The Plunge

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Last Thursday, I underwent surgery to receive a cochlear implant in my left ear. It’s a little less than a week later and  I’m finally at a place in this dizziness where I can sit and write for a bit. My left ear is healing up nicely but the dizziness is from the inner ear still healing. It’s not too bad, though.

Yes, I did it. whew! Looking back, I’m thinking about how this whole process began.

It all kind of happened quickly once I started the process of consulting with the doctor, checking if insurance would cover it, etc.   I had looked into it very, very briefly years ago and it seemed too iffy back then and I also felt like there was too much controversy surrounding the whole topic.

Around that time a film called”The Sound and the  Fury” had come out. The film followed and highlighted the experiences of two related families -both with one or more deaf members. Both families were exploring the option of a cochlear implant and the film makers interviewed several of the individual family members extensively as they went through the exploration process. A highly charged film, I remember feeling dismayed by it all.  I could not relate. Even though I am not and never have been an active part of the Deaf culture, it bothered me that there was such strong sentiments about the procedure.

Before that, during my freshman year at Purdue, my roommate Amy and I took a American Sign Language course to fulfill our foreign language credit.  Our sign-language class was a group of about 20 students, all eager to learn more about the language and Deaf culture.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how negatively the professor  described the cochlear implant process. He likened the surgery to a chain saw used to disembowel the anatomy of an ear. I asked him why he was presenting the information in such a negative light and his response was that it was an unnatural surgery and that it was damaging to the Deaf community.  Many of my classmates were rapt with attention, taking his word as truth while I was seething with anger.  Needless to say, I got a C in that class.

Over time, life happened and I eventually let the idea of a cochlear implant go.  Also, over time, I felt like I was getting more frustrated with my hearing. I’m in a corporate setting for work these days -meetings, conference calls, multi-person conversations, etc. I come home exhausted and feeling basically wiped out…by Friday evenings, I’m a zombie. While I know that this is normal for a person who is almost profoundly deaf and relies almost completely on lip-reading, facial expressions and conversational cues from others, it still frustrated me that it felt like there was more that I could do.

One day my partner Lisa came home from her job consulting as a compliance officer. Part of her work was to research and line up pertinent information as related to the institutions that the bank did business with. One of them was the parent company of Advanced Bionics -a leader in cochlear implants.  As she further investigated the company, she was blown away by how much they’ve done already and how much they continue to put into their research and development.

She asked me if I had put any more consideration into getting a cochlear implant and if we could look into it. I balked at first, thinking it was super expensive and not very realistic to expect results much beyond what I hear now, which is very little.  She encouraged to me to at least keep an open mind and to explore the option.

At around the same time, I was in touch with another deaf friend that I met in San Francisco, CA. Betsy had one ear implanted almost 5 years ago and she was continuously amazed at how much it improved her life and her relationships in general.  She explained that she continues to learn more sounds over time and that it gets better and better.

So I looked into it. Checked out my insurance coverage to see what the damage would be. Turns out that it would be completely covered as long as my surgeon/doctor was in-network.  Wow. Okay. So I went ahead and made an appointment with an ENT (ear/nose/throat) surgeon -Dr. Neil Sperling here in Manhattan.

We spoke for 15 minutes and he pretty much summed it up for me…I was a candidate for this surgery. I was to go ahead and make an appointment with an audiologist at the New York Eye and Ear Institute.

I remember thinking to myself on the way to my audiogram appointment, “Wow, this is really happening. I’m checking this out! I met with the audiologist, Sabrina – a sprite of a woman who exuded a kind but serious and intelligent manner.  She parked me in a soundproof booth and after the test was over, we discussed what I already knew..I have a severe-to-profound hearing loss.

She asked me if I had any initial questions about the cochlear implant and I replied that I had hundreds of questions but I couldn’t think of any at that moment.  I didn’t even know where to start.  She explained that the next step was to read through the materials provided by the three cochlear implant options -Cochlear, Advanced Bionics and MedEl and then come back to discuss all of the information about the implant technology with her.

Armed with three folders, I pored over all three. Chart after chart promised success rates with various sounds. Drawings illustrated how the implants rested in your head. Pictures showed different people doing different things -a child and an adult both swimming, several business people sitting around a conference table, a couple smiling and snuggling on a couch in front a of a television.

I began to feel like I was being inundated with a lot of superficial information that made the whole process seem a simple matter of making a choice and purchasing a box, bringing it home and assembling according to directions. Too simple.  I was a little freaked.

I made another appointment with the audiologist. Lisa took the morning off and came with me on this visit. Together, we met with the audiologist to go over all of the technical aspects of each brand. It was a very illuminating visit and it set my nerves at ease.  I felt even more excited about it all -especially when we discussed music. It is very likely that I will be able to experience a more comprehensive music understanding with the help of fine-tuned programming of the processor.

Two weeks later, I met again with Dr. Sperling and we set the ball rolling. He reviewed the audiograms from Sabrina’s offices reiterated that he believed I would benefit greatly an implant. He pointed out that my current speech was excellent and that I would do even better after. He also said that he believed I would be knocking at his door less than 3 months later asking for the second ear to be done. I met with his admin staff and we went through the necessary insurance info exchange and set a date. September 26, 2013.

A physical, set of shots and an CT scan later, clearance was given and I was ready.  I was to show up at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary on 14th street at 9 AM and I couldn’t have a damn cup of coffee -or anything else for that matter 12 hours prior.

The last thing I remember is the surgical team all stepping forward to greet me when I entered the operating room. Ironically, they had to lower their masks so that I could read their lips.  🙂

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