Earlier this month, my flight landed at Terminal E at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, and I had to hurry to make a connecting flight in Terminal B. Signs made it easy to find the inter-terminal train stop, the wait for the train proved short, and each car featured a red, scrolling electronic message that alerted passengers to the next stop on the route. As soon as I spotted the rolling script, I relaxed-- as much as a person hanging onto a pole with one hand and clutching a carry-on bag with the other can relax.
Seconds later, a voice came over a loudspeaker announcing what the train's next stop would be. Such announcements are normal, expected even, but this one astonished me. Why? I understood it. Later, I understood a voice over a loudspeaker announce final boarding for a flight to Orlando.
Thousands of passengers hear announcements like those every day, and most wish they could block them out, so why my astonishment? Back in July, I got a cochlear implant. A CI is defined by Wikipedia as "a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing." Mine was activated in August, and I wrote my first impressions of hearing with it here.
I had hoped the implant would provide sound clues that made it easier for me to read lips, and my big goal was to follow conversation as well as I had, say, five years ago. (In truth, I wanted to follow conversation as well as I had ten years ago--and thought that impossible.) I didn't expect to understand voices over loudspeakers because I hadn't for fifteen or more years.
Although those voices are louder than normal, their sound quality is distorted by the medium.
Oh me of little faith. The loudspeaker breakthrough that astonished me had followed others, so I should have anticipated it, but hearing loss is a long, drawn-out lesson in diminishing expectations. For the first time in years, I had heard the beep of the microwave, and my husband playing the guitar two rooms away. Still, I didn't get my hopes up. While I was greedy for more, I'd learned to live with disappointment.
So far, the disappointments have been few. Not all sounds are beautiful. The bleat of a grackle qualifies as Mother Nature's version of a fingernail against the blackboard. Voices that sounded Mickey- and Minnie Mouse-like three months ago are less cartoonish but still not true-to-life. Learning to re-hear via a CI is an ongoing process. Luckily, my husband gets a kick out of "testing" me by standing in another room and asking me questions. He and I are both amazed when I answer. (If anyone cares to talk about me behind my back, I'd appreciate it. Remember to quiz me afterwards.)
This past Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for the implant, for the three writing friends who convinced me to consider surgery (I'm looking at you, Janice Martin, Pat Kay, and Linda Barrett), and for my family's encouragement and support. I also gave thanks for surgeon Dr. G. Walter McReynolds, the Houston Ear Research Foundation, Sherri Taxman, my audiologist for the implant, Joan Furstenberg, my longtime audiologist, and those amazingly clear loudspeakers at that Atlanta airport.
What limits or limited you, and how do you/did you cope?