Full to Empty to Full

Cathy Beaton, my guest writer this week, offers a searing and honest look into the hearing loss technology that can both help us—and fail us.


By Cathy Beaton


I had been wistfully looking forward to some much-needed time off work.  And then ‘it’ began.

My cochlear implant (CI) started to die, slowly. Shorter battery life and decreasing clarity. It started to cut out intermittently, but it also did a Roadrunner ‘beep-beep’ every few seconds. Then it just…died.  Right alongside my life.

The surgically implanted probe had slowly been failing. The cause really doesn’t matter; it happens to a minute percentage of patients. I had my first implant done for very bad reasons and when it failed, I needed to reassess the surgery, the side effects and a lot of pain and a slow recovery and drugs that make me vomit.  The other option was not to have surgery—and not hearing again. But I have a granddaughter who is starting to babble. I had planned to be her secret confidante and listen to her stories about cute boys and dream trips and being a rock star, and teaching her swear words in English (maybe French) and American Sign Language.

I have a life filled with people I love. In the bat of an eye, I went from talking to all these people, listening to my teen’s description of the girl he likes, watching iPhone videos of my granddaughter try to fly and make cute noises—to having nothing.  Full to empty.

I went from being an animated and enthusiastic educator—to an unsure and uncomfortable person standing at the front of the class. From a Wegmans junkie/worshipper—to a person who rarely goes grocery shopping. From a person who would sing (incredibly badly) like the idiot beside you at a traffic light— to the person who does not know that the teen left the radio on at full blast and forgot to shut it off.

Having gone from full to empty to full, I am in a perfect position to note that every single thing has a sound. The drip of water. The slight movement of a curtain. The buzz of a fly. Rain on a window. The *poof* sound of a gas burner when it ignites. The sound of a kiss. There is not one thing that does not have a sound. Even the plop of a tear has a sound. It can be a very sad sound, that tear.

This is what I get for daydreaming about having some leisurely time off.  Instead, I had surgery.

The  ‘empty’ world, without hearing, becomes sight and smell.  Before the surgery, I ended up in the ER due to intense pain over the previous surgery site. My daughter came with me and I managed to keep a bleak situation amusing.  We dually posted the event on Facebook.

Sitting in the ER at Strong. Does not bring back good memories. It’s pretty close quarters (packed to the gills.) I’m the only one with a laptop. Think I will watch Star Trek.

 There is a man two chairs over who has the freakiest coat on. Dirty. He ate ten pounds of onions for breakfast and it is coming out of his molecules.  Surprisingly grateful he did not have beans.

 Man near me has taken off his work boots. Stinky Toes. I want to go home now. I’d rather have Onion Guy back. 

The man next to me has his hoodie pulled over his face. He hasn’t moved in a while and I am not seeing a rising/falling chest. Kinda wondering if I should accidentally-on-purpose poke him to see if he is alive.

I smell booze. Someone is not sharing. No one makes eye contact here. You’d think we’d all commiserate.

 Someone is watching Star Trek over my shoulder. Wants to know what the words are for. Explained the concept of captions. Apparently my refusal to turn up sound is a deterrent to an audience. Back to Star Trek. 

At long last, my hospital visit is over, but I had enjoyed the visual and, yes, smelly visit. It was a lot better than sitting in a vacuum. Even ‘empty’ is not an utter void.

My first word after surgery was ‘butter tart.’ We don’t fall far from the Maritime tree (where butter tarts rule).  I couldn’t stay awake after surgery, so I stayed overnight. I was happy to have no facial paralysis and no vision loss. Things still taste ok and smell, not surprisingly, better than the ER.

Deciding to have the CI surgery a second time was huge. The failure rate for my device is about .1%, and at times I feel this pretty much sums up my luck. My decision was based on a long time of hearing, then no hearing.  My life went from ‘full’ hearing with my first implant to ‘empty’ with terror and rage as it disappeared. But the ‘empty’ turned out to be not as horrifying as I thought and I could have survived, but my world has too much to offer to not hear it to the best of my ability.

I made the personal choice to go back to the ‘full’ of hearing, seeing, and smelling—because sometimes just seeing or just smelling…stinks.


cathy beaton 2


Cathy Beaton is a Canadian expat professor in the Information Sciences and Technologies field in Rochester NY.

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.


  1. Good lord, what an awful experience. That kind of environment is unknown at Cleveland Clinic. I had anesthesia with absolutely no side effects and no drugs afterward. I simply woke up, yes, head wrapped, but got up fully conscious quickly and raring to go. Of course, I couldn’t as the anesthesia was still in me and a potential danger if I drove home, but I sure felt perfectly normal, fit and happy. We went home immediately and the wrap came off that evening and i cleaned up, no residual pain, no pills, and excitedly waiting the week for turn on. I thank the wonderful Dr. Erika Woodson, the director and my surgeon, for a positive experience. I never want to be on empty – I detest not hearing.

  2. hmmmm. Butter tart. a good choice. Much better than when I heard an ad on the radio (in my noisy car, of course) talk about their “stinkin’ cheeseburgers” (steak and cheeseburgers). hmmmmm.

  3. And? I hope you will not leave us hanging. I know from experience you have a limit as to how much you can write for this column. Perhaps there will be part 2.

    I don’t want to put a jinx on myself, but there are two things I fear – a recurrence of breast cancer (I’m 14 years out next month) and a time if my cochlear implant would fail forever after the joy of hearing (for ten years as of last month).

    I’m looking forward to your next chapter.

    1. I had the surgery and it was successful. A bit slower of a learning curve, which was odd. One thing that I realized is that I can go back to ’empty’ whenever I please, simply by removing the device. Sometimes empty is a blessing simply because I know I can go back to full. Congrats on the breast cancer remission, and know that if the implant did fail, it doesn’t have to be empty forever.

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