Hey guys! Hope all of my East-coast friends are staying warm and dry in this crazy snow storm!
I don’t know if it’s the snow or what, but I received an incredible surge of inspiration and had a major Eureka moment in regards to the opening chapter of my memoir. I thought a better opening would be something more reflective in which I show what is going through my mind moments before I received my first cochlear implant tied in with flashbacks on my life before I was implanted and the time when I was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss (the yellow brick road chapter).
This needs A LOT of work still, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with the first 1,000 which are the new words that I added today. I am also in the process of interviewing my mom for more details with the original yellow brick road chapter. She said she’d need some time to think about many of the questions I had as she tries to remember, but I’m hoping to get some answers from her soon to better flesh out that chapter/add more details.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy the revised opening chapter. Feel free to leave a comment on this post letting me know what you think!
Entering Into a Technicolor World of Hearing
I’m lying in a hospital bed at Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia. There is an IV inserted in my right arm and Mom is standing to my left. Dad, who has never been a fan of hospitals, is outside in the waiting room. Everything looks like your typical hospital setting except for two things:
- I am not sick or injured.
- I cannot stop smiling.
My journey begins now. Today I will receive my first cochlear implant, and if all goes well with the surgery and recovery, next month I will be activated and Lord-willing, hear, like a normal hearing person, for the first time in my life.
If this works, my black and white and sometimes sepia world will become technicolor and I will not just hear the sounds I’ve always heard, but I will be able to understand what those sounds are and hear them the way they are supposed to sound. Conversations will sound like actual conversations (without me needing to exhaust myself by practicing heavy lipreading). I’ll know when music is playing, and it will sound like actual music. I may even be able to hear what a flute sounds like. I’ll be able to go to the movies without having to awkwardly ask for a pair of caption glasses which A. The ticket salesman won’t understand, or B. won’t work anyway. After the movies, I may be able to go out to dinner with my friends or a date and order my own food without awkwardly staring at another person as if to say, “Please lend me your ears, I can’t hear a thing the waiter is saying.”
If this works, my world will forever change, hopefully for the better.
If this doesn’t work, I risk losing the approximately 7% total residual or natural hearing I have left in my left ear. This residual hearing is currently being amplified by hearing aids.
Amplify [am-pluh-fahy]. Verb. – Increase the volume of (sound).
Notice how it doesn’t say anything about clarity or being able to understand or comprehend what those sounds are. That’s what’s missing. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t give me any clarity. My cochlear implant is supposed to fix that. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll lose my ability to even amplify sounds. I’ll be left with absolutely nothing in my left ear — silence.
I made a list of the things I want to do post-cochlear implant activation, should this work. It looks like this:
THINGS TO DO POST-COCHLEAR IMPLANT ACTIVATION
- Get caught in the rain.
- Experience church in a whole new way.
- Watch movies without captions.
- See a movie at the drive-in.
- Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
- See an orchestra.
- See a play.
- See a ballet.
- Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
- Talk on the phone.
- Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
- See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
- Hear my cat meow.
- Listen to the radio.
- Hear a cricket chirp.
I didn’t even want to think about what my life would look like if the cochlear implant didn’t work. Would I be forced to learn ASL? Would I join the Deaf community? Could I manage to get by with the remaining, un-implanted ear? Thinking about what would happen if the cochlear implant worked was fun but thinking about the alternatives was terrifying.
I had faith and trust in God that the cochlear implant would work. I prayed constantly and attended church as much as three times in a single day. For the weeks leading up to this day I had both Gloucester County Community Church and Washington Baptist Church praying for and with me and even met with the deacons and deaconesses at both churches.
“God is going to give you an incredible gift. Now it’s your job to figure out how you can use it to serve the Lord,” the deaconess at whose name I cannot recall told me as I met with her in the chapel at GCCC.
I was so excited to begin my new life as a hearing person that as the date of my surgery came closer, sleep became more and more difficult. I’d stay up for 20 or more hours at a time, keeping myself busy by binge watching all 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and when I got bored of that, I’d clean everything in sight. I no longer had any concept of time.
“Do you really have to clean your toilet at 3 in the morning? I’m trying to sleep and all I can hear is your toilet flushing,” Mom complained.
“No more cleaning. I don’t wish to smell all of your chemicals first thing in the morning,” Dad pleaded.
Last night, I could hardly sleep at all. The Patriots played the late night 8:15pm game against the Colts.
“Don’t stay up too late, you have a big day tomorrow. You know the Patriots are going to win anyway,” Mom warned.
“Oh, let her stay up. She’s just going to sleep through the surgery anyway. Does it matter if she’s tired?” Dad said.
I stayed up for the whole game and then spent most of the rest of the night in bed, browsing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on my phone. By 5:30 AM, I was wide awake, dressed in my brand-new button down fleece pajamas (mom said there was no sense in wearing real clothes, I’d be better off being comfortable and I’d need to wear button downs to avoid pulling shirts over my head post-surgery anyway), and ready, a full two and a half hours before I was scheduled for surgery.
Now the day is finally here. Dr. Wilcox just came in to tell me everything would be okay and to instruct the anesthesia team to begin. I have a plastic mask on my face, covering my mouth and nose. I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore as I feel my body surrender itself to the anesthesia.
When I wake up, I’ll be a cyborg.
In another month, I’ll be activated, and I’ll finally be able to hear, Lord-willing.
If this works, I’ll be able to hear for the first time in my life, or at least, the first time since my mother discovered I was deaf at the mere age of two.
When I was two, Mom would call out my name, but I never responded. When she mentioned it to my pediatrician during my next checkup, the pediatrician 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 clapped behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Against my pediatrician’s advice, 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 hearing loss. What we didn’t realize was how severe my hearing loss was. Miss Terri explained that my hearing loss was profound, meaning the only sounds I could hear were those that were at a volume of 90db or higher such as airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, and possibly a lawn mower. Hearing aids were recommended to amplify these sounds, but my ability to hear and comprehend sounds, even when amplified, would always be a challenge.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. 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,” 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,” said mom.
“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.
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. There was nothing actually magical about it; it was just a regular mirror that I was allowed to draw on with magic markers, but I always loved this activity. I was never allowed to draw on the mirrors at home. I thought that this mirror was special since I could draw on it and the markers would wipe right off when I was done. As a two-year-old, the only logical explanation for how this could work was that it must have been magic.
Before I could draw on the mirror, Miss Vicki put me to work by having me practice my speech.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” she’d say. “We’ll start wi“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.
“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.
“Suitcase,” 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. I was able to live my life in black and white or sometimes sepia. My world was full, but not always beautiful or complete. The older I got the more I realized that living as a deaf girl in a hearing world was a lot like living in a world without color.
I know what you’re thinking…
I thought you said your first cochlear implant support group meeting would be your last.
And you’re right, I did.
Back in May I went to my first cochlear implant support group when they did a discussion on cochlear implants and dementia. It was extremely depressing and I felt the whole atmosphere to be rather negative. I vowed I’d never go again.
Well, things happen. I kind of lied.
It’s been a weird week.
I broke up with my boyfriend. If you read my blog on a regular basis, you’ll know I loved him very much. I still do. I think a part of me always will. I’m not going to go into the details about that here. Let’s just say it happened, it hurts like hell, and I needed to get out of the house.
A friend of mine, Wayne, helps to run the Cochlear Implant Support groups for the Haddonfield area (the ones closest to my home). We are friends on Facebook and Wayne and I talk on a regular basis. He knew that I had just broken up with my boyfriend and was really hurting, so he told me I should come to the next support group. He told me it would do me good to get out of the house and “you never know who you’ll meet” (I mentioned on Facebook how I needed to make friends. My boyfriend was not only my best friend, he was my only friend. Breaking up with him was more than just breaking up with a boyfriend, it was breaking up with my best friend, too). I kind of felt obligated to go after that. Plus, I figured it was a welcome distraction. Sure beats staying at home, feeling sad, and crying myself to sleep anyway.
The topic was actually pretty interesting. It was on hearing preservation after the cochlear implant surgery. You may remember me mentioning previously that I still had the same amount of hearing left in my ear post-surgery. I was interested in hearing what they’d say about that since the topic was definitely pretty relevant to me this time around.
Dr. Pelosi, assistant professor and otolaryngologist at Jefferson University, was the one doing the presentation. I have heard quite a bit about Dr. Pelosi especially when I did my early research for a cochlear implant surgeon. My first impression is what any newly single 20-something year old girl would think, “He’s really hot”.
Hottest doctor, ever?
But of course looks are not everything and I have a really weird thing with people who are highly physical attractive. I assume most highly attractive people are jerks. I’m not outright saying I thought Dr. Pelosi was a jerk. I didn’t think that at all, he seemed like a nice guy. I did however get the impression that he was a little coincited. But he was a nice guy and he was smart.
Dr. Pelosi made a lot of interesting points about hearing preservation post-cochlear implant surgery. There were many things I didn’t know like how the size and shape of the electrodes may play a role in hearing preservation. Also, the speed at which they insert the electrodes can have an impact. Dr. Pelosi said that thinner curved electrodes inserted more slowly may help with post-implantion hearing preservation as opposed to thicker, straighter electrodes that are inserted more rapidly. This is because there is a nerve by the cochlea that the electrodes are inserted near. Ideally, surgeons want to be as gentle as possible when inserting the electrodes so that they don’t hit that nerve. Hitting the nerve is what can cause a loss of residual hearing. With the thin, curved electrodes inserted slowly, there is a smaller chance of tearing or otherwise damaging that nerve.
The only thing I didn’t really like with Dr. Pelosi’s presentation was that he used a lot of really technical terms and big words. I felt like some of that was because Dr. Pelosi is a very young doctor — much younger than most of the people at the support group — and he may have done that to try to prove himself to them. But I would have rather he used less complex language that is easier to understand. I think had my surgeon who is older and more experienced, Dr. Wilcox, done the presentation I would have understood it a bit better.
At the end of the presentation a lot of people asked questions. I liked that the group of people were mostly different from the group that attended the first support group meeting I went to. They were more interested and less negative about cochlear implants. Most of the questions were about the electrodes and the hybrid cochlear implant which Dr. Pelosi also touched on. I realized that I didn’t know how many electrodes I was inserted with, so I asked Dr. Pelosi if that mattered. He told me it didn’t; all that mattered was that it worked and that I knew what kind of device I had which I did. I kind of figured that much.
Some of the people asked beyond stupid questions that I had to try not to laugh at. The whole “there are no stupid questions” can really be a lie sometimes. The stupidest question I heard was from a guy wanting to know why they couldn’t tune his cochlear implant electrodes to match that of a piano or something. Obviously he was a musician who lost his hearing later in life. He swore he knew exactly which sounds he was and wasn’t hearing and how it should sound.
Maybe I am being biased or unfair because I’m not a musician and I don’t know much about musical tones or piano keys, but this doesn’t seem right to me at all. No, you don’t know what you are or aren’t hearing. You’re learning the sounds. You can’t just pick and choose which sounds you do or don’t hear or receive. It doesn’t work like that.The whole cochlear implant thing is a process and you’ll discover new sounds over time.You can’t just wake up one day and be like “I want to hear this piano key today and this one tomorrow”. I feel like that should be common sense, which I felt this guy obviously didn’t have. Based on the look on the faces of others who attended the meeting and even Dr. Pelosi (who remained extremely professional and didn’t outright laugh in the guy’s face), they agreed.
After the meeting I made a point to talk to some people and connect with them. I won’t lie; half the reason I did this was for networking purposes…. I am writing a book about my experience, afterall! I need to build my connections so I can sell my book once I finish writing it and have it published. But I did genuinely enjoy talking to the people. They were all much older than me and most of them had very different stories. A lot of them lost their hearing later in life or had an illness that wiped out their hearing. I’m not sure any of them were born deaf or hard of hearing like I was. I swapped stories with them and also told one woman who was about to be activated good luck and not to be afraid. I reminded her that she might not like the way things sound initially, but if she worked with it, it would get better.
One thing I wish though is that more people my age would come out to these events. My mom told me that maybe I can help work on getting people there or maybe I can even look into starting my own group for people my age. I know that I’m not the only deaf or hard of hearing 20-something year old in NJ. I’m frequently told that deaf/hoh individuals are getting younger. I’ve seen them, too. When I worked at Walmart I saw many kids with cochlear implants. I always thought that was pretty cool. I also talked to a lot of people around town who have told me they have kids with cochlear implants. I think the reason why they don’t come to meetings or support groups is that they feel ashamed by it — they want to hide the fact that they even have an implant. That is sad to me. There is no reason to be ashamed. My cochlear implant is the best thing that ever happened to me. I talk about it all the time and I flaunt it because it makes me proud! I was given an incredible gift from God — the gift of hearing. I want everyone to know it. I just need to get more people my age to see things like that. I’ve always been deaf and loud, but maybe now I need to get a little louder.
Yesterday I had another appointment with my audiologist, Louisa at Jefferson University Hospital. This was for the second half of her music research study. It was the exact same test as I took three weeks earlier except this time I was already exposed to the new music settings on my cochlear. I must admit, however, that I NEVER use the music settings. I always just keep my cochlear on program 1 as that has always been comfortable for me, even when listening to music. Plus, switching programs back and forth can be a little annoying.
Despite not actually practicing with the new music program like I was supposed to, I feel that I did much better this time around. The music did seem a lot clearer. I think the pitches were about the same, but that didn’t strike me as being too difficult in the initial test anyway. I noticed a big difference with the melodies. They were still pretty hard, but I could identify some of them and I have a feeling I got a lot more of them right this time around. The instruments were easier to identify as well. I especially found it easy to pick out which one was the guitar and I could tell the difference between the brass instruments and string instruments pretty well.
After I finished the test I had to answer more questions. They were the same as the ones I answered three weeks ago but not as many. It was just to see how things changed since getting the new music program. Things really didn’t change at all for me though.
While I was answering the questions Louisa told me about another cochlear implant research study that Advanced Bionics will be doing at their headquarters in Valencia soon. This one is for implanted individuals who did not lose their residual hearing. You may remember from my previous post from a few months back that when they tested me post-activation, I still had some of my residual hearing. Louisa did a quick test with me again after I finished the research study questions just to make sure nothing’s changed, and sure enough, I still had my residual hearing and it was the same as when they tested me a few months back. Louisa forwarded my information to Advanced Bionics and they may be contacting me soon about the study if they feel I am qualified for it. If I do get in for it they will be flying me to their headquarters in California free of charge. I never been to California before but have always wanted to go, so needless to say I am pretty excited about it all.
Before I left my appointment I also talked to Louisa a little bit about the AquaCase. I told her that I was using it and even recently used it to go swimming, but I was having a little bit of trouble getting used to it. It sounded a little unclear at times and reminded me of how I had to get used to things when I was first activated. She said that was weird and should not be the case. She also asked me if I was using program 5. I completely forgot about program 5! I always just kept it on program 1. She explained that program 5 was designed specifically for the AquaCase. When you wear the AquaCase, the processor sits in the case away from your ear. For this reason, having the mic on in the processor becomes much less important. Instead, it is far more important to have the microphone in the headpiece on. Program 5 turns off the headpiece in the processor and instead amplifies the one in the headpiece.
Later than night when I got home I gave program 5 on the AquaCase a try. I was surprised by how much better I could hear! I wore it to walk to the gym and worked out in the gym with it on and then after I got my shower and my hair was wet, I kept it on. It definitely made for a more enjoyable walk and a more enjoyable work out. It was really no different than my regular cochlear without the AquaCase. Now I can’t wait to go swimming again! I can’t believe I missed this all before! That just further goes to show you how intricate, detailed, and complex the cochlear truly can be. It’s an amazing piece of technology capable of doing so much that sometimes it can take a bit to fully learn how to use it to get the most out of it. But when you do learn things it’s almost always extremely beneficial. Even after 6 months, my cochlear implant still continues to amaze me with all it does for me.