A Surprise Bit of Grieving

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Music for me as a hard-of-hearing person was always an interesting experience. What I considered to be good music included electronica and classical piano along with good base.  When all is considered, this would be attributed to my ears’ ability to only hear and isolate singular-type sounds.

When I was a little girl, I used to love the beginning electronic intro just before “Beverly Hills Cop” theme song -“Axel F”.  I wore the tape out in my little pink cassette player rewinding and playing that part over and over again.

Men Without Hats’ “Pop Goes The World” pulled me in with its rhythmic melody. I couldn’t hear the lyrics so I didn’t know that Johnny played the guitar and Jenny played bass. I just knew that it sounded like a easy-flowing, happy river ride in the sun.  My childhood friend Amy and I used to dance around her sun-lit house to the song on full-blast over and over -with the bass throttling the speakers for my benefit.

The first song I learned the lyrics to was Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. I was in middle school and I so envied my hearing friends being able to sing along with the lyrics with each other and I wished so badly I could do that.  I wanted to be cool. So I found a tape that had the lyrics in the jacket and spent an entire afternoon studying the lyrics, stopping and rewinding the song over and over again, practicing singing along with it until I got it damn near perfect.

At the next slumber party I attended, someone broke out the cassette-player and I hurriedly put my dog-eared tape in and pressed play.  Even though no one else really knew the song, much less the words, I happily mouthed along with Billy’s rapid-fire diatribe -every single one word.  It was a private victory moment for me.  I felt cool -even if it seemed like no big deal to others. I felt normal.

My high school boyfriend introduced me to different kinds of music but one moment stands out.  I remember he came over one night. He had a little red CRV that he outfitted with a rather extensive stereo system complete with subwoofers that sounded incredible to my limited sense of hearing. He recognized the kind of melody I liked and he brought a song for me to hear -“Sweet Harmony” by The Beloved.  I grinned so hard as we listened to it from beginning to end.  And then I took the tape with me and wore it out listening to it nonstop.

Depeche Mode, Erasure, U2 and Fleetwood Mac joined my high school repertoire of music that I “liked”.  Even the Violent Femmes and Massive Attack.  Later, scores of Buddha Bar and Ibiza albums would join the ranks as they all contained at least one if not a half dozen songs with electronic strains woven around some strain of an identifiable bass that I could easily follow.

I have an interesting parallel relationship with music. I can listen to one song with my hearing aids on and then I can hear that same song in a completely different way with ear buds pushed into my ears.  Some songs I’ve found that I don’t like at all with my hearing aids but others I adore with just ear buds cranked up at full volume.

Listening to music at full volume with earbuds has an embarrassing downside.  One day at work, I was enjoying U2’s “Joshua Tree” album from beginning to end while happily engrossed in a programming project. Halfway through the album, I looked up across my monitor and noticed that Robert -my cube-mate appeared to be mouthing along with the lyrics to the currently playing “Where The Streets Have No Name”.  The timing was impeccable.  Startled, I pulled one bud out, waved at Robert and asked him “Are you listening to U2?”  He smiled and nodded. And then suddenly and in disbelief, I thought…”oh shit.”

“Robert, can you hear my music?” He smiled even wider and nodded. I flushed from head to toe and sheepishly turned my music down.

Fast forward to today, I’m sitting on the porch listening to my list of favorite oldies on YouTube with my good ear when I decided to try to see if I still had any natural hearing left in my left ear to listen to music.

To be cautious with my still-healing ear drum, I turned the music down before carefully nudging the other ear bud in to my ear. As the intro starting to wind up, I slowly pressed the button to increase the volume.  And I heard nothing. I knew this would be a possibility but I guess you can’t really be prepared for that. I don’t regret this decision but I cried.

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.  🙂