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.
Yesterday I gushed about my boyfriend and how supportive he’s been about my cochlear implant and how my cochlear implant strengthened my relationship with him. My mom read it like she always does. After all, they always say your mom will always be your biggest fan. When it comes to my writing and pretty much everything I do in my life, that always proves to be true.
If it wasn’t for my mom, I never would have gotten my cochlear implant. That is the 100% truth behind it all.
I’ve known about cochlear implant for years and I’ve always been adamantly against them. I always swore that I would never get them. This is due in large part of being told the wrong information which quite frankly made me terrified of them.
But one day, everything changed.
They say that everything happens for a reason, and this just goes to prove that.
I work for a digital marketing agency, WebiMax. Back in September we were in the process of moving to our new Camden office located on the Waterfront. However, before we were able to move to this final location, we had a small temporary space located on Federal Street. It was too small for all of the employees to work in the office on the same days, so a lot of us worked from home on a regularly basis until our final move to the Waterfront was complete.
Our old, original office was located in Mount Laurel. I had a hearing appointment about once every 2 months or so. At the time, I would work at WebiMax from 7:30-3:30 every day. Their was a Miracle Ear located in Cherry Hill, so as long as I got done work on time making my 4pm or 4:30pm appointments wasn’t much of a problem.
RIP Mount Laurel office…
Coming to the Cherry Hill office became a routine for me. The Miracle Ear located in the Turnersville Walmart was much closer to my home, but this definitely worked better with my work schedule. However, when I was working at home, things changed. I live in Washington Township. Going all the way to Cherry Hill for a hearing appointment just to get my plastic tubes changed didn’t seem practical, especially when I could just go to to one in Turnersville that was 15 minutes away.
I got used to seeing my audiologist at the time, Mindy. She became like a friend to me. I always enjoyed seeing her. It was a risk going to the Turnersville Miracle Ear because Mindy wouldn’t be there and we didn’t have much success with other audiologists prior to meeting Mindy (you’d be surprised by how hard it is to find a good audiologist…). But we figured it was just a piece of plastic that I needed on my hearing aids. Really quite simple and pretty much impossible to mess up. Anyone would do.
So we went to the Turnersville Miracle Ear that day and met a new audiologist. Her name was Sherry. I didn’t know if I liked Sherry when I first met her. She was a lot different from Mindy. Mindy was always very bubbly and talkative. Sherry was very professional, but didn’t have the same bubbly personality at all. Sherry was kind of hard to read.
As Sherry was replacing my tubes, my mom asked her a question. She said, “I want to ask you a question. I don’t really know you and you’re not my daughter’s usual audiologist. I may never even see you again. So tell me honestly, what do you think of the Clearvation hearing aids? My daughter has been looking into them and saving up for them. We’re told they are super hearing aids, but we were told that about her last pair as well and they didn’t seem to make that much of a difference. We were pretty disappointed. Do you honestly feel that these hearing aids will make a difference?
Sherry didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes. Instead, she held her breath and made a strange face that said it all.
“You don’t need to say anything. Your face says it all”, was my mom’s exact words.
Sherry then began to explain how hearing aids, no matter which one we choose, would not really help me. My hearing was so bad and my clarity was so non-existent, that no hearing aid would really be able to benefit me. Sure, they could amplify sound, but hearing aids don’t really offer clarity. She went on to explain that the only thing that could give me the clarity was a cochlear implant.
My mom and I went on to express the fears we had. The main fear we had was that cochlear implants required brain surgery. We were also told they were only for people with absolutely no hearing. I had around a 95-97% hearing loss, so I was legally deaf and fairly close to being 100% deaf, but I still had SOME hearing and I made it work for me. I thought that disqualified me from being a candidate for a cochlear implant.
“You guys got a lot of research and homework to do”, was Sherry’s response.
That night, the cochlear implant process really began. My mom and I researched and read article after article about what cochlear implants are, who the ideal candidate is, how they work, where to get one, and really everything we could get our hands on. I took a step further and decided I wanted to talk to people who had it done. Researches can say all kinds of great things in their articles, but unless you’ve actually went through and did it, you wouldn’t know what it was really like.
I turned to Facebook and Instagram (hey, I work in the field of social media, where else did you expect me to look?) I found a couple of Facebook groups and Instagram users who had cochlear implants or were considering getting one. I asked many questions and read through many forums. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was considered an “ideal candidate” and that this is something that would greatly benefit my life. I knew it was something I wanted and needed to do, and both my mom and my dad agreed.
My mom got the ball rolling right away. Within a couple of weeks I had my first doctor’s appointment with Dr. Skinhead (okay I have no idea what this doctor’s real name is but I always refer to him as Dr. Skinhead because he shaves every inch of hair from his head and his head is really bald and shiny and therefore he looks like a skinhead….). Dr. Skinhead is an ENT in Woodbury and quite possibly the best around. I saw him once before when my former audiologist accidentally cut a piece of plastic tubing too close to my ear and got it stuck. He removed it. So I knew he was a pretty good guy. Anyway we went there to just talk to him about how I was considering getting a cochlear implant. We had my most recent hearing test sent to him and he looked at my ears. He said he wasn’t quite qualified to give us a definite answer, but he didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be a candidate. That was our first yes, and my mom couldn’t have been more excited for me.
Within a week later we had our second doctor’s appointment booked. This one was just with my family doctor, Dr. Millstein. I needed a doctor’s referral before seeing most surgeons for consulting, so that’s what this was all about. He said I was healthy and their was nothing physically wrong with me. He was very concerned that I might get cervical cancer if I don’t get some pretty unnecessary shots….but that’s a whole nother story I don’t wish to further elaborate on. Point is, he said physically he didn’t see anything that would prevent me from getting a cochlear implant and he gave me referrals to see the surgeons.
We were then ready to make one of the biggest steps: meeting with surgeons. My mom did some research and identified two in the area that seemed like great surgeons: Dr.Bigelow at UPenn and Dr. Wilcox at Jefferson. We made an appointment with both of them, Dr. Wilcox being the first. Our first consulting appointment was in October. Two weeks later was our appointment with Dr. Bigelow.
We still had a few weeks before our first consulting appointment, but that didn’t mean we got a break. Not at all. My mom never took a break from my hearing. We still had a few more missions to accomplish before that appointment. Prior to my consulting appointment, I had to have both an MRI and a CT Scan performed to ensure there was nothing wrong with my ears that could prevent me from getting a cochlear implant. My mom scheduled both tests for the same day. The tests were very long and my mom had to leave work early to take me to them, but she did them without complaint. She helped me a lot. I couldn’t hear the doctors at all since I had to take my hearing aids out for the tests, so my mom was very helpful in acting as a translator and helping me to know exactly what I needed to do for these tests.
During my first consulting appointment with Dr. Wilcox, he confirmed what we pretty much already knew: there was nothing structurally wrong with my ears. He said there was no reason I wouldn’t be a candidate for a cochlear implant. He also answered all of our questions. Between my mom and myself we easily had over 30 questions for him and he answered each one very thoroughly. He gave us the green light to move forward — but he said we still had one more step— we needed to meet with one of their audiologists for more testing including a written test and hearing tests.
Scheduling the appointments with the audiologists was easy. It was just a manner of meeting with a receptionist before we left. I had two appointments with them. One test tested how well I hear with my hearing aids and the other without. They really needed to see how much the hearing aids were benefiting me (which proved to pretty much be not at all) and what I’d gain from a cochlear. After just the first test/appointment the audiologist said “Now is definitely the time for you to be considering a cochlear”. Whereas my mom and I would normally be pretty depressed by my hearing test results, that day we celebrated because we knew it was bringing us one step closer to our ultimate goal of getting me my cochlear and me being able to finally hear.
On the last appointment I had to answer some written questions as well. It was kind of like a psychological evaluation. They had to make sure I had realistic expectations and that I would work with my cochlear. I passed that with no problem. They actually said that if anything my expectations were too low. Once this was all complete, it was time to meet with Dr. Wilcox again and schedule the surgery.
We scheduled the surgery within two weeks from the appointment on November 17, 2013. We could not believe how soon it was. It wasn’t even a month from our initial meeting with Dr. Wilcox. Everything with it happened so quickly thanks to my mom being so proactive with it all. None of this ever could have happened without the help from my mom.
The couple of weeks leading up to my surgery were pretty hard, more so for my mom than for me. The things no one tells you about getting a cochlear implant is that it’s a bit overwhelming and terrifying, especially right before you go under the knife. There were many times when my mom broke down in tears because she was so afraid it wouldn’t work, I’d lose the little hearing I did have, and she felt if this did happen she’d be to blame since she encouraged me to go through with it. During these times going to church helped a lot. I remember one time in particular my mom and I visited the chapel at Gloucester County Community Church following their Saturday evening sermon. During this time we prayed with a woman of the church and she said “It will work and there’s a reason God is giving you this gift now and now you have to find out what that is.”
She was right in every way possible. I believe that this is it. I’m supposed to use my new found hearing to help people. That’s why I want to write this blog and turn t his blog into a book — to help other hearing impaired individuals like myself and to encourage them and show them they can do anything they put their minds to.
My mom was very excited but also a nervous wreck during my surgery. I’m a light weight when it comes to any kind of medication, alcohol, or other substance. So the instance they gave me the anesthesia, I was knocked out. Unfortunately, they gave it to me before they had a chance to ask me how to turn my hearing aids off (I had to remove them both for the surgery). So they called my mom to ask her which caused her a bit of panic haha. But other than that she was fine.
She helped me out and showed me a lot of love and support like any great mother should do while I recovered from my surgery. Her and my dad made me special foods (I couldn’t chew for awhile because it put too much pressure on my ear). She helped me get dressed, she helped with my dizziness, and she even helped me manage my hair (for 10 days I wasn’t allowed to wash my hair after my surgery…my mom helped me clean it by getting me dry shampoo, combining around the incision for me, and even using a washcloth to try to clean it up for me). She did far more than what most parents would ever do, that’s for sure.
Activation day was one of the most exciting, yet anxiety-ridden days of the whole process. It wasn’t quite what we expected. I didn’t hear very well the first day. My brain was overwhelmed and had trouble catching up to what I was hearing and processing it correctly. Everything sounded like a baby crying for the most part. Talking with people was pretty challenging and disappointing. I couldn’t hear music or identify the Christmas songs on the radio (I was activated on December 17th). But she never let me know she was disappointed and she never yelled at me or lost her patience. Instead she remained calmed and understood that it was a process. She also celebrated the small victories with me — like my amusement by the sound of light switches and the pouring of liquids into cups.
I was able to hear my mom’s voice better on the 2nd and third day after my activation —- except it still didn’t sound natural. She sounded identical to Minnie Mouse. I couldn’t stop laughing at her. She thought it was kind of funny. She didn’t get mad at all, she continued to support me throughout it all.
Some people who get cochlear implants feel they do not benefit from them or they don’t work. I think that most of these people have gotten it all wrong. They do work — but you have to work with it, too. You can’t be lazy. You need to work with it, especially when you first get activated, on a constant basis. Sure, it might be hard. You might hate what you hear, but it’s never going to get better if you don’t work at it.
My mom worked with me on a constant basis. I really wanted to hear music, but during the first week or two music sounded terrible. My mom helped me by still playing it and buying me a bunch of new music that I was not already familiar with to listen to. She also fed me a lot of words. She had me repeat sentences and words back to her like I’d do for my word recognition tests. She’d even print hundreds of pages of words to go through and highlight the ones I didn’t get right so that she would know which ones to go back to and work with me more on.
When I started to get bored with the words, my mom looked for ways to make it more fun for me. She knew it was important for me to hear these sounds and work with my cochlear. She discovered the Angel Sound program for me which made listening more fun and it also allowed me to train my hear to hear different sounds that went beyond just the words. This has been extremely helpful and beneficial for me.
In all honesty though, the training me to hear and helping me process sounds happened well before my cochlear implant came into the picture. From an early age my mom worked with me excessively. If you’ve ever verbally talked with a deaf person chances are you noticed they have a speech impediment or don’t speak clearly. That’s not the case so much with me. My speech isn’t 100%, but it’s far better than most people who have the same degree of hearing lost as I do. This is because my mom had me placed in speech therapy from the time I was 2. She also always has (and still does) correct me every time I mispronounce a word (which is often…my boyfriend jokes that I can write very well, but still can’t pronounce half the words I write lol). My surgeon, audiologists, and even random strangers compliment me for my speech all the time and tell my mom she is a great mom for all she’s done to help me develop my speech. They couldn’t be more right with that.
I’ve been activated for almost 5 months now, and my mom still continues to work with me with my implant by giving me words, testing me with different sounds, and of course celebrity even the little victories with me. We recently went to a Sidewalk Prophets concert together. It was not my first concert since getting my implant (my first was the Danny Gokey concert I went to with my boyfriend), but it was the first one I went to with my mom. Prior to getting my implant, my mom and I would go to shows together all the time. Some of the bands we’ve seen together include:
- Britney Spears
- Michelle Branch
- Good Charlotte (x2)
- Simple Plan (x2)
- Forever the Sickest Kids (x3)
- No Doubt
- The Ataris
- Katy Perry
- Pat Benatar
- Rick Springfield
- Avril Lavigne
And the list just goes on and on and on. But over the last few years, it’s gotten much harder for me to really distinguish what songs are being played, hear the musicians talking, or understand much of anything at all. This time around I was able to hear EVERYTHING going on. I knew what the guys were saying to the audience. I knew which songs were which. I could hear all of the distinct instruments. My mom was so excited and happy for me that she cried.
None of this would have been possible without my mom. I am 100% certain I never would have gotten my cochlear without the help of my mom. I’m not even sure I would have my college degrees without her because I’m not sure I could’ve gotten into a Public University. Getting into a non-specialized kindergarten class was a challenge enough, but my mom fought tooth and nail to make it happen. My mom wanted nothing more in life than to see me gain the ability to hear, and thanks to her persistence, and the grace of God, it was made possible. Mom, I know you sat here and read every single word (all 3300+ of them…your post was longer than Larry’s by over 1,000 you should feel proud!) because you read all of my posts. I also know you’re more than likely crying (why do I always make everyone cry?) and laughing at the same time at the end of this, but I just need to take this time to say I love and I can never thank you enough for all that you’ve done for me.
When I first got my cochlear implant I was told that it may make it so I don’t have to rely on lip-reading so much, but that I would probably still do it simply out of habit. They weren’t kidding about that.
Many people with cochlear implants do not want to have to lip-read and even become angry or frustrated by lipreading when they have a cochlear. I can kind of understand where they are coming from. They shouldn’t need to rely on lip-reading with a cochlear and also lip-reading can be exhausting! So I understand why people would want to not need it anymore.
I’ve had a very positive experience with my cochlear implant. Part of this positive experience includes not needing to rely on lipreading so much anymore. I can hear in the dark. I can hear when people are behind me. I can hear without having to look at people. These are all things I could never have even dreamed of doing prior to getting my cochlear implant. It certainly makes for a much easier, less exhausting, and more enjoyable life, that’s for sure!
However, some people see my lipreading as a habit that I should break, especially now that I have a cochlear implant. They are right in saying that I lipread out of habit. As my hearing aid audiologist, Sherry would say, “Lipreading has become my crutch because for so long it’s all I had to get me by.” Sure, I don’t need it so much now that I have my cochlear implant, but it’s definitely not a habit I plan on breaking anytime soon. Here’s why:
I wear my cochlear implant for about 90% of the day and 90% of my life. But there are still times when I can’t wear my cochlear. You may recall me discussing my trip to Six Flags Great Adventure. This is the perfect example. You see, I had to take out my cochlear and my hearing aid for most of those rides and I left it with my boyfriend’s mom. I wasn’t able to hear anything during those times. I have profound hearing loss — approximately 95-97% hearing loss in both ears. I still wanted to be able to communicate with my boyfriend during this time though. After all, some of those lines were very long (we waited over 2 hours to ride Kingda Ka…). I can’t hear any sound at all, but I was still able to communicate and have some small conversations with him. I also do not know sign language, so that definitely wasn’t an option. The thing that helped the most was being able to lipread. I was very thankful that day to have not lost this ability.
Having a cochlear implant means not having to lipread even half as much as I used to. This has been nothing short of a blessing for me. But don’t expect me to give up my ability to lipread altogether. There are times when that ability has become a blessing as well!