Archive for August, 2011

Testing – 1,2,3

I think it’s time for some tests. Self-imposed tests.

I want to mark my progress, how far I’ve come in this hearing journey, so I want to see where I stand with this cochlear implant of mine. Now that I’ve just hit the six month post-activation mark, I think it’s a great time to do some tests. Ok, maybe not tests, but more or less observing what I can and can’t hear at this point. It’s not that I want to really want know what I can’t hear, and limit myself, but the thing about a cochlear implant is that it takes work to hear better or understand more. If I figure out what I can’t hear, I can target my listening therapy and probably fix the issue.

What I can hear:

My children are playing in the living room with toys, while I’m writing this in my bedroom, in the next room. I can hear them talking to each other, I can tell the difference between the voices, and sometimes I can understand what one of them is saying. I can hear the tone of voice and know that they aren’t fighting or crying, but again, I’m only actually picking up 10% of what is being said.

What I can’t hear:

The full conversation. I can pick up every few sentences, but I can’t understand enough to conclude what they’re talking about.

One of the big things I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that I am really good at watching TV and movies now. But only in the right conditions. Movies in the theater I can pick up about 90%, probably pretty close to what an average hearing person picks up. I can pick up the same amount in a television show if I’m using a cord that goes directly from the speaker to my processor. Several nights a week my husband and I will lay in bed at night with his laptop, which has two headphone outputs. He uses headphones, and my audio cable goes from the other headphone output and connects directly to my CI. Pretty much the exact same as wearing headphones. I do the same thing with the speakers from my desktop computer.

At six months post activation, I have noticed limitations. The reason I can’t pick up the full conversation of my children in the living room, is because they aren’t in the same room as me. So it’s quieter from where I’m sitting, trying to listen to them. And the same goes with watching television in the living room. It’s not a clear and distinct sound, when the sound is bouncing off my wood and tile floors, than if I had my cable attached directly to my CI. Another thing to consider is that my flatscreen is probably fifteen feet from my sofa.

I know all this info is probably boring you, but I know I have to catalog it here. I’ve been spending about one hour, three to four times a week, watching television from the living room to get used to the difference in sound. Therapy sure is hard, isn’t it? Laugh, because it is kinda funny, but the more I watch television in the living room, the more I will be able to eventually understand the words coming from it. I’ve done this for about two weeks already, and I can tell I’m understanding just slightly more than when I started. It’s all a big huge process.

Hopefully my “therapy” will evolve into other aspects as well. The unfiltered bouncing around sounds from the television, that I will eventually be able to understand, will most likely help me understand my children from a different room. My concentration on therapy at this point is to listen to sounds that are imperfect. My brain needs to learn to adapt to it’s surroundings and understand the sounds that are not directly imported to my CI.

Time will tell! I will definitely check in about this again at the one year mark and see how far I’ve come. What amazes me is that I can hear so much. I’m fine-tuning now, not trying desperately to just understand one word from another. I’m hearing, I’m just working on perfecting, something I know will be a lifelong process. One I look forward to!

Letters of my past

This week was a rough week for me personally.

My baby boy turned five last month, and if that wasn’t enough to make me weepy, he started kindergarten on Tuesday.
2

More than those reasons for a difficult week, this week required something of me that I’ve really not thought much of.

Years ago, when my husband and I decided to have kids, we talked about the chances of our children inheriting the hearing loss condition that runs through many of my family. At that time, I had probably not even lost fifty percent of my hearing, and I really didn’t expect that I’d lose much more, if any. When my husband and I talked about it, we mutually decided that I lived a normal enough life, a very happy life, and we felt peace about having children. It really wasn’t a difficult decision for either of us.

After having my son, my first child, I had lost a significant portion of my hearing, and my husband and I knew that we’d only have one child. We certainly didn’t expect that I’d get pregnant with my daughter when my son was just five months old, but as a great many parents know, sometimes the unexpected brings quite a bit of joy.

I never think about what our lives would be like without our children. Some may pass judgement on me for choosing to have kids, but I never really think about that either. And another thing I don’t think about? Other than the one day my husband and I talked about whether or not we would have kids, I never think about whether or not my children will ever have hearing loss.

But this week I was forced to think about it.

Because of certain circumstances, I felt a strong obligation last week to really consider my children’s future. I’m not going to spend time worrying about what-ifs, but I did have to write a letter.

The letter I wrote was to my son’s kindergarten teacher. I told her briefly about my own hearing loss, I told her that it is a hereditary condition, and I asked her to look after my son. As a parent, this letter was by far the hardest letter I’ve ever in my life had to write. I didn’t cry, I just wrote a bunch of facts, but as I sit here and write about it, I’m overwhelmed at the emotions that I realize I hold at bay. To date, my son has shown no serious signs of hearing loss. But what I needed from his kindergarten teacher, was for her to be aware of conditions that may show up in his year-long tenure with her. I pray often for my son, that he never has what I do, but at the same time I want him to have every opportunity to succeed as a child. I want so much for him to have the best, even unimaginable, life as possible.

I hope that, by not denying to be aware of the situation, that I make a better life for my children than I had when I refused to admit my difficulties with hearing. I will be honest, though, and say that I genuinely hope and pray that the cycle of this hearing loss is broken with my children. I know it can be.

I pray for myself sometimes too. I pray that God gives me the endurance emotionally to hit this thing head on. To be prepared for it, even if it never happens.

Most of all, I pray for my kids. And I welcome your prayers too.

Chains of Habit

Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.

So says a favorite author and motivational speaker of mine, John Maxwell. I gotta give the guy credit. In my own life, I find this adds up to 100% of what’s happening to me here and now.

Habits die hard, don’t they? And the further I get down the road with my cochlear implant, the more I realize that the decisions I make right now will define the habits I create for my future. I know this is deep. So crazy deep for what I had originally envisioned as a lighthearted and not-so-deep blog. But if there’s one thing I haven’t been shy about yet, it’s the fine details of living through a deaf life and on through the recovery of a cochlear implant recipient.

Here’s the thing. I totally didn’t see all the psychological effects that this thing would have on me. Somewhere near the six month post activation date, I felt like I was hit by a freight train called Reality. Yeah, I was hit. Reality told me that the chain of habit that held me back, more than anything else, is…

Fear.

One four letter word. Awful, isn’t it?

What I fear most is being unable to hear someone. It’s fear that when someone calls me, I won’t be able to understand them. It’s fear that I won’t hear a passing car when I’m walking with my kids. It’s fear that I won’t understand someone in public and I’ll be humiliated by saying something completely off-topic. It’s Fear. Fear. Fear.

But I have a choice. The truth is that the fear is a product of living hard of hearing and deaf for a great many years. It’s evidence that something traumatic happened to me. The great big thing is that, just as Mr. Maxwell so eloquently spoke, the bigger percentage is in how I react to what happened.

A few months ago my son needed a doctor’s appointment to finish up his required shots for entering kindergarten. I called the office without much thought, and I was smacked in the face with what I felt was failure. For the life of me, I could not understand the office’s receptionist and had to have my husband call them back to schedule the appointment. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’d have my husband and my mom make phone calls for me, and I hardly answered my phone at all in those weeks. I didn’t think I could do it.

It’s so easy to fall back into patterns that are so known to us, and I wonder how often we even realize it. For weeks, I just sat back and accepted that one failure instead of jumping up to fight it. It was one failure. One.

This month I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had a choice but to answer my phone. I’ve talked to my husband, my mom, three sister-in-laws, and probably several others too. Each phone conversation has been a little step for me, and I’m so crazy glad that I was pretty much forced to receive or make those calls.

The big thing about those calls is that they were to family members. Every one of those family members knows about my CI journey, so it’s easy if I can’t quite catch what they’re saying. They understand.

I made progress. I returned a call to someone that I have never spoken to on the phone. This is seriously the first phone call I’ve made to someone I don’t know since that doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately I got a voicemail. Or would that be fortunate? I was cringing when I made the call, quite literally petrified to even make the call, but the good news is that I did.

I’m telling myself right now that I will call the lady again. Or I will answer the phone if she calls back. It’s terrifying. It is. And I allow myself to think that it’s ok. It’s ok that I’m scared, since most all of us have a little hesitation at the unknown, but it’s really important that regardless of what I feel, I must choose to go forward. It’s a hard road to look past insecurities and take a leap to break those chains of habit, but if I don’t, I will miss out on even greater things with this implant. My cochlear implant can only do as much as I let it.

So for all you recipients out there who I know read this, let this be a lesson for all of us. Don’t let that measly 10% of what happened to us affect the 90% of what we can choose to be.

Half-year Anniversary

happy 6 months

Today marks my six month hearing anniversary with my cochlear implant.

When couples tell me they’ve hit the 6 month mark, whether married or dating, I roll my eyes and think puh-leeze! Six months is really not that long. And I seriously thought about saying nothing at all about it. I mean, it’s natural that I want to hit my one year hearing anniversary with a big bang, but six months? Well, I had to think about it a little, which is probably why I waited until the late evening to even post.

But I really had to.

I asked myself  a few questions today.

What have I done that I couldn’t do before February 17th?

I talked to three people on the phone today. One of those people wasn’t related, nor have I ever met that person. I’ve seen four movies at the movie theater in the past 6 months, none with captions. I’ve come to count four women, all unrelated to me, as friends now. Not just any kind of friend, but closer than that. I can’t yet say that we’re really really close, since I feel like I’ve only known them for 6 months (even though I did talk to them before that), but I know we’ll grow closer still in the 6 months before my one year mark. If it’s even possible, I’ve grown closer to my mom, my dad, and my sister. Other than my husband, they’ve been my rock of support over the last many years.

The biggest things? I’ve become a better, more understanding wife. I’m a better mother. I’ve developed a more patient attitude to both my husband and my children. I have a closer relationship with my children, and carry on many conversations throughout the day. I answer many more questions from my kids, but I also teach them more about life as a whole.

I’m much more confident. I’m more outgoing. I laugh more often. I have a more positive outlook on my life. I enjoy life much more now. The depression I constantly fought while deaf has rapidly decreased, something I’m confident I won’t battle by the time I hit my one year mark.

It’s been a great 6 months.

And I’m anticipating the next.

Kids. Gotta love ’em.

Something I love most about hearing with my Cochlear Implant is all the conversations with the kids. It’s so true that children say the funniest things, and I must say that they bring so much joy to my life. One thing I remember about being deaf is that I could go for days without laughing a whole-hearted laugh. Things might be comical and bring a smile, but rarely did I catch anything that would make me completely laugh. More or less it was because I couldn’t really hear anything to bring that.

But yesterday I was in the car with my husband, Jesse, and my two kids. My 3yr old daughter was pretending to talk on her toy cell phone, while my 5yr old son and my husband were having the very serious conversation that’s below. In the end, we all laughed at my silly little girl. I love hearing my kids!

 

Son: Dad, who is over all the church?

Daughter: Shhhh. I’m talking on the phone.

Jesse: Jesus is over all the church, son.

Son: Oh.

Jesse: It’s actually named something different.

Daughter: SHHHHHHH!!!

Jesse: Daughter, I love that you have a great imagination, but I’m talking.

Jesse: Son, the bible says that Jesus is the Head of the Church.

Daughter: <exasperated> I’ll call you back.

Sweet Melodies

A few weeks ago, I was with my sister-in-law, and we were talking with an acquaintance of ours. Because the acquaintance was born out of state and doesn’t have family that’s local, she invited us to go wedding dress shopping with her to help her pick a dress. Let me say, I was so honored to be asked that, and it was with great enthusiasm that I agreed to go.

I love weddings. And all things wedding related. I’m married, I’ve done the whole bridezilla thing, but there’s just something stuck on the inside of me that adores watching two people make such a ginormous step in their lives when they choose to stand before God and commit to marriage. There’s just nothing like it.

And the decorations. The gorgeous flowers. Cake. Rhinestones. Tulle. Oh my!

Back to the original topic. I heartily agreed to go dress shopping, and it was so much fun. We talked, laughed, had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (yum!!), and I learned a lot about her that I didn’t have a clue about. One of those things is that she sings. When I say she sings, I mean she really sings. Classically.

I hear a lot of people say they can sing. I mean, c’mon, we’ve all seen a zillion episodes of American Idol and it’s crazy how many confident “singers” can’t carry a tune. So when my friend told me she could sing, I’ll be one hundred percent honest and say that I didn’t really know what that meant. Can she “sing” or can she sing? There’s a difference.

So after the dress shopping, we all came back to my house. My sister-in-law in a not-so-subtle way, asked our friend to sing something for us. You and me both know it was more of a let’s-see-if-you-can-really-sing type of thing. Are we mean? Yeah, probably. We would have loved her even if she couldn’t carry a tune, but we were so darn curious!

She smiled at us. That I-see-exactly-what-your-doing kind of smile, but she agreed to sing a song for us. And she asked us, is it ok if it’s in Italian?

Uhh….sure?

Goosebumps. That’s the first thing I got when she started to sing.

Tears. My eyes just filled to the brim when I realized it had been half a decade since I’d heard such a rich classical melody in an undeniably beautiful language.

I can’t say I was remorseful for having her sing for us. Wrong reasons for asking her, sure, but how long had it been since I’d heard such a pure sweet melody? I tried so hard not to get emotional. Music is the one thing that I really don’t do therapy for. It still has such a technical static-y sound to it because I haven’t forced myself to listen to it much. It’s the hardest thing to do really. There’s so many instruments usually jumbled together and the thought of spending countless hours to listen to something that isn’t really enjoyable to eventually (after countless hours) make it enjoyable…. well…. it just isn’t a very appealing thought.

So it must be obvious that when I find a melody, a type of music, or anything with a single instrument or voice, I really do enjoy it.

And I realize now that the end result of a melody that beautiful, of the Italian song my friend so graciously sang for us, reminds me that there really is a prize worth the effort. Music is, and always will be, a great ambition to continue down the learning curve that my Cochlear Implant leads me down.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote:

Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.

Silence can be creepy…

As I approach my six month anniversary of hearing (is it me or has this gone fast?) with a Cochlear Implant, I’m amazed at how much I still learn about myself. It’s so weird to me that I spent so many years learning about myself as a hard of hearing person, and then a deaf person, only to do the reverse this year and learn so many things about being a hearing person again. You’d think I’d just remember -oh yeah, that’s what its like to hear this or that- but it’s more than that.

I’m still learning about what I can’t hear. Even now that I can hear.

Someone asked me a few months back what it was like to turn my processor off or take it off at night. The only thing I could think to say was that it’s just kinda weird. It’s like a brain freeze or something. I turn it off, pull it off my ear, and the quiet is so deafening. Ironic to use that work, but it’s amazing just how loud silence can be. It’s all-consuming. But it doesn’t ever really bother me at night. The time I take it off is in the second before I hit the pillow, so it’s usually just a slight sense of relief. Usually.

A few weeks ago my son’s school called me to let me know I needed to bring in a copy of something or other that they needed to complete his registration for kindergarten. The school is seriously not more than a mile from me, so I stuck the kids in the car and we were there in less than a minute or two. On the way, my processor chimed two or three times in my ear (I forget how many) to let me know that my battery was nearly dead. It’s a great thing that it gives me advance warning, not just shuts down, because it usually means I have anywhere from fifteen minutes to a full hour to replace batteries. And it also usually means that I just pull out my spare from my purse and make the switch. Usually.

It was unfortunate that day that I completely forgot to put the fully charged spare in my purse. Even more unfortunate was the fact that, while I thought fifteen minutes was plenty time to drop off the paper at the school, my battery completely cut off about two steps from the school’s entry door.

Let me say again that silence is deafening.

When the battery cut off, I stopped mid-stride. The silence was screaming at me to strap the kids back in the car and head home to pick up another battery. Thoughts flew through my mind about a mile a minute.

Are there cars approaching behind that I can’t hear? No, and we were on the sidewalk anyway.

Are both kids’ feet firmly planted on the sidewalk just in case a car passes and I don’t hear it? Yes, they’re both far away from the curb.

They should walk in front of me in case I can’t hear them and they do run into the street.

Relax, the kids are fine.

What if they ask me a question in the office?

Will I understand them if I lipread now? I haven’t done that as much lately.

Maybe I should just go back home and get the battery.

It’ll take me two seconds to drop a paper, but ten minutes to strap the kids back in, go, and come back.

Can I do this without it though?

What if they ask me something and I completely misunderstand?

And the questions kept going and going and going. Kinda like the energizer battery. Seriously.

I did end up walking into the office, handed them the paper, and exited without having to even tell them I was technically deaf. It was weird not hearing them talk to me.  Even more weird was not hearing my own voice responding to them, or knowing how loud my responses were. But I did it. And I returned home, chastising myself the whole way for not having that spare battery.

Do you like creepy movies? I don’t. Especially movies like The Village. But I’ve seen it and let me tell ya, that day at the elementary school I felt like I was the girl in the red cape, stumbling through the forest, all the while fearing that something… something… was out there coming for me.

It’s so odd that in less than half a year I could be so sensitive to just five minutes of silence and so incredibly dependent on a device I hardly know still. It amazes me.

I got a spare battery in my purse now. Don’t leave home without it.