Monday, November 28, 2011

I Can Hear You Now

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?

20 comments:

Prudence MacLeod said...

I am so pleased to hear (sorry)that a greater world now presents itself to you. May things you hear bring joy to your heart. :)

SJ Driscoll said...

Pat, this is amazing. I'd always thought sight was my most prized sense until I took a couple of cavern tours and they turned out the lights. The total darkness was soothing, not scary, and my hearing sharpened immediately. Maybe hearing's my most prized sense. I'm so glad this is working out for you! (I do believe in surgery more than medication--meds just make me sick--but my surgeries are another story entirely.)

Diane Capri said...

What a wonderful story, Pat! Congratulations! This is a great, great thing. I'm thrilled for you!

Lark Howard said...

Pat, I'm thrilled to learn your CI is so successful! I can't imagine how hard it is to cope with everyday situations most people take for granted. My father-in-law's severe hearing loss has frustrated and isolated him for years, but he's never been able to adjust to hearing aids. It's wonderful to know you've found something that has made a significant difference for you!!

Karen McFarland said...

How wonderful for you Pat! I can't imagine the impact this has had on your life. There are so many things that all of us take for granted, hearing being one of them.

Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us. It has made me more grateful for the gift of hearing!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Prudence, never be sorry you said--or typed--the word "hear" to me. It's one of my favorites. Thanks for the good wishes--and for stopping by.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Sally, sight is my most prized sense, maybe because I've relied upon it for so long. Your cavern experience is fascinating, though. (Was one of the tours at Natural Bridge Caverns? I love that place.)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You're right, Diane, the CI is a great, great thing.

I'm glad Blogger didn't shut you out of the comments section today. You're a pal.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I sympathize with your father-in-law, Lark. Near-sighted people can slip on a pair of prescription glasses and shazzam, they've got 20/20 vision. Hearing aids improve hearing but don't bring it back to normal. That's frustrating. Couple that frustration with the sensation of having a cork in one's ear--a cork that emits squealing sounds if it's not fitted perfectly, and it's easy to give up. You're right that your f-i-l's hearing loss has isolated him. Deafness cuts people off from others. I hope he'll give his hearing aids another try.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You've got me thinking about the impact of the CI on my life, Karen, and that means it's time to re-play some Bon Jovi discs. Wouldn't you at a time like this?

Coleen Patrick said...

Amazing Pat! Thanks for sharing and yes go for the Bon Jovi!! :)

Sheila Seabrook said...

Those of us with good hearing take it for granted as we do most other things when we're in good health. It's only when we hear stories like yours, Pat, do we appreciate what modern science can do for us.

Thanks for sharing your story and I'm so glad that the implants are a success for you! :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm listening to "Livin' on a Prayer," Coleen.

Modern science is wonderful, Sheila. I'm glad we live in the twenty-first century.

Susie Lindau said...

So cool! My husband lived with hearing loss that occurred when he was in his 20's and he just got hearing aids. It has totally changed his life!
Congratulations!

Cheryl Bolen said...

Do you know, Pat, you're acting like an excited child! And I can certainly understand. This is such wonderful news. I'm so happy for you. Thanks for sharing.

LynNerdKelley said...

What wonderful news for you! I'm happy that the implant is working. I can't imagine dealing with hearing loss, though sometimes I wonder if I'm heading that way. I see others struggle with it, and I can tell how uncomfortable it is, and they don't want to ask someone to repeat something again. I can barely understand what they're saying over loud speakers. Sounds like mumbling for the most part. So if you're now able to make sense of those words, that's awesome.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Susie, with hearing aids, your husband will be better able to stay in the flow at work and at home. Good for him!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You're right, Cheryl. I AM an excited child. Thanks for sharing my joy.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Loudspeakers are the worst, Lynn. I feel for your friends who don't want to ask others to repeat things. I hope they're savvy about positioning themselves with their backs to walls in restaurants and at friends' houses. Cops and the heard-of-hearing seek out the same spots in restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Pat!
I've been so immersed in the drama going on in my family that I've lost touch with good friends. I'm so excited to read about the wonderful results of the C.I. I know you've thought about it for years, and am delighted that once you made the decision, the results have been even more wonderful than you expected. Hope to see you soon. Jerre