I was asked a very thoughtful question I think I’ll take the time to answer. The question came from a fellow surfer who follows my blog. “What is life like for me after my Cochlear implants considering I was born deaf?”
At first I was a little taken back. I mean considering I was born deaf? But then it hit me. As awkward as the question seemed it came from an honest point of interest and a desire to understand. He wants to know how the implants have changed my life.
Well, this is a tough question for me. I’m sure as they say mileage may vary. But here is my experience. So let me explain.
In December of 2011 I scheduled my appointment for surgery to receive my implants. It was expensive and not covered by insurance but that didn’t matter. In March of 2012 I got my implants. I couldn’t wait for them to turn them on. But I had to wait four long months.
I remember the first day July 12, 2012 when they turned them on. It was a Thursday and I couldn’t wait to hear. Even though they’d explained the process to me I had an illusion this would be near instant. It wasn’t!
For about a year we focused on filtering noises. I wasn’t aware of all the things I’d have to learn to filter out. Lights buzzing, traffic. Even so I pushed forward until that fateful Friday July 12, 2013 when I’d get the surprise of my life. I’d hear my first human voice ever. It was the voice of my son.
I wrote about that here: https://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/1st-anniversary/
Now I was no slouch being deaf. I could read lips in three languages, read and write 4, English not being my first. I spoke ASL and about 900 simple English words like food, water, go, stop, yes, no, etcetera. In July 2013 I was still relying more on reading lips and ASL to communicate. In some ways it was disheartening but hearing my sons voice for the first time was incredible and gave me the boost I needed.
By December 2013 I could understand about 1500 words and speak them well. In April of 2014 I got my hybrid Necleus 6 implants. This was a serious upgrade but also months of being deaf. However when they turned these on the difference was night and day. The new hybrid implants used the inner ear I had and replaced the nerve I was missing. These didn’t replace the ear they replaced what I was missing.
That story is found here: https://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/my-continuing-journey-into-sound/
By using my own ear and a hybrid implant the sound was so much better. As of the time of this writing I carry pretty normal conversations. I understand over 8,000 words. But phones still give me headaches. Something about the buzzing.
So what was life like when they first turned on the implants?
When they turned on the implant about four months after surgery, it hurt! I screamed and cried and I remember thinking if this is sound turn it off! I expected that I would be able to hear instantaneously. That proved not to be the case. I actually remember thinking how much better silence was than pain.
You see, if you never heard before, any unfamiliar sensation feels like pain. I stood there, half-aghast, half-sobbing since all I felt was pain, and I didn’t hear anything. A months would pass before, I heard my first actual sound—at least what I thought was sound—a toilet flush in the hospital. I was not impressed. During this time of intense pain they were constantly adjusting the implants.
I heard so much, lights buzzing, foot steps, everything was scary. After 28 years without a sound everything was new. It took a year of tuning, practice and work. I had to learn to do what babies already did. Filter sound and decern important from background noises. And then the real magic happened I heard a voice.
I’ve been in speech therapy since.
Today, 3 years after the first surgery, I use spoken English as my primary mode of communication in most everyday things. I still use ASL as a habit when I speak and I find myself still reading lips as much as I hear. I have, however, stayed mostly within the hearing world in the last few months.
There is still half a day (usually night time) when my batteries are charging and I am once more fully deaf. I sometimes hear phantom sounds at night.
I wrote more about that here: https://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/noises-in-my-head/
In a way I am both deaf in a hearing world and hearing in a deaf world. I’m thankful for my ears as I call them. So please don’t mistake this for a complaint. But I’m not truly a full hearing person nor truly a deaf person now. I am both. However before the upgrade I’d say I was neither. I didn’t sign as much but I also couldn’t understand speech well enough to not read lips to hear.
I’ve heard the ocean and have water proof batteries now. So now I don’t have to choose hear or surf. I can choose both.
More about that here: https://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/today-something-new/
As you can see I don’t mind talking about my implants, being deaf etcetera and I’m not offended. I wanted to take the time to consider your question fully and answer it as completely as I could. So with the history of my implants out of the way we get to the point of the question.
What is life like for me after my Cochlear implants considering I was born deaf?
The implants have certainly changed my life. My life is changed in most ways for the better.
In some ways I’ve lost a part of my identity being born deaf and now I’m a hybrid and not truly in either world. It feels like I have one foot in the hearing world and one still in the deaf world. That is the only bad I could say and even this isn’t really bad, it more just is.
But to contrast that I’ve heard the ocean, my sons voice, I’ve written a song and performed it.
I’ve done so many things that just a few years ago I’d have told you your brain fell out if you suggested them before my implants. I mean a girl born deaf write a song? Ok maybe. Play guitar and sing it? Dude really? Use my own ears to hear a waiter and order food? Umm no.
These are things I couldn’t dream of just years ago.
I’ve never been afraid to prove people wrong. I learned to dance by vibrations in the air and floor, watching others around me for tempo and just sheer will. I was even a successful stripper. I learned to speak a few words (about 900) based on how they felt in my vocal cords. I did so much but so much was still just a dream. That was until I got my implants.
Hearing my sons voice was the ultimate dream come true. For that gift alone the implants were worth every effort, every pain and all the frustrations. I’ve had to work hard to learn to speak and hear. It by no means has been easy and was often frustrating.
I still have a hard time when there is too much background noise or multiple people speak at once. I imagine this maybe common for those born hearing as well.
But other than being lost in an identity CI has changed and brightened my life for the better. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of tears, a lot of fun and a blessing at every turn. If I had to do it all over again I certainly would.
I hope that helps answer your question. My implants have opened doors for me on so many levels, they’ve brought me great joys, minor pains and extreme blessings.