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Hey guys! It’s been awhile. Thanks to being sick with a really weird ear infection (the inner corner of my ear is blistered/inflamed…) I’ve been home bound with a lot of free time this week, so I figured I’d give you all an update.

My MA project is…going. It’s crazy how soon symposium is coming up. I feel so not ready for that, but it’s a month and a half away whether I’m ready or not. It’s definitely crunch time and that means making some hard decisions, too. Among the hardest of decisions was the decision to fire my original second reader. I’d rather not go into details about that decision other than to say it simply wasn’t working for me and I needed more. Fortunately, Professor Block assigned me Katie Budris as a new second reader and everything’s been going much better ever since then, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

My main focus has been on my travel chapters lately. Travel is something that was difficult if not impossible pre-cochlear implants, but since getting implants I’ve been to Disney, Nashville, Chicago, Langhorne, and will very likely be traveling to St. Louis in May. Travel has definitely become very important to me since getting my implants so I really wanted to highlight that in my memoir. However, it’s been a challenge to figure out the best way to approach this topic. I initially only had one chapter on Nashville, but it felt really out of place. Then I tried to write two chapters on Disney…one before cochlear implants and one after cochlear implants. That felt redundant and Professor Block didn’t think I needed the post-cochlear implant Disney chapter at all since he felt it didn’t really add anything to the story.

In my most recent revision which is below for your reading pleasure, I combined both Disney chapters together and re-wrote 90% of the Nashville chapter and combined that in here as well.

Please note this is very much still a rough draft. Some things I want to work on with my next few drafts include my shift in time periods/tenses and transitions between pre-post cochlear implant stories.

As always, I hope you enjoy reading my story and I welcome your feedback!

 

Traveling Through the Sound Waves of Life

            I didn’t sleep at all the night before my high school senior trip to Disney World because I was too excited. I never really been anywhere without my parents before, unless you count sleeping over my Aunt Christ and Uncle Don’s house in Riverside when I was a child (which I don’t). Sure, I wouldn’t really be alone, but just the idea of being away from my parent’s control and in a new city and even taking a flight was cause enough for excitement. Plus, I never been to Florida before.

I never quite understood why so many people hated flying or were afraid of it. I never been on a plane before, but the idea of being up thousands of miles high above the sky thrilled me. I was a little nervous about going through airport security. After all, this was post 9/11 and I heard horror stories on how crazy airport security could be, but even that I was able to brush off as not being a very big deal.

Woodbury High School always did a fantastic job with working with me and my hearing loss. Everyone always knew to speak loudly and to let me see them, so I could read their lips. My mom also instructed me to make sure I always stayed with someone at all times, so they could be my ears, she meant.

“Everyone get out your ID and have them in your hand along with your plane tickets. Everyone must have both in their hands to go through the luggage check. I should not see anyone struggling to find either item and holding up the line at the luggage check,” Mr. Shivers commanded.

I grabbed out both items from my wallet as instructed and clenched them in my fist and allowed my eyes to gaze back and forth between our three main chaperones: Mr. Shivers, Mrs. DiRenzio, and Mr. Cannulli. I kept my eyes fixated on the three of them, fearing that if I so much as blinked I’d miss important instructions which would cause me to miss my flight and the trip at whole.

“Okay, everyone make sure you have your IDs and plane tickets ready and follow me!” Mrs. DiRenzio instructed in a much more pleasant tone than Mr. Shivers.

I followed her behind the rest of my classmates as instructed. I examined each student in front of me as they displayed their IDs to the luggage check attendants along with their plane tickets. I watched them as they lifted their luggage up on a scale, tagged it, and then placed it on the conveyor belt.

Okay. Display ID, place luggage on scale, tag it, and place on the conveyor belt. I got this, I told myself.

Getting through the luggage check was easy enough. I figured that the rest of the airport would be just as easy. Maybe this isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be after all, I thought.

I looked for Mrs. DiRenzio in the sea of faces and followed her along with the rest of my classmates as she helped to lead everyone upstairs to the security line. I watched as the people in front of me held out their IDs and plane tickets. I watched as people took off their shoes, belts, and jewelry. I found it strange that people had to remove their shoes. It seemed impossible to me that anyone could hide a bomb in such a small place, but apparently, it’s already happened before.

“EVERYONE TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AND KEEP YOUR ID AND PLANE TICKET IN YOUR HANDS. REMOVE BELTS AND JEWELRY. DON’T HOLD UP THE LINE. KEEP MOVING,” Mr. Shivers yelled to the crowd of students. I’ve been concentrating so much on Mrs. DiRenzio that I didn’t even notice that he was already upstairs. Mr. Cannuli must be the only one left downstairs, I thought.

I already had my ID and plane ticket in my hand along with my carry-on strapped to my back. I didn’t have on a belt or any jewelry, so I assumed I was safe as far as metal items were concerned. I untied my shoes and took them off and carried them in my hands and moved forward in line, waiting for my turn.

As the line moved closer to the security check point, I could see the people in front of me grabbing bins to place their shoes and belongings in. As soon as the bins were within reach I grabbed one to place my shoes, cell phone, and, carry on in.

Nice and easy. I’m almost done. This isn’t bad at all, I thought.

I was wrong. Very very very wrong.

Once I walked through the body scanner, the alarm sounded. Metal.

Except, I couldn’t hear the metal detector go off. It made a high-pitched beeping sound that was out of the range of my hearing capabilities.

“I need you to stand over here,” the security guard said as she pointed away from the line.

“Wait — what’s happening?” I said as I felt my face get hot. All of my classmates and everyone else still in line was staring at me.

“Point out your items,” she said. Except I couldn’t hear her. Puh. Items.”

“What? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” I explained.

“Puh,” she repeated.

“I’m sorry I’m hearing impaired,” I said.

Mrs. Direnzio came to my rescue to see what was going on. I was about ready to burst into tears. What was that woman saying? Why was everyone staring at me as if I was some sort of a criminal?

“Kim, do you have on a belt, any jewelry, or anything metal?” she asked. She pointed to her waist and her wrist as make-shift signs, so I’d be able to understand what she meant.

“No, I don’t have anything on,” I said.

I saw her ask the security guard a question that I can only assume was something along the lines of, “What do you need her to do?”

The security guard relayed a message back to Mrs. DiRenzio and she repeated it to me. “Kim, she needs you to point out your things. Which items on the conveyor belt are yours?”

I pointed.

“Okay, is that everything?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Kim, you set off the metal detector, but don’t worry it’s okay. It happens. You’re not in trouble. They just need to do a pat down and move their wand over your body,” she explained.

I nodded. I didn’t hear all of what she said, but it looked like she was signaling that they had to search me for something. Did they think I had a weapon? I was scared.

The female security guard explained to me that she would be patting down my entire body including my breasts, buttocks, and in between my legs. She asked me if I understood, so I nodded. I’m not entirely sure what is going on, but I just want to go to Disney, I thought.

The next thing I knew the woman was groping every inch of my body. She did exactly what she told me she was going to do, but it still felt so wrong. I felt as if she was violating me, even though I knew in the back of my head she was only doing her job. My classmates stood by and watched. I was humiliated.

After she finished patting me down, she ran a hand scanner over my body again. It was still going off, but I could not hear it. I watched as the lights flashed on the scanner. Something was wrong.

She ran it through again, this time more slowly. She stopped when she reached my head.

“Are you wearing any earrings or jewelry?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“She has hearing aids, could that be it?” Mrs. DiRenzio asked.

“Possibly,” the security guard said.

“Do your hearing aids contain any metal? Mrs. DiRenzio asked.

“Nnnn-ot really. But they take batteries which have metal.” I said, my voice trembling in fear.

“Can you take those off for me?” the security guard asked.

I nodded and pulled both hearing aids out of my ears. I looked at Mrs. DiRenzio for approval.

“You can sit them down here for a minute,” she said as she pointed to a small counter.

I placed my hearing aids on the counter and then spread out my legs and arms as instructed. The security guard once again waved her hand scanner across my body. Except this time, it never flashed or set off any alarms.

“That must be it. Okay you’re good to go,” she said.

Mrs. DiRenzio lead me to where my items were and I put my shoes back on and gathered my things. I apologized to my classmates for the delay.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mrs. DiRenzio said. “Are you okay?”

I nodded, although I still wanted to cry out of humiliation. This has been the worst experience of my life.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be in Disney soon. The worst is over!” she said.

I smiled. She’s right. Soon I’ll be in Disney, the most magical place on Earth, I thought.

But it turns out, the trouble was only just beginning.

I tried my best to just stay with my group and my roommate Sam. I figured so long as I followed them I’d be fine.

This philosophy worked well at first. We went exploring in Magic Kingdom and took a bunch of photos at Cinderella’s castle together. We also enjoyed the spinning tea cups, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. It was an estimated 100 degrees in Florida that day, so the parks weren’t at all crowded and the lines were short except for the more popular attractions like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, but even that wasn’t too long of a wait.

When my group decided that they wanted to go on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, I decided to pass. I’ve never been much a fan of rides that spin like that, probably due to my fear of heights, so I decided to wait for them. Besides, I spotted a souvenir stand that was selling unique black and white baseball hats featuring Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse. I thought it would make the perfect gift to bring back home to my dad.

I walked up to the stand and took a closer look at the baseball hats and made a purchase. Then I began to walk back to the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride in search of my group. I figured the ride should be over by that point.

I looked all around, but I didn’t recognize any of the faces. I walked around and around and around the ride, but I had no luck.

Why didn’t they wait for me? They were supposed to wait for me. I thought.

I grabbed out my phone to check the time. It was nearing 12:30 and we were supposed to meet back at the gate for check in by 1. Well, I better get going back anyway. I thought before making my way back.

There was just one major problem:

I couldn’t remember my way back.

Was I supposed to move forward? Go backwards? Left? Right? I had no idea. I remembered seeing the different characters carved out of bushes and shrubs by the entrance. If I could find them again, I’d be in the right area. I looked around me…nope, no shrubs or bushes or characters in sight.

I decided to just go back. Going back rather than forward sounded right. After all, it would be going backwards from where we came, right?

I walked and I walked and I walked. My feet were achy and blistered and I was soaked in sweat and beginning to dehydrate. The 100 degree Florida weather and the hot Florida sun rays were really beginning to take their toll on me, but I needed to get back to the entrance for check in, so I kept walking.

I looked down at my phone again. It was now 1:03. I was already late. Time to ask for help.

I stopped at a souvenir stand, similar to the one that sold the Mickey Mouse hats that got me into this whole mess and I asked the man, “Excuse me. Excuse me sir, can you tell me how I can get back to the main gate?”

The man was not American; I’d guess and say he was either Mexican or Indian and he spoke broken English. That mixed with my deafness meant that I couldn’t understand a word he said. Still, I thanked him for his time and pretended I knew exactly where to go.

I kept walking until I found another souvenir stand to ask for help, but it was just the same experience all over again. Finally, I pulled out my cellphone and called my mom’s work. I didn’t know how she would help being that I was in Florida and she was back home in New Jersey, but I also knew that she was Mom and Mom could do anything.

Before she even said, “Hi” she asked me, “What’s wrong?”

I began to sob. I told her how I was lost and I was missing check in but only because I couldn’t find the gate and how I got lost because my group didn’t wait for me after riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant. I cried about how I was afraid I’d get in trouble and not be allowed out tomorrow or worse – that I’d be sent home for missing check in. I was so scared, and I just let all of my emotions pour out.

“Relax. Ask someone for help,” she said.

“I tried and I can’t hear them,” I cried.

“Kim I’m in NJ. I can’t help you. Where are you at now?” she asked.

“I don’t know. By a stand or something,” I said.

“Okay the doctor is going to look up a map of Magic Kingdom on his work computer and try to help you. We will call you back. Stay where you are.” She said.

A few minutes later I received another phone call from my mom’s boss, Dr. Roth, but I could not hear him.

“Hello? I said. Are you there?” I can’t hear you.

I heard my mom in the background; they must have put the phone on speaker.

“Kim, Dr. Roth is on the phone. He’s trying to help you.”

“Hi Kim, I want you to go.”

“Wait? What? I can’t hear you,” I said.

“Go.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Kim, just go.”

I began to cry again. I was so scared. I couldn’t hear a word that anyone was saying, and I was lost in not only a new place, but a whole new state. I felt completely helpless.

I hung up the phone and kept walking, in what felt like circles. I passed Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for what felt like the hundredth time along with the spinning swings. I lost count of the number of helpless souvenir stands I passed. Why was it that the more I walked, the further away I felt? Still, I kept trying, hoping that even if I didn’t make it to the gate, I’d find someone I recognized that could take me there.

After approximately another twenty minutes, my wish came true and I found Mrs. DiRenzio.

“What happened?” she asked.

“My group wanted to go on a ride and I didn’t want to go on it, so I was waiting for them and as I was waiting I stopped by a souvenir shop and when I came back they were gone and I kept trying to get back, but I couldn’t find my way. I am so so so sorry. I know I missed check in, but I’ve been trying to get back since around 12:30.”

“It’s okay. You’re not in any trouble. Just try to do a better job of staying with and communicating with your group next time,” she said. I nodded to let her know I understood.

When we finally arrived back to the gate I apologized to my classmates for keeping them waiting. Then we took our class photo in front of the bushes that were carved into Mickey and Minnie and the sign welcoming us to Disney before receiving information on our next steps such as when and where to meet up for the next check in and when the buses would arrive to take us back at the hotel. I couldn’t hear anything, so I just nodded and made a mental note to ask someone in my group later, or to just follow everyone else. I knew one thing for certain was that I wouldn’t leave anyone ever again. If they went on a ride, so would I. If they went to a shop, so would I. If they went to the bathroom, even if I didn’t have to go, so would I. I wasn’t going to risk getting lost again.

 

It’s April 11, 2017. It has been over two years since my first cochlear implant, and one since going bilateral. I am sitting at a table making small talk with Kerry Flynn, the Business Editor at Mashable, while sipping away at a bottle of Coors Light and eating an assortment of southern food in the beautiful and historic Bell Tower located in the heart of Nashville. Our conversation feels forced and she is looking at me weird for asking her whether she knows my old high school classmate, Natalie DiBlasio. I regret asking her this question immediately after it slips from my lips. Of course she doesn’t know Natalie. Natalie’s never worked for Mashable…she works for Wired; Mashable’s top competitor, I think. Still, despite my nerves and awkwardness I am stoked to be talking to someone who works for Mashable, and I even have a photo of us together to bring back home to all of the people who would never believe that this night actually happened.

Kerry isn’t the only important person I’ve met tonight. I also chugged shots of Tennessee whiskey with Leah Schultz, the Social Media Manager at Papa Johns along with Scott Plocharcyk, Director of Business Development and Micah Donahue, Leads Brand Engagement Strategy both at Mechanica. Out of all of the people I’ve met at this conference so far, Leah has been my favorite. She only looks at the most a few years older than me, but she is insanely smart. The key takeaway I’ve gotten from her presentations on social listening has been to HAVE FUN on social media and to not worry so much about politics. Penn could sure learn a thing or two from her, I thought.

Scott and Micah are both very nice to me and seem to be following me everywhere, but I can’t tell how sincere they are. Do they actually like me for who I am, or do they like me because I work for Penn Medicine? I only like Kerry because she works at Mashable, but that’s obvious by our forced conversation. The conversation with Scott and Micah flows naturally, but I can’t help but feel this is only because A. They want me to tell my boss about Mechanica so they can earn a new client, or B. They are fascinated in my cochlear implants because they’ve never seen them before. I decide that it doesn’t matter either way; the fact that I am able to talk to business professionals, let alone drink whiskey with them, in a crowded bar with a cover band playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is pretty amazing in and of itself.

I don’t remember much about what Leah, Scott, Micah, and I talked about that night other than our jobs and responsibilities and my cochlear implants. I blame all of the alcohol on my foggy memory, after all, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a moment throughout the entire conference when I didn’t have either a beer, glass of champagne, or shot of whiskey in hand (I’m not sure if the purpose of the conference was to teach us about an unenterprised approach to social media marketing or what type of alcohol was the best to drink in Nashville…to this day the topic is still open to debate), but I do remember how proud I was to be holding conversations and networking with so many top business executives and to not have to say “What?” or “I’m sorry, can you repeat yourself?” every .02 seconds. I was proud to be doing this all on my own, without my mother holding my hand or the need to look at a co-worker or manager for approval. As each glass of alcohol ran through my veins I felt myself loosening up more and more and I finally felt free – free to be whoever I wanted to be in a brand new city filled with new people. Free to hear the music that constantly played throughout the capital of country music. Free to be a deaf girl in a hearing world, and free in my knowledge that my deafness no longer mattered one iota.

Originally, Mom and Dad were both hesitant to allow me to go on this trip.

“I think Mom should go with you. She can help you with the airport and everything and keep you safe. I don’t know anything about Nashville, but I heard that Memphis could be a little rough. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go by yourself,” Dad said.

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll be with a lot of other people – it’s a big conference. Besides, Penn will only pay for my own airfare and Mom can’t get into the conference…what will she do when I’m working?”

“I’ll hang out in the hotel. I’m sure they have a pool or something,” Mom replied.

“You’re going to spend over $1,000 to hang out alone in a hotel and use the pool?” I asked. The entire thing sounded completely ridiculous.

“I’m fine with it. This way I can help you out. I know how much you hate the airport. Remember Disney?” she asked.

“Yeah, but I’m going to have to figure this out for myself at some point. People at Penn travel all the time. You can’t always come with me,” I said.

“What about your schooling? Will they be okay with you skipping class and cancelling your classes?” my mom asked.

That’s when it hit me: I could use my schooling to my advantage. My parents knew that it had been a challenging semester for me as I began the research process for my MA project. I have been reading, analyzing, and examining everything in sight and growing more and more frustrated from it all in the process. I worked constantly and rarely ever slept anymore. I even ended up accidentally overdosing on caffeine two weeks into the semester. It made sense that they’d worry about me missing this class, but I knew exactly how to get around it.

“Actually, this will count as research for my MA project, so Dr. Kopp is fine with me missing class and Dr. Maxson and Dr. Courtney don’t mind. They know I’m not screwing off, that I have a legitimate reason for missing class and cancelling my students’ classes. It’s all for my MA project,” I lied.

“What? How?” my mom asked.

“We’re allowed to use experiences for our research, so I want to write what it’s like to travel alone with cochlear implants and to fly alone and all of that,” I said.

“But it’s not your first trip with your cochlears. You flew to Disney with Larry right after you were implanted. Isn’t that the same thing?” Dad asked.

“No because I had him there to help me and that’s when I only had one cochlear. Now I have two and I’ve never done anything completely by myself before,” I explained.

“Okay. I still think I should go with you, but I understand why you want to do this. But we’ll see.

“I’ll be fine.” I said, “Besides, Penn only pays for my flight anyway.”

“We have the money. That’s not a problem,” mom said. “I could help you, but I understand why you want to do this.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said. The truth was I was a little bit nervous flying on my own for the first time, but I knew I had to do this for myself just to prove I could do it, if for no other reason. The idea of flying alone to a whole new place also thrilled me. It would be a completely new experience where I could become anyone I wanted to be without the fear of what my friends, family, or anyone else would think. I didn’t even have any co-workers traveling with me, so even work wasn’t much of an issue.

As I partied with the fellow business executives and conference attendees at the Bell Tower that night, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I was proud for finally branching out on my own. Proud for finally doing things without my parents or colleagues around dictating my every move. Proud for making it through not one, but two airports on my own without even being on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Proud for my newfound ability to wander around the 526-square mile town of Nashville on my own without getting lost even once. Proud of my ability to make small talk even in noisy environments and to be able to follow and hear every word.

While I may have felt proud, I also knew better than to allow all of my pride to get to my head. There was another word floating around my mind that triumphed any ounce of pride I may have felt. That word was Blessed.

I was blessed to be having this experience right now, that was due in no small part to my newfound gift of hearing. I knew that this experience wouldn’t have been possible just two years prior before I received my first cochlear implant. I remembered how difficult travel was in the past when I only had my hearing aids and very limited modes of technology on hand to help me out. Now that I could hear, I no longer had to depend so heavily on others to “be my extra set of ears”. I could be my own, independent person. I had an entire world in front of me. The only question I had was Where should I travel to next?

 

 

 

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