Short story: Helen Keller reportedly said, “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.” While I can’t speak to the blindness, deafness is an emotional killer when you lose your hearing and you’re in a family of misfits with the patience of day flies. I’m not writing this as a martyr or a victim – I’m long past the days for feeling guilty or sorry for having a physical disability – but if you’re having hearing problems, today is the day to get help.
Long story: To avoid the martyr/victim thing, let’s skip my winding road to deafness other to say it was inevitable. Deafness is a genetic thing in my family, as two of my eight great grandparents wore boomboxes to aid their hearing. Folks in my generation remember the transistor-radio-sized devices folks wore before hearing aids (HA) became small. The one thing common from their days is the persistent perception that hearing-impaired folks are slow and dumb. (I was slow and dumb long before deafness, but I digress.)
I made the decision to get the cochlear implant (CI) when I realized the Bride was almost yelling at me to make herself understood, but I resisted even then. A bad CI operation has life-changing effects, ranging from tinnitus to vertigo, either or both possibly permanent. Even the best situation involves wearing a ~$10,000 external device that makes some people uncomfortable (see above: “slow and dumb”). There’s the possible loss of remaining natural hearing in the implanted ear, too, due to the process on placing the implant on the cochlear. The price tag for the operation and all the fun: $150,000 in this here United States. That’s not a typo.
The examination and interviews for the CI are a long series of “Are you sure you want to do this?”, which makes sense considering the list of potential outcomes. There was yet another hour in the testing booth, a first for The Bride but an old friend to me. Of the three mainstream CI devices, I picked Cochlear over Med-El and Advanced Bionics (AB) because Cochlear is the industry standard. The implant was inserted in my head in May and activated in June. Here’s a non-bloody computer simulation of the implantation if you’re so inclined.
Activation. A big deal. Serious. Watch this video. Joy, happiness, tears.
If you’re considering a CI, here’s advice that’s worth less than a cup of coffee. There is a very active CI group on Facebook where fellow wearers will patiently answer all CI-related questions. Get used to carrying CI gear if you’re away from the house for more than an hour because the device eats electricity. Cochlear (the company) will sell you rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, which is good since you’ll be swapping out batteries once a day. Finally, take every opportunity to educate family and colleagues on the CI. And the hardest lesson: be patient. Electric hearing is a solution, not a problem, and like all life-changing events, it takes getting used to. Listen to your surgeon and audiologist.
I wish I had a conclusion but there’s none to be had because there’s no happily ever after yet. I will say every patient’s experience is unique, and I was fortunate to miss the negative outcomes. The hearing in my implanted (right) ear is vastly improved, though three months later, people still sound like the kitten at the end of The Emperor’s New Groove. My left ear has a hearing aid, which I forget to turn on some days, so there’s a good sign. All in all, things are working out, knock on wood. Thanks for reading.