When Hearing Changes, So Does Life

“Gael, we’re going to give you a cochlear implant!”

I looked at the doctor blankly for a moment. Then, “You are?”

“Yes, we are.” He paused, “Do you want a CI?”

And that was the moment my life changed – again. How did I really feel about getting a cochlear implant (CI)? For years I’d been told  that in spite of my severe to profound hearing loss, I would not qualify under Ontario’s health system that provides funding for only 320 cochlear implants each year. I was too highly functioning, I did well enough with my hearing aids and superb lipreading skills. But this past summer, I had an appointment with an Ear, Nose & Throat surgeon to discuss my new-found hell of tinnitus and hyperacusis. He couldn’t help with the hell, but did I want to be referred for a cochlear implant evaluation? When I said I didn’t think I’d be approved, he looked at my audiogram which hasn’t changed much in recent years; it shows that, without hearing aids, I don’t hear anything quieter than a slamming door two feet away. He gently suggested there was no harm in going through the evaluation. What he really meant is that I don’t do as well as I think I do.

Looking back, I agreed to the referral for several reasons, some of them valid, others not so much. Part of me wanted to be turned down because hey, I really am amazingly high-functioning and  have got this thing so licked, that an implant could not possibly improve my communication.

On the other hand, having seen how other people had flourished with a CI, I wanted to hear as well as they do, which is way better than me. Some no longer even need to speechread! I had another secret wish: many CI users report that, after implantation, their tinnitus and/or hyperacusis diminishes or –  miracle of miracles – disappears completely.

Then there’s the vain me who, after 20 years of wearing aesthetically pleasing hearing aids, asks herself do I really want to wear that little satellite dish on the side of my head? What if it doesn’t come in the same shade as my hair? An equally shallow thought is that going through the CI process would make for a good blog series. (That was just a tiny, passing thought, although we bloggers are always looking for topics. Just saying.)

After swishing around this cocktail of reasons, I said yes, let’s do it…send off the referral.

As part of the first CI evaluation by the audiologist, I sat in a small room facing a speaker, wearing my hearing aids. As voices came out of the speaker at a comfortable volume, my job was to repeat their sentences. This purely auditory test effectively eliminated my fallback communication strategy – my one stellar ability – of speechreading. I failed it miserably; many sentences didn’t make sense and neither did my interpretation. (The audiologist especially enjoyed the one which sounded like German to me, a language I don’t understand let alone  speak, but I gave it my best shot with something like ja, mein inken-dinken-clinkenboomer!) Then, when background noise was added to the voices, I failed abysmally.

At my next appointment two months later, the surgeon gave the CI green light and now the clock has started ticking.

When hearing changes, life changes. I have seen the struggles of people who realize that, yes, they do have a hearing loss. I have watched the pain of those who experience a sudden and sharp drop in hearing of 5 decibels or more. Life becomes different, more difficult. It takes time and work to adapt, both emotionally and with technology. On the other hand, I have heard the grudging admissions of friends and family that, yes, hearing aids have helped in ways they did not expect. Through the years, I have been affected not only by changes in my hearing such as my recent, anxiety-inducing head noise, but by the potential for my situation to improve, the hope that it will and gratitude when it has.

Technology such as cochlear implants has changed life for tens of thousands of people. Who knows? Maybe this time next year or perhaps a few months after that, you will be reading a joy-filled article about how my life has changed, once again, for the better.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

 

Photo  Peacock cochlea, www.marcgafni.com,

 

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

21 Comments

  1. Hi Gael..!!!

    I told my audiologist I’d like to do a facsimile of ‘The Vagina Monologues ‘ for the world of HOH….she then handed me your book…still chuckling over that ..!!

    I have a severe/profound hearing loss in both ears for 10 years now, due to an ear infection that developed into tinnitus. I made an appointment 8 years ago to check out CI, and what I was told is still so fresh in my brain, I can’t shake it.
    I was told ,’ after drilling a hole in your skull, you wont hear anything for 2 months, then ALL sounds will be robotic. It will take a year to learn this new language, imagine it to be learning Chinerse . If you had been born deaf, it wouldn’t be so bad, because you’d have nothing to compare it to. Success rate is 70%, with 20% noticing neglible difference, and 10% wishing the never got CI.’

    I realize a lot can happen in 8 years of technology, and so happy to have found this group of inspiring people. Awesome to read so many positive reinforcements..!!!

    Really eye opening ( and hoping to be ear opening..lol) !!!!

    Thx
    Pia

    1. Good heavens, was it a hearing professional who told you hta tit wold be a hole in your skull and then robotic sounds? How UN-professional. But I do LOVE the audiologist who gave you my book – who was it?

  2. You remind me of when I realized that I no longer was able to understand random words when I couldn’t see the speaker… my phone decided it wasn’t going to send me texts in a timely manner letting me know where to meet someone, so I tried to call voice. I couldn’t understand the person, his words sounded horribly garbled, so I just grabbed a passerby, explained the situation to her, and her them talk to my friend so she cold tell me where to meet my friend.

    (After I got there, the texts came rolling in…)

    I’ve had my CI for a year and 4 months I still need a visual reference to accompany the sound, so untimely texts would still be problematic… but I’m getting there… hopefully the neural pathways that used to allow me to hear on the phone will open up again someday…

    Good luck with your CI journey!

  3. Do you know on which side of your head they do the implant? You also might want to consider designing a flower or rose to cover that t.v.dish sticking out from the side of your head—you vain women.
    WELCOME TO THE BIONIC WORLD!!! YOU ARE NOW A 21ST. CENTURY WOMAN. (PS-if your husband starts hearing beeps, tell him not to answer the phone.

  4. Congratulations Gael! It has been life changing for me to have the CI. I am really looking forward to having you a part of the bionic family. So much has changed since I had my implant in 1999. It will be a journey to remember going from the sound of the hearing aids to the much improved sounds of a cochlear implant. Take care and all the best.

  5. Hi Gael.

    CONGRATULATIONS on the decision! I have not had any regret that I made the move to a CI over 8 years ago. I still give joyful thanks daily. Things sound just as I remembered from a lllloooonnngg time ago. Please keep us updated. PS the surgery totally got rid of the tinnitus in the ear with the implant.

  6. Gael, CONGRATULATIONS!
    You will never look back and you will wonder why you have been made to suffer for so long. It won’t feel like that right now, gosh I remember when I got the “go head” for a CI in 2009, other thrilled CI recipients kept asking me “aren’t you getting excited?” I said “no, I am as scared as hell”. I laugh now when I remember that. Maybe it was because I probably had a lot more to lose, as I had/have zero hearing in my left ear and relied on what I had in my right ear. They implanted my better right ear, I was scared that I would never hear again. But it was extremely successful. And today I enjoy the wireless capabilities of the Nucleus 6 processor (puts you above the level of “normal” hearing people). It does not mean you are actually “cured” by any means, but it is as close to normal as you could ever get. Believe me, this will make a HUGE difference in your life! Look forward to it! I do believe that whatever memories you have of sounds and speech will go a long long way to help, but you will benefit from this CI for sure! Look forward to what will come in time. Good luck! Suzan

  7. Awesome news. I have always enjoyed the articles I have read by you and am in the process of reading “The Way I Hear It”. You absolutely hit the nail on the head with everything you say. It is the best book I have read and will recommend it to family, friends and medical professionals. I am a recent recipient of a CI, having been activated only 5 months ago and it is amazing. I am hearing sounds not heard for a long long time and it was not nearly as difficult to adjust to as hearing aids. Your world will change yet again and you won’t regret it.

  8. Hey. So excited for you. I got my Med El two years ago and no looking back. Totally took away the tinnitus, I went from hearing conversations maybe 55 per cent of the time to now over 80. I was able to purchase a cheaper hearing aid for my other ear because I no longer need the bells and whistles. Good to hear you will soon have the ability to hear better. Any questions I would be happy to answer. Good to see you at convention. I am still going on hearing loop gigs with Juliette. Keeps me busy and we always have fun. Good luck and hugs. Chris

  9. Congratulations, Gael! This is so exciting! I look forward to hearing all about it. Btw, your book was awesome! Big hugs from Hear in Red Deer!

  10. Hey Gael, congrats on making the jump to bionic hearing – which will save you tonnes of cash on batteries and repairs, as the government, in their wisdom, supplies everything for free. I suggest you rotate your batteries in the charger to have them last up to 2 years before needing replacing. The CI surgery protocol – needing to have a long-lasting, profound hearing loss that negatively impacts your life – is a moving target now, especially since doctors realize that nerve damaged ears can’t get any better, and that even less than a profound hearing loss can greatly impact a persons’ life quality. As for the ‘little satellite dish on the side of [your] head’, there is no reason not to grow hair over it, as I have been doing for the past 7 years. And when you get your ‘mafia-hit man CI kit’, it will include battery casings in any colours you ask for – including white! Make sure you ask in advance for the list of things to be careful about, including TENS physiotherapy machines, and static electricity. Enjoy the journey, it will be amazing!!

  11. Since I’m also “severe to profound” in the hearing loss arena, a cochlear implant has often been on my mind. And I’m excited to hear this news about you! Will be closely following what happens. All the best, Gael!

  12. Hello Gael:

    I haven’t replied to one of your posts in some time (busy, busy), however, I wanted to do so today to say thanks for another wonderfully insightful post about living with the challenges of hearing loss.

    You really have a knack for framing an issue so that others can relate which is so important, especially those without hearing loss.

    I wish you every success with your new CI journey. I know you have concerns mixed with much hope for a future with better hearing and reduced Tinnitus and my wish for you is that your hopes are realized.

    I’m looking forward to further updates on your new journey. Bye for now!

    1. Leon, thank you so much for your compliments and best wishes. You know as well as anybody how our life paths can be redirected by communication challenges!

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