Tomorrow is “the Big Day:” I get my cochlear implant device turned on! My recovery continues to go very well even if I still have tinnitus and “hear” jazz music or geese quacking loudly from time to time. These phantom sounds, according to my Doctor, will likely go away once I start hearing sound via the device. I will rather miss the jazz…
After reading other blogs and articles about what to expect on “the Big Day” I know the experience will not be like getting a new pair of prescription glasses where all of the sudden I will see clearly. Rather, I have set my expectations by not setting expectations. I will go with the flow, knowing that when my audiologist turns it on I will likely be inundated by a lot of loud noise; high pitched computer chirping-like noises, from what I gather. Over time these noises will likely be less annoying and I should be able to discern more sounds, voices, and perhaps even music.
Right now it’s too early to tell what my level of word comprehension will be in my right ear (typically it varies between 60-90+%). Remember, I got the cochlear implant for my right ear. My left ear will remain deaf, which is no big deal since it’s been that way since I was very young. Why not two cochlear implants – one for each ear? My Doctor said in so many words that the amount of benefit from putting an implant on an ear that has been essentially dead for 47 years would likely be minimal.
If I haven’t stated as much already, you need to know that I consider myself very very fortunate. Why? Well, for many reasons but I will only focus on a few for this blog: First, because I have been blessed with the gift of language and a structure for communicating in the hearing world. In other words, I wasn’t born deaf so I have a solid base to work with once I get the device turned on; I will have a reference to what I remember the word or noise sounding like and will pair my memories with how I will “hear” with the implant. Words, sentences, stories, music, and noises… re-learned; knowing that results may vary. I will actively refrain from hearing any whining or complaining sounds, or phrases like “not possible” or “you can’t do that.”
Another reason I count my blessing is because my family, friends and colleagues have been very helpful and have put up with my “frustrations” and associated behavior when I have been at my wits-end or exhausted from long days of trying to “connect the dots.” Also, my workplace, the University of Missouri, has been really great about rapidly responding and providing accommodations.
A third reason is that my hearing declined over a period of time. Granted the past year-and-a-half was tough in terms of how quickly I lost my hearing but I did have time to adjust. How did I adjust? Aside from an uptake of wine consumption which I already discussed in a previous blog post, we took a sign language classes, I experimented with Sprint’s Captel captioning service for home use, and now use a fantastic Captioning Service called 2020 Captioning and StenoCART for work meetings and conference calls (thanks to accommodations provided by my University that I will highlight in another post). I also use chat tools and video conferencing software.
I am beginning to amass an arsenal of communication tools… In this post I will focus on my experiences to date with American Sign Language (ASL) and the wonderful people I have met in the process. Roxanne was actually the one that pushed taking ASL classes over a year ago. She got all the information, contacted the teacher, and signed us up, so I had no excuses for not going.
Let me explain. At the time, I felt rather dejected; not depressed mind you, because I’ve never felt clinically of psychiatrically depressed – speaking as an Agricultural Economist of course… My hearing was bad, the ringing-in-the-ears or tinnitus was raging and I was bordering on a “woe is me” mentality. The prospect of learning ASL was daunting and not high on my priority list. Why? Because I was already exhausted from trying to hear during the day and the last thing my frazzled mind needed was to learn a foreign language. Fortunately, I have Roxanne to kick me in the pants if need be.
Roxanne and I show up at our first 8-week Community ASL class. We make our way up to the front of the class and I introduce myself to Dr. Stephanie Logan. I explained my situation and that my hearing was very bad and getting worse. Stephanie listened, asked some questions and then asked me to sit by the head of the large conference room table next to her. I also sat next to Roxanne and gave one of my “fine, I’m here” tortured smiles.
The class started when Stephanie started speaking. What she said next would completely floor me. She welcomed everyone to the class and then proceeded to say that she was completely deaf and that she had lost her hearing when she was 23. Good God! Here I was talking with her just minutes before and I had no idea she couldn’t hear me. This funny, bright, engaging person couldn’t hear a dang word I was saying and was doing just swimmingly. After that first memorable class I thanked Roxanne for making us go (I continue to thank her for many many things…). Seeing Stephanie in action that first evening was powerful. My dejected, “woe is me” attitude evaporated and for the first time I really felt a sense of hope. Keep in mind that all this transpired before I made the decision to get a cochlear implant which now offers me even more hope; as does the growing arsenal of tools and technologies that will help me communicate.
One night after class Stephanie invited me and Roxanne to a fundraising event, in part for her non-profit organization called the LEAD (Leadership through Education and Advocacy for the Deaf) Institute. She said the event was actually a play that would include sign language interpreters and that it would be a great experience to watch stage interpreters using sign language. Stephanie said we would be right by the stage and that she would also introduce us to the LEAD Board chair. I thought this sounded like a great idea. Roxanne thought so too. I then asked, “what’s the play called?” Stephanie smiled and replied, “oh, it called the Vagina Monologues.”
Roxanne and I arrived at Jesse Hall auditorium on the MU campus, walked down to the front right-side seats by the stage, met and sat next to the LEAD board chair. Stephanie and her colleagues were in the row in front of us. The performance began. I noticed that I was one of only a handful of guys in the audience filled with women – many women and very few men. It should have been my first clue that I would be out of my element. The sign language interpreter was positioned in front of us on stage and began to sign along with the actors as they performed.
I’m not going to go into detail but let’s just say that I was really on foreign ground here; but hey I’m used to being on foreign ground. First, I couldn’t really hear the actors; second, I didn’t know sign language; third, the subject matter, although I am familiar with it, I was not used to hearing about it in so many ways. The bits and pieces of partial words I did hear I was able to match with the accompanying signs. I was therefore introduced to (and forever etched in my mind) the signs for pe#!s, vag!#%, and variations on those words, for they were repeated quite a lot… and all forms of body language and facial expressions that went with these signs gave me an inkling as to their meaning and context. On a serious note, the play was quite powerful; at times funny but also very serious and disturbing given some of the subject matter about violence and abuse.
After the intermission I continued to try and hear the actors and follow the interpreter. It was a frustrating experience because I couldn’t understand either. I then decided I would turn off my hearing aid since it wasn’t helping me. It was an amazing moment for me. Everything became silent so I gravitated my attention to the interpreter. It was like in those movies where two people see each other from across the room and everything else fades to black and to silence. Likewise, I focused my attention solely on the interpreter and was amazed with how graceful sign language truly was. Although I couldn’t grasp many of the signs I was better able to get the gist of their meaning. Sign Language is not only a foreign language but a beautiful foreign language.
And so began our ASL journey and the start of a great relationship with Stephanie. I now serve as a LEAD Board member. Roxanne and I also meet with Stephanie and friends, when possible, for sign language sessions at her office or around town. Although Roxanne literally had to drag me to the first sign language class, I’ve been all on board to learn this wonderful language. This desire to learn was of course further propelled the past several weeks while being completely deaf!
Although I am very fortunate to get a cochlear implant and remain in the “hearing world” I will learn and practice sign language as well. It’s an invaluable tool and will help me connect the dots in new ways. It will also help me and Roxanne communicate because I won’t have the implant on all the time (or the batteries could die…).
Remember those days when the kids were little and the parents would spell out sentences so the kids wouldn’t understand? Like, “Hey, what are we going to G.E.T. M.A.R.I.E. for C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S.?” Now Roxanne and I can continue this approach with sign language. I am sure the kids will pick up some sign language along the way so it may not be effective for too long. Don’t worry friends, family and colleagues, if you see me and Roxanne signing around you don’t think we are talking about you… or are we? 🙂
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about D-Day or Device Day.