“Are you a robot?” While volunteering at a school, dozens of first and second graders asked me if I was a robot. They wanted to know all about the wire on the back of my head. “What does it sound like?” “Does it hurt?” “Can you hear me?”
Almost 6 years ago this week my left ear received a cochlear implant and I began the journey of learning and experiencing sound in a whole new way. Today my world of sound is unlike anything I ever expected and continues to surprise me on almost a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I cannot be more thankful for the implant in my left ear and the progress I’ve made since that day.
I hear frogs in the bushes. Even though they drive me mad on some days, I hear different kinds of birds all around me. I hear the elevator beeping. I hear the train door chiming. I can almost understand word for word the automated answering services that greet me when making a phone call to a business line. I can hear Siri announcing what lane I need to be in. I hear leaves crackling on the ground. If I’m close enough, I hear water dripping in the bathtub. I hear feet shuffling behind me. I can now hear a smoke alarm beeping – I could never hear them before as they’re high-pitched and I have a high-frequency hearing-loss.
The most beautiful sounds are those found layered into the beats within songs. Music now feels deeper and so more expansive. Multidimensional in a way and I can’t get enough. I hear my best friend’s laugh -she has a very sweet, little girl laugh. Before I would just see her face go rigid but now I hear it, too. I hear my mom’s voice so clearly now. Rain pouring down onto the roof sounds incredible.
My speech has improved. My “deaf accent” has lightened a little as I can hear my own voice more, which helps me to annunciate the quieter, higher parts of syllables within words. I feel more confident in my ability to speak louder. And I do. Often.
What I struggle with most is “localization”. Because I’m not bilateral and “in-stereo”, I can’t tell where the sound is coming from. I mistake a fire engine in the distance for a person yelling near me. Thinking I heard a knock at my door, I answer only to find no one there.
Once when planning to commute downtown with a friend, we planned to meet in the last car of a specific subway train. When that train arrived, she leaned out of the subway car and called to me repeatedly. I thought I heard her voice coming from the opposite direction so I started walking the other way. The doors closed and the train pulled away. As it passed me by, I saw her standing on the other side of the door waving at me while everyone behind her stared at us -confused.
In exercise classes, I’m that lady that goes right while everyone else goes left. I even missed a plane while sitting right there at the terminal because I didn’t hear the announcement that my group was to board.
I still rely heavily on lip-reading to understand what someone is saying. So if I don’t see the person’s mouth, chances are I’m comprehending only a fraction of what they’re saying and I’m filling in the blanks myself – tricky and sometimes dangerous game. I still teeter through conference calls and conference rooms of people speaking so I rely on my coworkers to fill in the blanks or sometimes a web-based transcription service.
All of things considered though, hearing from the cochlear implant in my left ear far exceeds the hearing I have in my right from a hearing aid. This past Monday I went to an audiologist for a hearing test to gauge whether or not I was a candidate for an implant in my right ear. The results were staggering. Word comprehension was almost 20% with the cochlear implant device and only 3% with the hearing aid. Upon the conclusion of the test, the audiologist opened the sound-proof booth, looked at me and nodded.
So, next Thursday on Halloween I’m scheduled to go in and have my right ear implanted. And the journey begins again.