Cochlear Implants Are Different

Most of us have seen the videos of a someone who has been deaf their whole life who  receives a cochlear implant and can suddenly hear. (or maybe people just send those to me)  The wonder on the their face is very touching and can be described as miraculous.  I will not get into the debate over whether or not a child, a person who has been deaf since birth, or a person who has lost their hearing should be implanted, that is a very personal decision that I have no right to weigh in on.

I do want to talk about how not everyone with a cochlear implant hears the same.   Recently I read an article that talked about having a cochlear implant, the person writing the article has been deaf his whole life, does not have a cochlear implant, and has chosen not to get one, I respect that decision.  Many of the commentors did not.  The comments on that article were argumentative and down right rude.  I found it very interesting, and a bit disturbing, that so many people assume that the experience they have with their cochlear implant is the same experience everyone would have. That simply is not true.

Yes, it is a miraculous thing to suddenly be able to hear.  (for some for the first time, for others to hear again, like me.)  The thing is, we have no idea what those people are hearing.  It could be words, or it could be clicks and whistles or a combination of many sounds.  If you never heard a sound before, would your face not show amazement?  We cannot judge what they are hearing by a simple video.  My audiologist told me that they she cannot understand what I hear, because she doesn’t have a cochlear implant and if she did, it could be totally different.  Some people who only hear little bits might be able to hear more later, some will not.  I met a lady at the Hearing Loss Association meeting who has cochlear implants and she can hear very little.  She cannot hear speech.  Her cochlear implants allow her to hear emergency signals, and not much else.  I am amazed at how well she gets by with reading lips, but she does get lost, and I do wonder how much she misses.  Often she simply smiles and nods, something I find myself doing way too often.  But she is very grateful for the hearing she has. I can’t imagine.  There are some people who hear almost as well as a normal hearing person, I can’t imagine that one either. 

So many people assume that cochlear implants are like hearing aids,  They are not!  Hearing aids amplify sound, but the person can still hear the way they are supposed to, just not as well.  In other words, no one had to implant something in their head to help them hear sounds.  “a cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals to the auditory (hearing) nerve.” (WebMD)  I have a device that was surgically implanted in my head and through the cochlea of my ear to deliver sound to my brain.  I do not hear with my ears.  No matter how high I put the volume on my cochlear implants it will not improve my hearing.  I know it’s confusing, but trust me, I’ve had both, a hearing aid and a cochlear implant, they are not the same in any way.

With my hearing aids I could turn up the volume and hear, no they were not perfect, I still had trouble with wind, noisy situations….all kinds of things.  The point is that the only thing that a hearing aid can do is amplify sound, if that will help you, that’s great.  I honestly wish I could still be helped with hearing aids.  I was not deaf without them, without my cochlear implants I hear nothing.

When I started losing my hearing I asked my doctor if I should learn sign language, he said, “You will never be deaf”  I realize now that he meant that even if I lost my hearing, he would simply give me a cochlear implant.  Which he did.  In hindsight I should have learned ASL (American Sign Language) before I started needing it.  I do not believe he understands the limits of the device

My audiologist warned me that some people do not hear speech with their CI’s, some only hear arbitrary sounds (clicks, whistles…)  She told me that people who have had hearing often do better than those who have never heard.  Their brains simply do not have anything to relate the sounds to, that isn’t always the case though.  (again, I know it’s confusing, we’re just different)  I heard speech immediately, but it sounded strange.  Everyone sounded like Mickey Mouse, luckily I like the Mouse, but it did get a bit annoying.  Gradually I began to hear people the way I remembered they sounded.  It’s a little funny that still sometimes when I meet someone new they will sound a bit like a cartoon.  And do not ever ask me to understand an accent.  

In the comments connected to this article people talked about how they could talk on the phone, play music, go to plays….and they spoke of them as if everyone with a cochlear implant can do those things.  I can’t.  I cannot talk on the phone, and those caption phones are a joke.  They don’t keep up with the caller and they get a lot of stuff wrong.  It’s more annoying than simply saying, “I can’t do it”  and that’s sad.  I miss music.  I miss music so much.  I am literally tearing up just writing those words.  I sing often, but I can’t remember the words to many of the songs, so I make them up.  I want to be playing carols this time of year, but alas it will not be.  I can’t hear it.  I can hear the melody, but the words, nope.  And that makes it just sound garbled.  I do so miss music.  I have been able to go to the movies thanks to the caption boxes, but it is difficult.  There is one theater close to me that is looped, (A  hearing loop (sometimes called an audio induction loop) is a special type of sound system for use by people with hearing aids and cochlear implants. The hearing loop provides a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by the hearing device when it is set to ‘T’ (Telecoil) setting.)  So the sound is piped right in my ears.  You would think this would be perfect, but it’s not, I still needed the caption box, but I didn’t use it near as much.  It’s an independent theater though, so I’m still out of luck when I want to see a popular movie.  I cannot imagine going to a live event that has not captions. 

Being deaf is very isolating, even with a cochlear implant.  It’s very hard for me to go out alone, to attend a party, to take a class, go to a restaurant, or…well, so may things.  I’m lucky I have a husband who helps keep me active, and understands my fears, many people do not have this.  If you know someone with hearing loss, reach out, they need all the friends they can get who understand their challenges.

This post got to be a bit longer than I intended, but I hope I’ve helped some of you understand a little bit more about how differently those of us with cochlear implants can hear.  Just because you know me, and my struggles doesn’t mean that the next person you meet with a cochlear implant will have the same issues I do.

 

If you’d like to know more about me and my cochlear implants you might enjoy this post  What it’s like to have a cochlear implant  Just remember, it’s only my story.

*The photo above is of me with my CI taken a couple of years ago.  Yes, it really is orange

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