The Cochlea Curl – A Symbol for Life

Sometimes, when my wandering gaze passes over my right forearm, I give a start. “Oh right,” says I. “I have a cochlea tattoo.” I take a few seconds to admire and reflect on the small symbol and then move on.

The inky rendering on my arm is actually that of a koru, a Māori symbol for “life, growth, strength and peace”. But because I say so, this tattoo also represents a cochlea – and a huge chunk of my life – and I call it my koruchlea.

inner ear

My cochleas have had a bumpy ride in life. For whatever reason, the 15,000 hair cells they’re each supposed to have, started deteriorating early in my life. They played reasonably well together when I was a child but then, slowly but surely, they started to fall like dominoes. I imagine them as being like a forest, once thick and lush, that has suffered clear-cut logging – not a pretty sight.

Unlike a forest, however, new hair cells don’t spring up in place of the ones that have died (or been murdered by too much noise over time). While there’s tremendous research going into hair cell regeneration, I’m guessing that breakthroughs will come too late for me. Or will they? I try not to grip my cellphone waiting for my audiologist or ENT to call and say, “C’mon in – we’ve found a cure!”

To pass the time before the call comes, I have embraced my hearing loss. It has helped form my personality, many life choices, and how I communicate. I’ve shed many tears, spit out many cuss words, howled many laughs, and felt many triumphs. Not always an easy road, but no one ever said that life was easy. If it does get easy, you can bet there’s a hard speed bump ahead – but then hey, here come the easy stuff again! And round and round we go – that’s life, and life with hearing loss.

And that’s why I love this symbol – because it’s everywhere in life. It’s like the Celtic eternity knot or a spiral banister. In nature, it’s in the curl of a wave. The eye of a storm. The curled tail of a lizard. A plant unfurling. The inner ear cochlea.

Wherever and wherever I see the cochlea curl in nature or design, it reminds me of my lifelong battle drive to hear better – including deciding to ‘renovate’ my right inner ear with a cochlear implant. My koruchlea is about the passion to communicate; when I look it, I feel strength and peace. And those are good feelings.

The Koruchlea



About Gael Hannan

The Better HearingConsumer addresses the personal experience of living with hearing loss. Editor Gael Hannan and her occasional guest bloggers explore every corner of the hearing loss life with humor and poignancy. Comment Policy   Gael Hannan, Editor Gael Hannan is an author, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog at the Better Hearing Consumer, which has a passionate international following,Gael has written two acclaimed books, “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss”and “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss”, written with Shari Eberts. 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 that advocates for individuals to become more knowledgeable and successful at dealing with their hearing loss and a more inclusive society for them to live in. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, Canada. Books and other media Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss. Written with Shari Eberts and available anywhere books are sold. The Way I Hear It: A Life With Hearing Loss. Available through online bookstores. Unheard Voices, DVD, vignettes from the hearing loss life. Contact Gael Hannan to order.


  1. Love the article. I, for one, am very thankful for the technology of CIs. I have been completely deaf for 5 years and had the implant on one side 4 and 1/2 years ago. While it certainly is not the same as normal hearing, it sure is better than just watching people’s lips move.

  2. Hair cell regeneration will not be successful for another ten to fifteen years, if at all, according to Dr. Megherian of University Hospitals in Cleveland who I spoke to a while ago. We have to go with the technology available right now, and if my implant experience is typical, it is well worth the leap. At first, even the ladies sounded like Louis Armstrong, but that has faded with time and everyone sounds normal. Your implant is designed to last 70 yrs, so it doesn’t need to be “traded in”, but we will see new programming adaptations built into the external units over time.

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