called Tod back right away. "Ever replaced a cochlea?" I asked. He admitted that he hadn't. "No problem," I said, "they're totally hot-swappable. Just open up the head's side panel, pop out the old one and pop in the new one. And send us the old ones; Engineering wants to check them out."

He did, and it turned out the Boss was right-- the lady had been living on potato chips. Let that be a lesson to you all.