Hey guys! Wow, long time no updates! I apologize for being so quiet lately I have just been so intensely busy! Juggling work full time at Penn Medicine with teaching part time at Rowan University and taking two classes a semester towards earning my MA in Writing for the past year has been no joke! I’ve really been enjoying everything I do though. None of this stuff would have been possible if it weren’t for getting my cochlear implants (or at least not teaching) and it has all been so incredibly rewarding.
School has especially been an interesting experience for me. I am never shy from discussing my cochlear implants with anyone that will (or won’t…as is the case with at least some of my sleepy, bored students…hey I do teach at 8am afterall…) listen from students to classmates, professors, and really anyone in between. One of my students even mentioned that she wants to be an art teacher for the Deaf and learn ASL and hear more about my story.
On the student side of things, well I’m continuing to work towards completing God Granted Me Hearing which will serve as my MA in Writing Master’s project. I have been doing significant research for this project especially on Deaf culture and ASL. There’s definitely a lot to learn and I’m really loving this journey I’ve been on.
But enough about school, the real thing I want to talk about with this post is my hearing appointment I had at Jefferson yesterday morning. This appointment was one of the rare times in my life when I scheduled an appointment kind of “just because”. I mean I guess there was kind of a point to it – I haven’t had a hearing appointment in over a year and haven’t really followed up with anyone as much with my right ear post-activation as I did with my left. I guess it’s because I kind of knew what to do and expect and things have been going well for me. Also, I’m just so busy it’s hard to get around to scheduling appointments like that these days, but with my summer hours allowing me to have off on Fridays I thought it would be a good time to schedule a checkup just to make sure everything is working as it’s supposed to.
I’ll be honest – I was pretty nervous about this appointment. For once though I wasn’t nervous because of my hearing abilities or how I’d test, but I was nervous because I’d be getting a new audiologist. I loved my last two audiologists – Dr. Louisa Yong Yan Liang and Alyssa Lerner (who was an extern when I had her, but I really liked her). Louisa left Jefferson to go to Chicago since her husband is a doctor and took a job there. Alyssa was in a similar situation where her boyfriend finished medical school and matched with a hospital in St. Louis so she left to be with him. This left me without an audiologist.
With all of that being said, I was happy to hear that there was another audiologist I could see, Laura Somers. However, I was still nervous at the prospect of meeting someone knew and gaining a new audiologist.
Fortunately, all of my nerves went away the moment I met Laura and her extern, Shelby Weinstein. They immediately made a great impression on me. They were as sweet as could be. One of the first things that Laura said was “Were you in an article…something about talking on the phone?” referring to the article that I did with The Philadelphia Inquirer. This right away made a great first impression on me because it showed me that she did her homework to familiarize herself with my case and my history. She was very personable and friendly which helped me to relax and made me feel comfortable during the appointment. She had an extern, Shelby Weinstein, who was also very nice. She was more quiet but friendly and seemed eager to learn. Laura took her time with everything she did to make sure to show Shelby what she was doing and Shelby seemed really interested and engaged with it all.
The first thing that Laura did was check my settings and the volume on my right ear. The right ear was the main focus of my appointment since I’ve been doing so well with the left (which makes sense since it was the first ear I had implanted and it’s really common for your first ear to be your dominant or preferred ear since you’re more used to it and it’s also kind of a mental thing – getting your first cochlear implant is such a huge, impactful thing (or at least it was for me) that you don’t forget it. It’s still big and impactful with the second one, but not as much since you have something great already to compare it to whereas with the first one you may be comparing it to nothing.
Laura explained to me that her main goal was to balance my ears out more. She played a series of sounds/pitches and gave me a “loudness chart” where I had to indicate if the noise was too soft, soft, medium, loud but comfortable, or too loud. Most of the pitches fell in the medium or too soft range. Laura turned it up a little bit. At first it was too loud and a bit overwhelming so she had to turn it down a little bit to make it more level. It seems pretty good now but I am still adjusting to it. I notice it the most when I put my processors on for the first time in the morning.
Next Laura and Shelby took me into the hearing test booth and they tested my right ear. First they did the beeps and I scored in the normal – above normal range. This will never cease to amaze me. I still remember when I’d be lucky to have any ranges or pitches listed on the chart. When I was first considering my first cochlear implant I told my surgeon, Dr. Willcox, that I would consider it a success if I could have about 30% of my hearing (at the time I had at the most about 7%) and he said my expectations were way too low – he wasn’t wrong! Now I probably have around 80-90% of my hearing.
Here’s where my hearing was on 6/29/2017 on my right ear…quite a difference!
This test was from January 28, 2016 – a little over a month after having my left ear activated. The red circles at the bottom were for my right ear. This is almost a year before I had it implanted.
Next, Laura tested me for word recognition with my right ear. I was a little bit nervous here because the last time I was tested for this in my right ear was on March 25, 2015 I didn’t do very well – earning on a 68%.
I didn’t do too well on my first word recognition test back on March 25, 2015…
However, I ended up doing just fine. I knew I was doing well – you really can just tell with these things if you’re doing well or not. The more I felt I got them right the more confident I became. In the end I performed even better than I imagined by earning a 90% – quite a big difference from the 68% I earned the last time!
I only got about 3 of them wrong and I wasn’t off by that much on the ones I missed!
For the final test Laura tested me with full sentences and she added in a high level of background noise – the highest level possible – to make it harder. She admitted that a lot of people with normal, natural hearing struggle with some of these. Honestly I think what makes this hard sometimes is how WEIRD the sentences are. One time I got a sentence that was something along the lines of “The monkey is using sign language.” This time I got “A camel is not the most comfortable animal on which to ride” and “Could you speak up a little?” which isn’t a weird sentence on its own, but when you say it in the context of a hearing test it becomes a little awkward and confusing – Laura actually asked me to repeat it probably because she wasn’t sure if I was saying back the sentence or asking her to repeat herself lol. #DeafProblems – right?
I scored an 84% with this test. I thought that I got about a 70 on the sentences last time but I don’t see a record of it (I keep everything) so now I’m thinking this might have been the first time they did full sentences with my right ear? Either way it would be an improvement and I’m quite happy with these results!
126/150 or an 84%? I’ll take it! It sure beats my pre-cochlear implant scores of 0!
My appointment concluded with Laura calling me a “Rock star” and telling me I was good to go until next year when I should come in just for a checkup unless of course something is wrong. She told me to keep her posted on my book and everything else. I was definitely impressed by both Laura and Shelby’s care and I look forward to working with Laura more in the future and I hope that Shelby stays at Jefferson so I can work with her more in the future as well because she seems like she’s going to be really good once she finishes her schooling.
This week I read 1 Corinthians 14 and it made me think a lot about the history of American Sign Language actually. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking to the church of Corinth about speaking in tongues. He acknowledges the ability to speak in tongues as being a spiritual gift from God, however, he strongly urges the church of Corinth not to practice the speaking of tongues unless everyone can do it. Paul explains this by stating, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Men that possess the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues can use it to speak to God, yes, but they shouldn’t use it to speak with the rest of the congregation because they won’t be able to understand him. When we enter the church it should be to honor and glorify God and to help our brothers and sisters and Christ to do the same and to better come to know God and his words. If we can’t even understand what the members of the body of Christ are saying then how can we really come to know God and learn at church, let alone properly worship him in his home?
Paul went so far as to suggest that speaking in tongues could be the equivalent of just making noise without understanding what that noise actually means in verses 7-11. Here he states:
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me (1751).
Wow, definitely a lot of things going on in these verses! Let’s look at the first part of this first, verses 7-8:
“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
A deaf person may never hear the sounds of a pipe, harp, or trumpet. You could blow that trumpet as hard as humanly possible and that deaf person may never prepare himself to battle if that’s all he has to go on because he’ll never know. To him, the sound of a trumpet is completely meaningless.
For me prior to getting my cochlear implant, I missed out on many sounds. I’ve discovered many of them since getting my cochlear implants, but every day I am also still learning more and more sounds. It’s not uncommon for me to jump a little in class as a train goes by or someone talks or fidgets or I hear an unknown sound. I’m constantly trying to define the source of the sound and what it means. This is what the congregation must’ve been like back in Paul’s time when they tried to understand what the speaker was saying when he spoke in tongues that they did not understand.
I also relate this to ASL. The Deaf community needs ASL so that they can understand what is being said in the church. To them, the verbal communication means nothing. They have no idea what the pastor is preaching without the use of ASL. They will never hear the gospel or understand the message that day. The pastor might as well be speaking in tongues because they’d never know otherwise. Here, Thomas Gallaudet’s arguments for using sign language in the church makes sense.
But hold that thought…
Thomas Gallaudet and the manualists didn’t just think that the use of sign language in the church would help the deaf to better understand sermons; they took it a step further. Gallaudet along with the other manualists felt that sign language would bring the deaf closer to God. In Tracy Morse’s dissertation, “Saving Grace: Religious Rhetoric in the Deaf Community,” she quotes Douglas Baynton’s Forbidden Signs when she says:
For manualists, this view was interpreted in Protestant terms: sign language was an original language and meant “closer to the Creation,” not inferiority (Baynton “Savages” 98). However, for oralists, sign language was associated with lower evolution or “inferior races” (Baynton Forbidden 9). Oralists made arguments that deaf students needed to learn spoken English and lip reading or they would be viewed as animals or savages (Morse 51).
Now, let’s look back to the scripture and focus on verse 11 which states, “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
The word “barbarian” here is what stands out the most to me. Do you know who else really loves the word “barbarian”? Alexander Graham Bell who was NOT a manualist like Thomas Gallaudet, but rather an oralist that believed that the deaf needed to move away from sign language and instead learn to speak verbally and read lips and live in the hearing world.
So, what am I saying here? Do I think that this verse is saying sign language is barbaric? Absolutely not, but at the same time, it could be absolutely so. So it’s a yes and a no for me.
Here is what I think that verse is saying, or what the core message Paul has for the church of Corinth is:
We need to speak in a way that people can understand what we are saying in church so as to not cause confusion or anything that can inhibit man’s understanding of the gospel and man’s ability to honor and glorify the lord.
Back in the time of the church of Corinth, speaking in tongues was a barrier for people in the church because it might have benefited the person speaking it, but it did not benefit the church. Paul is calling for the unity of the church – everyone needs to unite as the body as Christ and work in a way that best serves God and not themselves and that involves speaking a universal language they can all understand.
What does this mean for the deaf in the church? Should they be forced to lip-read and practice the oral method? No. I think the deaf should have a right to hear the sermon in a way that is the most accessible to them. Many churches offer the hearing loop to help hard of hearing and deaf people to hear (depending on the degree of hearing loss of course). If a deaf person needs an interpreter, they should have access to it.
If the majority of church attendees are Deaf and rely on sign language, then perhaps that church should consider doing full sermons primarily in ASL, as that is what will benefit that church and help the attendees to learn and honor and glorify God the best.
We don’t have to worry too much about the speaking of tongues in modern day. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Whether there be tongues they shall cease”. People cannot speak in tongues today (I acknowledge that many claim they do – I have my own feelings on that but I’ll be nice and go the route of “no comment” on that…). I think that whereas the church of Corinth had to worry about the speaking in tongues today our issue is more or less about what language or what style/tone to use in church. I think it all depends on the congregation and choosing what is the most accessible to your church goers.
Going back to the discussion on the deaf community…
In Baynton’s Forbidden Signs he explains how many oralists feared that by relying too heavily on sign language the deaf community would isolate themselves from the rest of the world. He stated:
Like their contemporaries in other fields of reform, oralists worried that the lives of people were diminished by being a part of such communities as the deaf community; they would not, it was feared, fully share in the life of the nation. The deaf community, like ethnic communities, narrowed the minds and outlooks of its members. “The individual must be one with race,” one wrote in words reminiscent of many other Progressive reformers “or he is virtually annihilated”; the chief curse of deafness was “apartness from the life of the world,” and it was just this that oralism was designed to remedy. Apartness was the darkness manualists redefined for a new world (Baynton 32).
Sign language was (and still is) very different from spoken English or any spoken language, really It’s different from what the majority is speaking and when people can’t speak our language, either they or we miss out. Isn’t this the same as what was going on in the church of Corinth in a way? Paul wanted to see the church of Corinth come together to honor, serve, and glorify the Lord and to unite as the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues was something very few church members could do that caused a separation or divide between those who could speak and understand it, and those who could not. It became a distraction that kept people from coming to know God.
Is sign language a distraction that keeps the deaf from doing things in their daily lives? It is obvious that it causes a divide from the hearing and the deaf worlds. In the church, it can make things better for the deaf and I can see how it can strengthen their personal relationships with God, but if we only signed and didn’t speak spoken English, the rest of the congregation would suffer. I don’t see sign language as being a form of language that brings a person closer to God in the sense of it’s a superior or holier language than standard English. I think it’s just another language that for some is their primary and therefore the best and for others is just another language in the world that exists but one they don’t partake in or use in their daily lives.
On May 29th I participated in my first cochlear implant research study. It was held at Jefferson University by my audiologist, Dr. Louisa Ha. The research study was to examine the different kinds of experiences cochlear implant users have with music. Most cochlear implants are made to amplify sound and give more word clarity, but not really to enhance music. Many cochlear implant users report that they have negative experiences with music. They say that music does not sound natural or pleasant to them. I, however listen to music all the time and find that it sounds much clearer, more natural, and better than ever before since getting my implant. For all of these reasons Louisa really wanted to bring me in for the study.
When I first arrived I had to fill out a bit of paperwork. This set of paperwork was basically just giving my consent to be used in study. Shortly after filling out the paperwork Louisa explained the tests to me and what I would have to do and she made sure the volume on her computer was at a comfortable level for me. Then she left the room while I took the tests.
The first test was different pitches of sound. They gave me two pitches and I had to choose which one was the higher pitch. This wasn’t too difficult. There were a few that sounded identical so I just had to guess on those. I think I did okay on this. There were probably about 30 pitches to go through and I wasn’t able to replay anything.
After I did the pitches my next test was on music melodies. This was the hardest part of the test. It played the following songs:
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Frere Jacques
- Old Macdonald
- Here Comes the Bride
- Mary Had a Little Lamb
- Jingle Bells
- London Bridge
Except you didn’t get to hear the songs with the words and the melodies were removed. It was like hearing the song with the tones played on a keyboard or something. It made the songs sound very weird and unrecognizable. I pretty much had to just guess on all of these as I couldn’t tell what hardly any of them were. When the test was over Louisa said this was something she struggles with too even though she doesn’t have a hearing loss.
The final test played some instruments and I had to try to identify which one was which. It used the following instruments:
I got to play each sound before the test started to familiarize myself with them. When I did that it didn’t seem too bad but when the actual test started it was a lot harder especially since I couldn’t replay them. All of the instruments sounded very similar,and at times, identical to me. I had to really think and ask myself “does it sound like they are blowing into an instrument here, or strumming along?” which helped sometimes. Other times I had to just guess.
I didn’t get to see my test results yet. I may get them after the study is complete, but there is no guarantee. So I don’t know how well I did yet. I was very surprised by how challenging the test was. I have been practicing a lot of sounds especially music with a program I have on my computer called Angel Sound. It has been very helpful for me with learning different sounds I never heard before or never heard properly. However, the tests used as part of the research study I found were much harder than the ones I did on Angel Sound.
Louisa re-programed the music setting I have on my cochlear implant after I finished the study. She did this so that I can get used to it during the next couple of weeks. On June 19th I am coming back to Jefferson for the second half of the study. Basically the first half sees how you do when your cochlear isn’t programmed to the settings and the second half sees how you do once exposed to the settings and prepared/used to it. So the two tests will be compared/contrasted for the overall study I’m guessing. I’d assume that the second test will be much easier than the first, but only time will tell. I’ll be sure to post an update after June 19th when I complete the second half of the study!