I’ve had hearing loss all my life and it’s been a journey of shocks and triumphs, steps forward and steps backward. A life marked by steadily worsening hearing, but also of consistently evolving hearing technology that improved my ability to hear.
One of the biggest changes in my hearing loss life has been receiving a cochlear implant (CI) in January of 2017.
I had never wanted one and now I can’t imagine how I heard without it. In my book The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss, published two years before my implant, I wrote the following section because I knew that many readers with hearing loss either had a CI or might be considering one.
Excerpts from Pg. 76: A Word About Cochlear Implants
I remember hearing the scrunch of gravel under my feet. Shortly after my cochlear implant was switched on, I went for a walk with my nephew. I may have heard the gravel long ago, before I went deaf, but the sound didn’t stay in my head. It was just a familiar sound that I took for granted at the time. But now, I was so excited at the scrunching sounds that my nephew walked away, leaving me screaming, “Oh my dear God, what is that sound!” He told his dad I was acting like a nut case. And I felt like one, too; I was a happy, crazy woman. —Myrtle Barrett
Considered too ‘high-functioning’ with my hearing aids (although not necessarily in any other area of my life), I’m not a candidate for a cochlear implant. But I have witnessed miraculous change in the lives of many profoundly deaf friends due to cochlear technology and it has been a humbling experience.
At a performance of the Sudbury Firefighters Choir during a hearing loss conference, I sat next to Myrtle, the crazy gravel woman, who had recently been implanted. The male chorus started Leonard Cohen’s powerful version of Hallelujah, and the hair rose on my arms as I watched her hear music for the first time in thirty years. “I got goose bumps”, Myrtle said. “My heart started to beat fast and it took all my self-control not to get hysterical.” This is understandable given her public freak-out over mere gravel.
A few years ago during the Christmas season, I was doing a presentation in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Virginia Brake, one of the event organizers, had been living with her CI for just a short period of time, and she mentioned that one of the saddest aspects of her deafness was no longer being able to enjoy Christmas music. Somehow, she had skipped the CI tutorial on connecting, and before you could say deck the halls, Myrtle and I had plugged Virginia’s CI into an iPod and we got teary (there are many types of tears in hearing loss) as we watched Silent Night fill her head, and we could honestly say, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
The great, life-changing and tear-inducing technology of the cochlear implant.
Implants have varying degrees of success, based on many factors. For some of the luckier ones, it’s almost as if their hearing loss has been cured. An acquaintance claimed she no longer needed to speechread because of her CI and while I was happy for her, I also wanted to step on her foot, out of sheer envy.
Myrtle and I were at a Canadian Hard of Hearing Association meeting with hearing instrument specialists, and the tables were set up in a large U-shape format. A fellow who was sitting wa-ay-y over there in the bottom corner of the table setup, made a comment that I had to read on the captioning screen to understand. But Myrtle, just a year or two after being implanted, heard and understood him. I looked at her with awe, as if she were a new person.
If my hearing took a nosedive and I could no longer benefit from hearing aids, I wouldn’t hesitate to get a cochlear implant. As long as it’s not ugly.
(End of book excerpt.)
So! Eventually, my hearing worsened and I did get a cochlear implant. And far from being ugly, my sound processor is a beautiful, silvery piece of magic. (I have a violent dislike of hearing-aid-beige, the colour of my hearing aids for the first 20 years I used them).
And the hearing loss journey goes on.
Photo: Myrtle Barrett (with CI) and Gael Hannan (without CI) trying to read captions from the stage. Nobody’s perfect.