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.
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.