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.
The 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.
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.