Image Credits: Pinterest
This post has nothing to do with drugs or anything you’d expect from Camden, so sorry to burst your bubble if that’s what you were looking for.
This post does still have a very special story about Camden though. I present to you, the newly revised (and most difficult chapter to write) of my novel, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.
Chapter 1: Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Loss. It’s one word with a multitude of feelings attached to it including despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. For some people, loss means nothing. You can’t lose something if you’ve never had it to begin with, right?
That’s how hearing loss worked for me. My mother, on the other hand, can remember the exact moment when she discovered my hearing loss.
I was two years old and my mother would call out my name, but I never responded. The doctors thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.
“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.
When my mom banged a handful of pots and pans together behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Defying the doctors, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.
After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had profound hearing loss.
The best way to treat it — or at the time, the only way to treat it — was with hearing aids. I needed them in both ears.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. My mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.
“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.
“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe.,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.
Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”
Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.
Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.
“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.
I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.
Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.
“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.
“Hot dog,” I answered.
“Say the word baseball.”
“Say the word airplane.”
“Say the word ice cream.”
“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” my mom interrupted.
Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?
“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” my mom said.
“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.
“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.
“Say the word kite.’
“Say the word chair.”
“Say the word sub.”
“Say the word third.”
“Say the word ran.”
I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong. Thanks a lot, Mom. I thought.
When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels.
“Ready to use the magic mirror?” Miss Vicki asked.
“Yes!” I would exclaim.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” they’d say. “We’ll start with ‘sh’ first.”
“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.
“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.
“Tooze,” I said.
“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”
“Choose?” I said.
“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.
I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.
When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.
“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated being called “Kimmy”.
“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.
“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.
“suit case,” I whispered as I threw the ball.
Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said.“Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”
I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.
“Very nice! You got it!” she said.
Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. As far as I could see, I was one in the same with the rest of the hearing world. Unfortunately, as I’d learn in my grade school years, not everyone saw things that way.
Before I get started on this blog post I just want to acknowledge that this is not going to be a popular post or a topic many people want to hear about. Most people, especially those who do not have cochlear implants, only want to hear about how amazing and life-changing they are. Make no mistakes, getting both of my cochlear implants was the best decision I ever made. I have absolutely no regrets. But at the same time that doesn’t mean this has been a fun and easy process where every single day is all peachy. Sometimes it is really really really hard, frustrating, scary, and overwhelming. Sometimes your cochlear implants can even make you feel quite depressed. That’s exactly what happened to me after my hearing appointment at Jefferson on Thursday.
Thursday’s hearing appointment was my 2nd appointment since going bilateral and my first post-activation appointment. I was going for my 2nd mapping and to have some adjustments made. I told Alyssa, the resident in training audiologist whom I’ve been seeing for a few months now, that I thought I wanted more volume in my new processor, so she had me go through and listen to all of the sounds at varying levels again. She made some adjustments based on my responses. She checked my initial processor for my left ear as well since it’s been I few months since we did it. She actually ended up turning the volume down on that one.
After adjusting the volume Alyssa asked me how I liked my current programs and which new programs I wanted. This was a pretty long process since I am only of the only bilateral patients at Jefferson with the new Q90 processors. Some of their patients have them, but it’s very rare to have 2 of those processors now since they aren’t widely available yet. She had to get the audiologist, Louisa, for help a few times since they haven’t made these programs before. I had her program me with the following programs:
- Everyday w/Auto Ultra Zoom
- Everyday w/Duophone/No Auto Ultra Zoom
- Background Noise
I haven’t had to use the program for the background noise yet since I haven’t been in that loud of an environment yet. I did use the duophone once during a client call on Friday but it didn’t seem all that different to me yet. Maybe because I still need to work more to train my new implant. I will try the Aquacase on Monday when I go to the gym. It will be my first time using 2 Aquacases at the gym so I’m pretty excited to see how it compares to wearing just the 1.
Once we got all of the programs squared away it was time for my least favorite activity: a hearing test. She had me take off my left cochlear implant so we could just focus on my new, right ear.
First Alyssa tested me with just the beeps. I did very well with those. She didn’t write down the percentage and I don’t have my audiogram with me to look at it right now, but I know I scored right around the normal range with that which is great considering I’ve only been activated for a month. It was a good start.
Unfortunately, the test seemed to go downhill from there. After that we moved on to sentences. Alyssa played recordings and I had to repeat them back. I could pick out a couple of the words, but I missed a majority of the sentence. After doing some sentences we moved on to just words where I did even worst.
Being in that extremely small room and not being able to understand what was being said through the speakers gave me such extreme anxiety. It always does, but it’s the worst when you’re unsure of yourself and it heightens when you keep getting the words wrong. The more you miss them, the more anxious you become and then you simply get depressed. Hearing tests can be the absolute worst when you’re deaf or hard of hearing and it’s hard to really describe or have someone relate to that feeling unless they’ve experienced it.
The absolute worst part of the test though was what followed. After going through all of the sentences and words Alyssa instructed me to remove my right cochlear implant (while still keeping the left one off) and she tested me for the beeps again. I got maybe 2 pitches right when they were at EXTREMELY high volumes and that was only because I could feel the vibrations through the headphones. If it weren’t for the vibrations, I would’ve missed those as well.
I have no residual hearing left in my right ear. I knew that was a risk when I got implanted and I was more than willing to take that risk. However, I still expected to retain my residual hearing since I did with my first implant. The hearing I have now is far greater than what my residual hearing was (I only had about 7%, probably a bit less of residual hearing), but it was still hard to hear (no pun intended). Without my cochlear implant in that ear, there’s nothing there.
Alyssa calculated my word recognition to be 34%. She said she was happy with my progress and that I was right where I should be for being activated for only a month. However, all I saw was a 34%, which to me meant failing my test big time (think of it this way — when you’re in school and earn a 34 on your math test you’re probably less than thrilled…). I felt really depressed after that test and spent the rest of the day sulking and feeling sorry for myself.
My cochlear implant is a blessing and having 34% is a HUGE improvement for where I was, make no mistake. My mom and many other people in my life yelled at me for being so miserable and for being so hard on myself. But it’s hard to make someone understand who’s never been through it. Yes, I know I’m right on track and I’m doing well blahblahblah, but it doesn’t always feel that way. It is frustrating to know you’re not hearing the right way. I have the volume in that ear but I don’t understand sounds very well yet. I can’t always make out words or sentences. I’m not on the same level with my left ear yet. I know it takes time, but it is so easy to become impatient.
I also feel a huge sense of pressure and like I have high expectations that need to be met. I myself set the bar high and have high expectations for myself. I know how well I’ve been doing with my left ear and I keep comparing everything to that ear now. When I received my first cochlear implant there was nothing to compare it to so everything felt amazing. It’s hard now that I know what to expect. It’s hard to remember that this is going to take time, especially because I expected things to be so much easier with my 2nd implant (which does not seem to be the case).
There’s also the issue with the people who never received cochlear implants and don’t understand how they work…which is pretty much everyone in my life. Everyone asks me about it constantly and “Can you hear me now” or “Wow, I bet you can hear really great now”, but that’s not always a yes…or at least not yet. Actually without the help of my left ear, a lot of things sound really weird with the right one now. Things still sound robotic. I still can’t understand a lot of spoken words. I might be able to hear you, but I probably don’t understand you as well as I want to. Trying to explain this to people is hard. There’s a lot of people that don’t understand and when you try to explain it they think “Oh, so it’s not working?’ No, that’s not right either. It is working, it just takes time. But it’s hard to explain it to someone who doesn’t understand and it gets depressing because it’s like a reminder that you’re not quite where you want to be with it. And you feel like you’re letting everyone around you down who thought you’d be able to hear and understand everything well right away. And then you feel like you’re letting yourself down, too, because you’re not where you want to be with it, either.
I really wished on Thursday that I had a bilateral (or even just plain deaf/HOH) friend to talk to. I mean I do have some that I met from the support group meetings, but they are all significantly older than me. I wished I had someone my own age, someone with a similar story, to confide in and to lean on for support. Because I think that’s the only kind of person that would have understood why I was upset and exactly what I was going through. I know these people are out there — just haven’t had luck actually meeting any yet lol.
The cochlear implant journey is not easy and it’s not a straight-forward path to success. It’s a rocky mountain climb and sometimes you fall down the mountain and end up in the slumps feeling depressed by the whole thing. But with hard work and practice, you will eventually make it to the top when you are ready.
I spent all of Thursday sulking. Then on Friday night I went back to practicing words with my mom and I got most of them right and I felt a lot better. I’m hoping to squeeze in some time to play with Angel Sound and listen to some sermons with just my one processor on to further help to train it. One thing that I forgot on Thursday that my mom reminded me of was that I didn’t get tested for words on my 2nd mapping with my first cochlear implant — I didn’t do that until 4 months after activated at which point I got a 68%. When you think of it in that light my 34% at the 1 month mark doesn’t sound bad at all. I really shouldn’t have been tested so soon for word recognition. But Alyssa didn’t know better I guess. But it’s only been 1 month and I’m already halfway where I was in 4 months with the first one. I’m not doing as bad as I think.
I’m not about to give up. I’m going to keep working until I end up where I want to be. This is a long process, and it won’t always be easy, but I know it will be more than worth it.
Hey guys I apologize for the lack of updates. Been a bit crazy over here lately since my surgery, but I’m finally starting to get back into the swing of things today.
I had the surgery for my second cochlear implant for my right ear on November 30th. The procedure was almost identical to how it was with my first one with just a few minor differences. I had to be there a bit earlier for one. I had to be there at 6 in the morning which meant leaving my house by 5. I was pretty tired since I stayed up late that night watching what turned out to be an incredibly disappointing Patriots’ game. After the game I couldn’t fall asleep because I was way too excited.
My mom and I barely slept at all the night before… we were both too excited!
I got to the hospital at 6am on the dot and everything moved very quickly at that point. I had some paperwork to fill out/sign and was taking back to the Emergency room fairly quickly where I changed into my gown and had to answer a series of questions. All of the questions were identical to the ones they asked last year and the answers were the same. I had to give them a urine sample and then they fitted me with my IV. I can never just simply get an IV though. You may remember from my first surgery they had trouble finding my veins and I had to have multiple people try to stick me. They got it in on the first try this time, but might’ve gotten a little too close to the vein. I bled all over the place. For the next two days after the procedure I was trying to clean up dried blood from my IV. I swear I think I bled more from the stupid IV than I did from my actual procedure…
I was really, really excited!
Dr. Willcox’s surgical team and all of the nurses and everyone involved introduced themselves to me and explained what they would be doing. They didn’t need to go into as great of detail as they did last year though since I already knew what they were going to do and I saw many familiar faces. Some of them remembered me, too and were very excited to see me which made everything all the more exciting. I really liked Dr. Willcox’s assistant/the guy who was doing his residency with him. He had a great smile and was pretty attractive. My parents laughed at me when I told them this and said that I “must’ve been pretty high from the drugs they gave me” since he was apparently a lot older than me and “Not that good looking” haha.
I feel like I fell asleep much quicker this time around than I did last time. I don’t have much of a memory of everything before the surgery because I just feel like they put me on the table and I went to sleep. Which makes a lot of sense since I really didn’t get any sleep the night before so I quite tired. I feel like there was less machines hooked up to me, but that could just be because I was asleep and didn’t notice them. I had my cochlear on until I fell asleep at which point Dr. Willcox removed it until after the procedure which made things much better for me. Since I could hear I was able to relax a lot more and they didn’t have to keep telling me to lay down because I wasn’t all anxious to see what they were doing like I was with the first surgery lol.
They took me in for the procedure at 7am and I was back in the recovery room around 11am. I think I woke up around 11:30-12. I was very sleepy and struggled to stay awake. They kept telling me they were waiting to take me back to another room. I asked for my parents and they said they’d bring them up but that they knew I was done and that everything went well.
I felt much better after my surgery aside from being tired compared to how I felt after the first procedure. I didn’t have a sore throat, probably because they used a smaller breathing tube after hearing how I had a sore throat the first time around from the larger breathing tube. I also only felt slightly nauseous and dizzy. I did feel a bit of pain though. At first they only gave me a little bit of pain medicine. They gave me more after making me eat the worst-tasting saltine crackers in the world (seriously why do the crackers at the hospital always taste so bad? That thing was straight up cardboard…staler than stale…yuck!)
After successfully eat the sucky crackers, walking a bit on my own, and having the IV removed (which meant more blood all over the place), I was permitted to change back into my clothes and go home. I’d say I was home around 4 or 5pm. The whole procedure and everything didn’t take long at all.
A Post-Op selfie!
Overall I felt much better and had an easier recovery the second time around. I think the fact that I had 1 cochlear and could hear made things much easier, too. I could watch movies which was a great way to relax.
I did have a set back on the 2nd day post-op though. I had to go back to Jefferson to upgrade my processor from the Naida Q70 to the Naida Q90. It was the last thing I felt like doing and my family and I didn’t think it was a good idea at all to go all the way to Philly 2 days affter surgery, but Advanced Bionics was going to be there since it was an early upgrade limited to very few people (I was one of the lucky chosen ones) and it was the only day I could go and do this, so I didn’t have much of a choice in the manner.
I did okay at first. I was dizzy, so I held my mom’s hand a lot. We took the car rather than the bus because we thought it would be easier/more comfortable for us. I did get pretty tired and didn’t want to be there, but I tried to make the most of it. The Q90 looks and works almost identically to the Q70. It is a little smaller and feels lighter though which I like. One of the biggest differences with it is that the programs are almost all automatic (the exceptions being sound relax and the aqua mic) which I like the idea of. Changing programs can be really annoying. I haven’t been in an environment too much yet where I can really see how it works, but my mom did vacuum and I noticed it blocked out the noise a bit (although I could still here it) and I could carry on a conversation and still listen to music and hear everything with it on which was cool. When the programs switch I can hear it switch over, too. I am excited to go to a crowded, noisy restaurant or something so I can really see how it works. Also, once the other ear is activated I’ll be able to unlock many more features that will allow both ears to work together which will be awesome.
Louisa, the woman from Advanced Bionics (I forget what she said her name was) and Dr. Willcox (we saw him in the hallway) all said I looked great considering I was just 2 days out of surgery. By the end of the appointment I started to get weathered and worn out and very sleepy though. It was an important appointment, but very stupid to go out and do that much so soon after surgery…
I felt okay afterwards, but very tired so I took a nap shortly after getting home. It wasn’t until after dinner when I started to get into trouble. After dinner when I stood up to throw my trash away I suddenly got very lightheaded and everything started to go completely black. I immediately sat back down and had my parents give me a drink of Coke. I took my blood pressure and it was only about 55 for a top number! To give you an idea of how scary this was — it was about the same range as my grandmother’s blood pressure right before she died. My parents were scared of course but we were nervous about calling an ambulance and going to the nearest ER since that for me is Kennedy in South Jersey. Most South Jersey hospitals are awful, and that one is definitely one of the worst. We were afraid to go there and have them mess up Dr. Willcox’s work, so we decided to wait it out and just keep monitoring my BP. I drank more soda and high-sodium energy drinks and put my head down for a bit. We did get my BP back in the 100-range which put me out of the woods, thank the Lord!
After that episode I took it easy for awhile barely doing much of anything besides sleeping, watching movies, coloring, and reading. I wanted to go back to work, working from home, that Thursday but decided it was best to just rest up so I took off for the rest of the week.
By last Saturday I was beginning to get a bit depressed. I felt useless. I wanted to go outside and do things and interact with people, but I knew I had to recover, especially after the whole BP issue. My depression was much better than it was after my first implant though, probably because I could at least hear this time around since I had one cochlear already.
I went back to working from home on Monday. It was a busy day back but it felt so good to be back in the swing of things. I did pretty well being back to work. I just got tired after lunch from my pain medicine and antibiotics, but I took a nap after work and I was fine.
I had my stitches removed on Wednesday. I was supposed to get them out on Thursday with Dr. Pelosi, but my surgeon decided to come in and do it on his day off instead because he really wanted to see me. My BP was a little low at 94. They don’t believe it was due to the surgery, but rather that I have been too relaxed. Dr. Willcox told me to be more active and that should help. I have been more sedentary than normal because I was afraid I was doing too much. Figures haha. I’m anxious to get back to the gym and taking long walks and doing more though! Getting the stitches out hurt more this time than I remembered from last time, especially the areas with the knots. There was one stitch that got my hair caught in it and that one really hurt to have taken out. I was glad to get them removed though!
I had a few stitches…
Once my stitches were removed I met with Louisa’s assistant who’s completing her residency, Alyssa, to test the equipment and to make sure the electrodes all worked. It was just like last year. I was able to hear all of the beeps which seemed like a good sign. They seemed louder this time around, too. It was pretty exciting. I got to see my new silver processor, too. It looks really cool! I can’t wait for my activation so I can actually take it home and wear it!
Thinking of my activation, there’s a chance that we may be moving the date up a bit. I have it scheduled with Paula on the 24th (Christmas Eve) but Alyssa will be there on the 23rd so we’re trying to move it up to that date. The only thing is that Alyssa doesn’t have her license yet and isn’t normally allowed to do activations on her own. But my mom and I don’t have a problem with it at all. Honestly, I like Alyssa better than Paula and Louisa. I do like both Paula and Louisa, but Alyssa has a great personality, is very professional, and seems to really know what she is doing. Even though she isn’t licensed yet, I trust her and I know she’s helped with activations and knows what to do. They said they’d have to ask the board of directors for permission and would get back to us on what they say about it.
I finished my antibiotic and pain medicine yesterday. I was also finally allowed to wash my hair for the first time in 11 days which felt amazing. It was definitely getting pretty nasty lol. It didn’t really hurt to wash it. My ear feels completely numb still. I tried to avoid really touch it or rubbing around that area/the incision though. I have a lot of dried blood behind my ear too which I’m struggling to get off.
After my shower I took a look and tried to find my incision/where they shaved my hair. They were so neat with it that I really can’t even take a picture of it because you can’t see it lol. It’s kind of underneath my hair and completely invisible. Dr. Willcox is like an artist with how he does his cuts. It’s amazing.
The first post-op shower is the best feeling ever.
Today was the best I’ve felt in nearly 2 weeks. I was still working from home, but much more with it. I didn’t take any pain medicine at all or even a nap. I cleaned the house when I finished working. I’m also back to eating completely solid food (that took awhile, even though I didn’t have a sore throat, it was hard for me to bite down/chew things for awhile because of the pressure it put on my ear).
I will really be back to my self on Monday. On Monday I’ll be back to working in the office and depending on how well I’m feeling, back to the gym as well.
I took a break from working on my book with my surgery, but I’m pleased to announce that it is almost complete. I met my goal of writing over 50,000 words in November during NaNoWriMo and have a total of over 90,000 words. I will of course need to update it with everything since going bilateral, but overall I’ve made great progress with the first draft and I’m excited to see it complete soon.
That’s about all I have for now. I’ll update after the 24th (or 23rd) after my activation! What an amazing Christmas gift and blessing this will be!
This weekend I realized something for the first time.
I will never again use a hearing aid.
I haven’t worn a hearing aid in more than 2 months since I broke the one for my right, unimplanted ear and every backup I had (the battery compartments snapped on them both awhile back, preventing me from closing them and causing them to whistle incessantly). But this realization still felt weird to me.
I have been wearing heads since I was 2, meaning I’ve had hearing aid audiologists since I was 2. It is weird to think I don’t need them anymore.
I’ve gained (and am in the process of gaining) far more with my cochlear implants that I ever had with my cochlear implants. I have my own audiologists for my cochlear implant. Still, I feel kind of bad about the fact that I won’t be seeing Sherri at Miracle Ear anymore.
If it wasn’t for Sherri, I never would’ve gotten my cochlear implant.
Sherri was the one hearing aid audiologist that was different from the rest. Whereas all of the others just wanted to sell me their hearing aids and didn’t really care about what was best for me, Sherri was the exception. Sherri was the only one that was honest and told me that no hearing aids, no matter how good they were, were ever going to give me the clarity I needed. The only thing that could give me that clarity was a cochlear implant.
Sherri told me that cochlear implants weren’t dangerous or anything to be afraid. She told me they weren’t the brain surgery that I thought they were. Sherri encouraged me to do more research and to seriously consider getting one or more.
If it weren’t for her, I never would’ve seen and learned of all of the benefits with cochlear implants and I certainly wouldn’t have ran out to get not only one, but 2.
My days of being a hearing aid patient of Sherri’s are over now. It’s kind of sad in a way. Breaking up with my hearing aid audiologist, Sherri, feels harder than breaking up with my boyfriend was. She doesn’t know yet that I’m getting my second cochlear implant, but I will have to call her soon to let her know. I know that she will be happy and excited for me, but I’m sure she will be sad to lose me as a patient, too.
But this isn’t goodbye, it’s just “I’ll see you later”.
Sherri may be a hearing aid audiologist, but she still does a lot of work with cochlear implants as well. Who knows, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to see one of her presentations or attend an event with her one day.
If there’s anything I learned from all of this it’s that when God closes one door, he opens another.
He’s closing the door to my hearing aid journey and opening up the door to my cochlear implant journey. And what a journey it’s been so far!
It’s been a crazy, whirlwind of a week.
Whereas everything with my first cochlear implant seemed to happen in the blink of an eye and get approved overnight, things with my 2nd implant haven’t been quite as easy.
You may recall a few weeks ago I blogged about my evaluation for my second implant and how I scored a bit too high under the best aided conditions. We set up a tentative date of surgery of December 14th. This past week, my mom contacted Jefferson to check the status of the insurance, but they informed us that there were no updates; it was still processing. We didn’t expect to have any answers since Dr. Willcox lead us to believe a decision would be made at the last minute, (most likely not until December 11th…the Friday before the scheduled date of surgery).
However, God works in mysterious ways…
A woman in the pre-cert department decided to keep checking in on insurance and trying to put it through. I am unsure if it was a mistake or if it was done intentionally, but on Wednesday, November 11th, she told the insurance company we were scheduled for surgery on Monday, November 16th. We would need an answer by Friday. This put extra pressure on the insurance company to make a decision.
Needless to say, the next few days left me feeling a bit anxious. I couldn’t wait for Friday to come around to have my answer. I prayed faithfully every day, asking God to give me patience and understanding of whatever the verdict may be.
Patience is something I had difficulty with though once Friday came around. I wanted to know immediately!
I kept texting my mom throughout the day on Friday asking if she had any updates, but she never did. She called Jefferson and they said that there was an issue with the paperwork…they ended up not receiving them until that morning for some reason. I am unsure what happened with that as we were lead to believe all of the papers were sent several weeks ago after the evaluation. My usual audiologist wasn’t there though, I had a new one. I’m thinking maybe that’s where the issue arose — perhaps a lack of communication? Or it could’ve been something with the insurance company. It’s not clear who was at fault.
Regardless, the girl working in the pre-cert department told the insurance company that we needed an answer. We were scheduled to go into surgery on Monday…we had to know. So the insurance company said they’d have an answer for us by 5:30pm. This was a whole half hour later than the office at Jefferson was even open, but the woman in pre-cert said she’d stay late. She came in to work late anyway.
I stared at my phone like crazy. After work I had to go to the grocery store with my dad. It was about 5 when we went. I told my dad to make sure the sound was on on his phone in case my mom called him from work with news. But it never rang.
When we got back to the car it was 5:21. Still nothing. I began to get disappointed thinking we wouldn’t hear anything because even if the insurance company came up with an answer, Jefferson would be closed so we wouldn’t know until Monday.
I got home and continued to stare at the phone. 5:30 rolled around. Then 5:45. When the clock read 6 I was ready to give up and assume that either it wasn’t approved, we wouldn’t have an answer until Monday, or both.
Then the phone rang at 6:01. I picked up on the first ring, totally surprising my mom who is still not used to the fact that I can hear on the phone.
And the verdict was….
INSURANCE WAS APPROVED!
My surgery isn’t really going to take place on Monday, but soon. Everyone at Jefferson was gone by the time it was approved (except the poor pre-cert girl who called) so we will have to call on Monday to reschedule surgery (and first move up the pre-op appointment to go over anaesthesia and all of that stuff). I know that Dr. Willcox does surgery on Monday and Thursdays, so we’re looking at the earliest date being Thursday, November 19th. I will know for sure on Monday though. I want to get this done as soon as possible!
My other exciting news is that Advanced Bionics has a new processor out, the Naida Q90. My audiologist has already contacted me asking if I’d like to come in for an upgrade. I can just trade in my current model, the Naida Q70. The Naida Q90 is supposed to be pretty similar but offer better sound quality especially in regards to noisy environments. It’s also supposed to be a bit smaller.I am doing a webinar on Thursday (unless of course I am in surgery that day haha) where I should learn more about it. I’m not entirely sure if I want to go ahead and trade in my current processor for it since I have been doing so well with the one I have already, but regardless it is exciting and I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
I have more exciting news too about something else that is happening in my life, but I can’t talk about it openly yet. I just ask that everyone keeps me in their thoughts and prayers.
Yesterday was quite the day.
I had my evaluation at Jefferson for my second cochlear implant. The day started out pretty well. I was off of work so getting to sleep in a couple extra hours was definitely a perk for one. For two, before I even left for Jefferson, they called me to let me know my insurance was approved.
However, there was a slight catch…
I had to meet the criteria.
I’ll be honest I completely ignored the part about meeting the criteria. After all, Dr. Wilcox did say during my last appointment that it was just a manner of “Crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s”. I knew that I was deaf in my right ear every bit as much as I was in my left ear that I already had implanted. I knew that none of this has changed in the last year. I knew that I didn’t benefit at all from my hearing aid (before I broke it I mean). There’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been a candidate…
However, they left out the part about meeting the criteria being based off of how well you do in the best aided conditions and that for me that would mean how well I do with one cochlear already on…
I had a new audiologist for my appointment since my usual one, Louisa, was on vacation. The audiologist’s name was Paula and she was working with her extern, Alyssa. She was a lot different than Louisa, but seemed nice enough. She said there was no guarantee I’d qualify, but we’d test and see.
I had to do a series of hearing tests that were identical to the ones I did last year for my first cochlear implant evaluation. First they tested me for being able to hear the beep with my cochlear and a hearing aid on (they had a hearing aid for me to borrow). Next they tested me with my cochlear and hearing aid on for sentences without background noise. Then they did it with background noise. The last tests they did were without my cochlear on and for both beeps and sentences.
I did okay on the tests with my cochlear. The cochlear in my left ear certainly helped,but I still didn’t have “perfect” hearing. I noticed that I couldn’t hear from my right ear. Having the cochlear in my left ear helped me with word recognition a bit, but no so much for general sounds especially softer ones and high-frequency.
I got a 73% for the sound and 99% on my word recognition with my cochlear. However, once they took my cochlear off I scored a 0. I am deaf in my right ear. I can’t hear anything at all. Excuse my language, but the direct quote from my audiologist regarding my hearing (or actually lack thereof in my right ear) is that “You can’t hear shit”.
The blue lines show my left ear without my cochlear. The red circles are my right ear. The S’s are where I am with one cochlear implant. What a difference! I can only imagine how great I’ll do with 2 implants if I can get insurance to approve it!
Unfortunately, the FDA says that in order to qualify for this surgery, I have to score a 60% or below in the best aided conditions. Since I score 73% I did too well. That doesn’t mean though that I can’t get the surgery. I had to have Dr. Wilcox and my audiologist, Paula, submit a pre-cert. What this does is explains the test results and why they still believe I would benefit from getting my second cochlear implant and why they recommend it.
They also had me fill out a quality of life survey to submit to the insurance company. This tells the insurance company a little bit of information about how my hearing loss affects my daily life. It asked me about how I perform in social situations, what my dating life was like, how I viewed and felt about myself, etc. I explained how I sometimes skipped social events if I thought it would be too awkward or too loud and I wouldn’t hear well enough. My love life? Yeah my hearing has definitely mad an impact on that. I was in an abusive relationship in the past where my ex would yell at me and make me feel bad for my hearing all the time. My most recent ex was pretty good with my hearing (FYI, that guy I previously wrote about a lot? We just broke up. But that’s another story), but that’s not usually how it works.
Dr. Wilcox went ahead and scheduled my surgery. He said this would force the insurance company to act and make a decision about whether or not they’d cover my surgery. However, we had to schedule it out far in advance (not as soon as last time — last time we scheduled it exactly 1 week after my evaluation!) to give them enough time to make a decision.
So my (tentative) date of surgery is………………………………….
December 14th! If this date remains and insurance is approved I will have my implant just in time for Christmas and will have my stitches out (and be able to wash my hair — thank god lol) the day before Christmas Eve. The receptionists who scheduled it said if insurance approves my surgery before that date we can always move it up though which is what I plan on doing of course.
I also have to go back for pre-testing on December 2nd like I did last time. Exact same procedure.
I didn’t pick out a color for my cochlear or what accessories I want yet, but if it gets approved I will. I’m leaning towards silver. I definitely want a different color from the caribbean blue that I already have. I can never match or be normal of course lol.
I’m feeling a wide range of emotions in regards to my testing. On one side I’m disappointed because I thought for sure I’d be eligible with no questions asked and schedule my surgery right away. But on the other hand I feel blessed to have scored as well as I did on my test. To have 30% hearing is a miracle to me. 73% is something I never imagined I could possibly have. If this is the most I’ll ever have, that alone is a true blessing.
All that I can really do now is just pray and hope for the best. I put it all on God’s hands and trust that he’ll lead me down the right path. It’s as my pastor tells me, the Lord already has the answer and knows what is best for me and he will reveal all of his incredible plans for me over time.
Please continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers during this time. I do still have a good feeling about it because I know my surgeon is a strong advocate for it. He definitely supports me getting a 2nd cochlear implant and I know that he was making sure to carefully word his pre-cert for the insurance company. Also, my surgeon is a Christian that has called me on a Sunday before my first surgery in the past to pray with me. I know that prayer can make all of the difference in the world right now.
Since getting my cochlear implant last year I have had many people come to me and ask me questions about it. I love answering questions about my cochlear implant and I love that people want to ask about it. It’s important to ask a lot of questions especially if you are considering having the procedure done yourself. Getting a cochlear implant is the best thing I’ve ever done, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still surgery. You need to know the risks and what to expect to determine if it’s right for you (which I obviously decided it was for me). Your surgeon shouldn’t mind answering your questions, and if he does, then that right there should be a red flag for you that you need to find another surgeon.
The first time I met Dr. Wilcox a year ago I came to him with a grand total of 32 questions. He answered every single one of them without hesitation. He wasn’t annoyed at all by any of my questions; he was more than happy to answer them and asked if I had any more for him! Here are the 33 questions I asked my surgeon prior to my first cochlear implant surgery:
- What are the risks?
- Are cochlear implant patients more likely to get meningitis? Should I get a meningitis shot? (The answer to this was no by the way. I never did get a meningitis shot.)
- Can the surgery cause an increase in headaches or migraines? (Another no.)
- Is there any chance the magnets will react to metal or other materials? (No reactions but my external magnet does stick to things which I think is fun lol)
- After it heals will I be able to put things in my hair and/or wear hats? (Yes I can but some hats cause my magnet to fall off I’ve found).
- Will I lose my residual hearing? (This is usually a yes for most people. I am the exception. I still have the same amount of residual hearing. It depends on whether or not your surgeon hits the nerve. Mine was able to avoid it, but they usually can’t avoid hitting it).
- Do you just do one implant at a time? Which ear do you suggest doing first? Should I have them both done eventually? (This depends on your surgeon. Mine does one at a time and it didn’t matter which one I did first. They usually like to do the worst ear first but mine are the same. He recommended I do both but said it was always my choice.)
- How long have you been performing the surgery for? (I forget the answer, but it’s a long time lol)
- Will I be able to use headphones after everything is healed? (This was a yes but I have to avoid metal ones because they can stick to the magnet).
- What is the chance that I’ll be able to talk on the phone once implanted? (He couldn’t really give me an answer because everyone is different, but I am able to talk on the phone with ease now. It did take me about a month to get to that point though).
- How soon can I be activated after surgery? (I was activated exactly 1 month post surgery).
- How often should I go for a mapping? (This kind of depends on the person. I believe in the beginning it was once a month then it dropped down to once every 6 months and eventually once a year I think but if you’re not happy with the mapping you can request them sooner).
- Do they take batteries? Are they rechargeable? If not, where do you buy them? (I have three rechargeable batteries and one that is not. I don’t like the none-rechargeable one to be honest. I bought the batteries from the hospital since I have trouble finding them in stores but I’m told some people can find them at the drug store. Online too.)
- Are the implants water resistant? (No, they are not but there is an aquacase that makes it water proof! :))
- Do the implants come apart? (I can’t move the implant in my head of course but the external part comes off and I can detach everything).
- Can I wear my implant to the gym? (Yes but I learned to use the aquacase after having too much sweat cause the battery to shorten out and it not to work right.)
- How will the implant affect tinnitus if at all? (No different. If anything I think I hear it less now. I could feel the electrodes moving in my head before I was turned on though. That was pretty neat.)
- What are the parts of the cochlear implant? (I’m too lazy to answer this now. Basically internal, external with the battery and mic)
- Will I be put under anesthesia for the surgery? (Yes I was. I was knocked out in 2 minutes and didn’t feel a thing. I woke up unaware of where I was and what was happening and I was “weird” to put it lightly.)
- When would be the soonest date I could have the surgery done? (I had surgery performed exactly one month after meeting my surgeon, but it depends on the hospital, schedules, and how quickly you get testings/approvals)
- Is there currently a wait-list for this surgery? (No, there wasn’t. Again this depends on your hospital).
- How much more clarity and volume should I expect to get from the implant? (I’m not sure what he said but I ended up with about 93%!)
- Is there a chance that I’ll experience issues/soreness with my jaw and/or throat after surgery? (Yes from the breathing tube. I had a very sore throat and couldn’t eat solid food for about a week or 10 days).
- Will my face go numb after surgery? (This can happen if the surgeon hits a nerve. My surgeon was very well aware of the nerve and said he knew how to avoid it. He was true to his word!)
- Will I lose my taste buds after surgery? (See #24).
- I work on a computer all day. Can this cause issues such as static with my implant? (No.)
- Will the implant last for life? (Internally, yes. Externally it may be upgraded every few years as advanced in technology are made).
- How will my implant work with my hearing aid for the ear that does not receive an implant? (You can sync them together or something if you have Phonak hearing aids. Which I don’t. So it really didn’t make a difference).
- Will I be able to adjust the volume on my Cochlear Implant on my own or will it be computerized? (I can adjust it to an extent. If I ever need significant changes I can have my audiologist reprogram it on her computer).
- Will I feel electric jolts after being activated? (I did before they turned it on a bit).
- Can you give me more information on EAS implants? Would you recommend that for my type of hearing loss? (I honestly don’t remember what any of this means).
- Will the implant whistle like how my hearing aids do? (No they don’t and I’m quite thankful for that!)
This second time around I have far less questions, mainly because I’ve already been through it once and have most of my questions answered. But I still have a few including:
- Can I sync my two implants together (Not really. They are working to combine them but haven’t really done it successfully so far. However, I may be able to match the setting or something like that so they work together).
- Can I wear my first implant when recovering from surgery for my second one? (Yes).
- What kind of testing will I need to go through? (Since it’s only been a year since my first surgery, I don’t have to go through most of them again. I just need another evaluation for insurance purposes).
Those three questions are really all I have so far, but I’m sure I’ll think of more to come. I’m very excited for round 2 of this incredible, blessed journey!