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I grew up with normal hearing. I was raised on a ranch in a farming community in southeast Colorado. I knew what the sound of the school bell sounded like, the roar of tractors, and the rumbles of combines. I knew what sound every type of farm animal created. I never thought about being deaf. I had only seen folks with “age-related” hearing loss, and the only hearing aids I ever saw were in the ears of people much older than I. Like so many people, I just lived and listened without even the slightest worry that someday my world would go silent.
In the early 1990s, I noticed that I began to have trouble hearing on the telephone. I actually remember thinking it was merely a problem with the phone. I asked my husband to get a new one. I worried for the first time that something might be wrong with my hearing when the new phone also didn’t allow me to hear well. I finally made an appointment with an audiologist. She was really surprised at how poorly I did on the pure tone test. She decided to do some “word recognition” and I did really well. After giving it some thought, however, she asked me to repeat the test. This time she held a magazine up in front of her mouth. I could understand very few of the words she said. At that moment I realized that I had been using visual cues for a long time in order to get by in communicating. I was “officially” diagnosed with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss. My audiologist recommended hearing aids, but I was adamant about not getting one yet. I had never met anyone in their early 30’s with a hearing aid.
Over the two months that followed that first audiogram, my life began changing quickly and significantly. We quickly learned that my hearing loss was progressive.It seemed that every day, the changes in my hearing were more dramatic.I dropped out of social activities. My ability to communicate with even my family worsened.I decided to visit my audiologist again and to keep an open mind. This time, she showed me various models of hearing aids that could be easily covered by my hair. I was stubborn about it not “showing”. I agreed to give hearing aids a try. Over the next few months, I learned that I was one of nearly 28 million Americans with hearing loss. I wasn’t alone.
In 2002, my family and I relocated to the Washington, D.C. area. I now had two hearing aids, and I began wearing my hair the way I preferred – pulled back!I bought bright-colored ear molds and went from being ashamed to being an advocate. Even aided, I still missed out on most conversations. At home, it was impossible for me to understand what my family was saying unless I stopped everything and concentrated on the words. I couldn’t wash vegetables in the sink and talk to my daughter. I couldn’t shoot hoops with my son while talking to him. I had reached a crisis in my life. My hearing loss was affecting everything! I couldn’t go to a movie and hear, nor could I in church. I was unable to go get ice cream with my friends and sit around chatting about our kids. I couldn’t listen to music. The doorbell, phone, and dryer buzzer were all vague memories. When taking a walk with my family, I couldn’t hear what they heard – airplanes flying overhead, birds chirping, a creek nearby. By the summer of 2004, I was ready to talk to my family about the fact of eventually going deaf. For the first time, I let my husband share with me what he had been learning about cochlear implants – something I had been unwilling to even discuss in the past. He had met numerous cochlear implant recipients since moving to D.C. and he felt sure that this same miracle would work for me.
After meeting people with cochlear implants and learning about their journey out of silence, I began investigating cochlear implants in earnest. By August of 2004, I had an appointment for a cochlear implant evaluation at Johns Hopkins. I was determined to be a candidate and my surgery was scheduled for April 6. I chose to receive the Nucleus® Freedom™ by Cochlear Americas because of the system’s reputation for proven success. My Freedom sound processor was activated on May 13, 2005. One second before my audiologist spoke to me, I knew I was already hearing! Within 10 minutes, I heard my son’s voice, a voice I had not heard well since he was three years old. What I like best about the Freedom is the ease of switching programs and changing batteries. It’s not complicated at all. Now I have conversations at that same sink with my daughter… all while washing vegetables and running the garbage disposal! My ADRO program is wonderful! I have been so impressed and “singing” the praises of ADRO, my audiologist wrote a paper on my experiences.
One of the most memorable speeches I’ve given about my cochlear implant journey is the time I spent on Capitol Hill. I was invited to speak to the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC), a bi-partisan caucus of members from the House and Senate committed to supporting the needs of those who are deaf or hard of hearing. CHHC highlights issues of critical importance to those with hearing loss through periodic briefings and correspondence with all members of Congress. I shared my story with CHHC and told the group about my surgery and Freedom activation. CHHC was also shown a video clip of my sound processor fitting and activation, which brought tears to the eyes of several in attendance. After the presentation, many people asked questions and wanted to see my implant. I received several emails from people who heard my speech, thanking me for coming in as a consumer and putting a face to cochlear implants. Several told me that they had never really understood the impact a cochlear implant had on a life of a young adult prior to hearing my story.
One of the most exciting things about hearing again is re-discovering the sounds of life. I have learned that our microwave beeps when you punch in the cook time and that my coffee maker gurgles! I can hear the sound of our dog panting, and our cat’s purr. I’ve learned that my husband STILL snores; something I’m blissfully unaware of after I remove my CI at night. Birds make all different kinds of sounds! I can hear my teens talk to me while they are setting the table in the dining room. My hearing is not perfect, but the Freedom has allowed me to hear things I haven’t heard since I was a teenager myself. It has completely changed my life. I sport “implant bling” and wear my hair up. I am eager to share with others what my cochlear implant has brought to me. My captioned activation video can be seen at: http://hearingelmo.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/ci-act-one/
I currently teach Jr. High and High School electives part-time and also some adult classes on contract. I really enjoy teaching and do very well in the classroom and hear great! My students understand I don't hear well in a "hub-bub" of classroom noise and so work very hard at making sure only one person talks at a time. I can't imagine teaching without my cochlear implant, and it has given me my life back!