I Got a Cochlea Tattoo!

Gael Hannan
August 29, 2016

If there’s one thing you don’t need when you have hearing loss, it’s another reminder that you have it. We get plenty of reminders throughout the day—every day—with sounds we can’t quite understand, people mumbling, and captioning that’s missing when we need it.

So why on earth would I mark my body with an inky rendition of a cochlea to remind me that I’m hard of hearing, a HoH?

For several reasons, actually. 

First, I happen to like the look of a subtle, artistic, well-placed tattoo. I think, “Wow, that’s beautiful and that person is cool.” It’s not that I don’t admire a full-on butterfly or a three-verse poem covering someone’s back, but my reaction is quite different. “Ow, that must have hurt! And what happens when he hits 30 and he wants a clear body? What if she decides she can’t stand that poem anymore?”

Second, it was a bonding tat-buddy experience with my 20 year old son, Joel. He chose a different design which turned out very nicely, but I’ll admit my preference is to see colorful swallows in the wild, not on my son’s arm.

And my final reason, I suppose, is that I wanted one. It took me awhile to make the decision but in the meantime, I knew that any tattoo I got would relate to hearing loss. (I considered doing something about ‘family’, but remembered the story of woman who tattooed her children’s faces on her ankle. Unfortunately, one of the faces turned out a bit small. Very small. Like a pinhead.) My next brilliant idea was to get—wait for it—an ear on my rear. But at 62, why bother being imprinted with something that no one besides the Hearing Husband would ever see? My son-in-law suggested an alternative: how about a rear on my ear?  Not gonna happen. Then I briefly considered doing a lovely “HoH”.  Also not gonna happen, for what should be obvious reasons.

While ear-on-my-rear was still being considered, I read an article by Wendy Tirabassi Kast, a Facebook friend with hearing loss. I was inspired by Wendy’s blog about her new tattoo, which was a full color job and twice as large as what I eventually got. I decided to get a koruchlea. It’s a made-up word, pronounced ko-roo-klee-uh, combining koru and cochlea.

silverfernThe koru (“loop”) is a strong symbol in Māori art and culture, and its spiral shape comes from the unfurling frond of the New Zealand silver fern. The koru represents new life, growth, strength and peace, all traits that I value.

The cochlea is the part of the inner ear that turns sound vibrations into electrical impulses which the brain then interprets. The cochlea’s beautiful spiral shape is often used by marketers in the hearing loss world as a symbol of hearing, and it’s especially beautiful when it works the way it’s supposed to.  My inner ears don’t work very well, which is why I use hearing aids, and soon I will have a cochlear implant to replace the particularly faulty system of my right ear. To me, the cochlear spiral is a symbol of communication which is even more valuable than hearing. Regardless of how successful my implant is, I will continue to use all the tools at my disposal to communicate with the people in my life.cochlea

I loved the joint symbolism of the koru and the cochlea and this past weekend, Joel and I went for our tat-buddy adventure. It did hurt a bit, and I admit to having panicky, second thoughts as the tattoo artist (whose own body art resembled William Morris wallpaper) started his job. 

But today, I like it, although a bit uneasy that it might be upside down. Otherwise, the koruchlea is my personal, permanent reminder to be open and brave—to ditch the stigma of hearing loss—and that communication, regardless of how well we actually hear, is the most important thing between two people and their world.

That thought gives me strength and peace.

   The Koruchlea

The Koruchlea


birdsong hearing benefits
  1. Rawr! Rawr! Rawr! I had been thinking of a Borg tattoo until I saw this! What better way to show your happiness with the success of your implants than this? Right?

    Marines have ’em, as well as sailors, and the like, why not us? So, what should our cochlear motto be? We could even use Latin to make it seem “cooler”. What do you think?

    1. That’s the spirit, Glenn! I don’t know what a Borg is, but I have a lot of mottos that all boil down to the fact that there’s no shame in hearing loss and that communication is everything!

  2. And it is adorning your “handshake” arm, effectively announcing to each and all that you a proud HoH. Love the NZ story.

  3. it reminds me of an operculum a little door that opens and closes on a mollusk…. one of my favorite things….naturally occurring spiral…one of my favorite things and I have a collection of them.
    Love that tat! too!
    Great idea!

  4. Love it! I might have to steal your design. I have been researching tattoos for the deaf and HoH, and yours is the most beautiful I have seen. Thank you for sharing!

  5. I enjoyed your story because of what this unique spiral symbol (tattoo) means to you. You wrote “the koruchlea is my personal, permanent reminder to be open and brave—to ditch the stigma of hearing loss—and that communication, regardless of how well we actually hear, is the most important thing between two people and their world.” I was surprised to learn you will be a recipient of a CI and that you did not already have one. So to see that you are embracing this new change so positively is encouraging. I have suffered hearing loss and eventually got the implant. I was (& am still) amazed at how superior it is to the hearing aid (once inner ear damage is irreversible). Good luck!

    1. James, thanks for your comments. Up until recently, I simply wasn’t a candidate for a CI. Now I am, and I’m hoping for the same great results you’ve experienced.

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