My guest writer this week is Marge Cohen who writes about the long slope – in this case, a ski slope – from hearing aids to a cochlear implant.
By Marge Cohen
For my family, skiing is one of our beloved winter activities. We love to hit the slopes as often as we can. And after years of skiing purely as a hobby, I decided to explore ski instructor opportunities with a large ski resort in Vermont. So in 1997, after my two children had grown and flown the nest, I started a new career adventure as a professional ski instructor—and it was wonderful! I so enjoyed the opportunity to continue skiing and help others learn to love one of my favorite sports.
After about 12 years as a ski instructor, I noticed I was having trouble understanding language. I could hear noises and sounds, but I struggled to understand words. I was not opposed to hearing aids, so I researched the available options and assumed they would help with my hearing loss. Sadly, they did not help enough. They were certainly making sounds louder, but I was still having trouble comprehending language. Not about to give up my favorite activity or my job as a ski instructor, I learned to read lips. This worked for quite some time – years even – and I was able to continue doing the activities I loved and just chalked my hearing loss up to a challenge I would have to manage daily.
My hearing aids and lipreading skills helped me continue to teach the art and techniques of skiing, until that first bitter cold day of winter. I was meeting some new students on the mountain, looking forward to it as always; but with the temperature dropping below 10 degrees at the time of our lesson, the students all emerged from the lodge wearing masks to protect their faces from the cold and wind. Immediately, I knew I would be in trouble. I had absolutely no visual cues to help me know what the students were saying, not to mention that the ski masks muffled their voices even further. I struggled with that lesson and others that followed. It soon became obvious to me that I could no longer be the instructor that I had been when I could hear better. My world was rocked; after that difficult winter and 15 years of doing what I loved, I retired from being a ski instructor. The deep sadness I felt was palpable.
I struggled to maintain conversations in large groups or at noisy restaurants with my friends. It got to the point where I even started to avoid these situations. What was especially frustrating for me though, was not being able to hear my grandchildren on the telephone. Feelings of isolation mounted until I knew for sure hearing aids were not enough, but I did not know what other options might exist. It was at this point that my audiologist suggested I might be a candidate for a new type of cochlear implant, the Cochlear™ Nucleus® Hybrid™ Implant System. As he informed me, since I was still able to hear lower frequency sounds, like thunder or a truck’s horn, this device may help restore my high-frequency hearing, which would mean I may be able to hear my grandchildren’s giggles again.
In November 2015, I had my cochlear implant surgery at Ear Nose & Throat Medical and Surgical Group in New Haven, Connecticut, and was activated about four weeks later on December 7, 2015.
Activation day was life changing. Each and every day in the months immediately following, I was able to hear sounds more and more clearly. The most exciting part for me was getting back on the mountain just a mere six weeks after having cochlear implant surgery. Not only am I able to ski again, but I am also volunteering with guest services and ski patrol to help close and open trails as needed and assist and direct guests. This past winter was filled with snow, ski buddies and the joy of the mountain. Prior to having my cochlear implant I would have never been able to enjoy chairlift conversations amidst the noisy cables overhead, and I certainly would not have been able to hear with my helmet on; but now, with the Hybrid, I can do both! I simply have so much gratitude for my cochlear implant.
Having just been activated a few months ago, I am enjoying so many sounds I did not know I was missing out on over the years. My favorite moment with my new hearing was in March. I was skiing with my 5-year-old granddaughter who loves to follow in my tracks down the mountain. We were nearing the bottom of the run and she yelled, “grandma!” I turned around, a bit confused why she was calling for me, and she exclaimed, “I’m having TOO much fun!” I was speechless! What if I had not heard that and missed the chance to share in her excitement? It made me think: I am so fortunate to have this second chance at hearing those moments that matter most.
Margaret Cohen, 69, is a Cochlear Hybrid System recipient living in Connecticut.