One of the problems with being hearing impaired is that it’s invisible. No one can tell you’re hard of hearing or deaf unless you tell them – or if you’re lucky, they figure it out.
Talking about my cochlear implant is tricky. It’s a very concrete thing. I mean, I just had surgery to have the thing installed. But you can’t see it. I can barely feel it. I’m not kidding. I’m still not exactly sure where the receiver for the processor is. Then again, it’s all still pretty tender so it’s not like I want to go poking around up there.
I can’t even show a scar to make it real because my thick hair has already grown over most of it. The scar is so finely done that it’s basically invisible too so there’s nothing to see.
Making hearing impairment visible – without hearing aids – is tough.
Not only is Andreas a nerd, he’s curious about everything. Every. Single. Thing. Ever (almost). So for Christmas this year I coordinated his gift money into a 3D printer. Naturally, the first thing we printed: a model of the human inner ear.
This is a left inner ear. It’s the cochlea (the snail) and the semi-circular canals (that are responsible for balance). The model is 25mm long and is nearly twice as large as a real cochlea. I know it’s going to be helpful to have this in my pocket to show people how a cochlear implant works. I mean, it’s helping ME picture how a cochlear implant works. It makes it more real. Everyone has two of these things. Lefty, and righty.
Most of the time when you think of an elephant in the room, it’s the thing that everyone is trying to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not avoiding a cochlear implant. What I’m doing is trying to avoid thinking about surgery on Tuesday.
The thought of surgery doesn’t really bother me. I mean, it did bother me, but this morning after another emotionally wobbly, meltdown, conniption, and mild apoplectic fit, I realized I should talk myself down from the ledge I put myself on.
My self-talk these days has become very…pragmatic. For those of you following along at home, regaining one of your senses is a welcome gift – a modern miracle but I’d rather not have lost it in the first place. Even for the deaf, the climb to hearing and comprehension is daunting. I haven’t had a conversation on the phone with my husband since 2003. The last movie we saw in a theatre was “The Incredibles.” I finally figured out what it was about a week later when Andreas bought a bluray and we watched with closed captioning. Now I have to un-learn closed captioning? No one said anything about doing things the hard but better way? I like the comfortable easy way I’ve learned to cope with.
Yes. I’m having an acute case of “I want change, but I don’t want to change.” That voice appears to be disconnected from the one that wants hearing. If you’re having problems with voices, do what Oprah does: get everyone to talk it out.
My self-talk goes like this: “Caroline. Calm down. You’re going to have the most sophisticated medical hearing device on the planet installed IN YOUR HEAD because THAT’S HOW IT WORKS.” Andreas keeps saying my implant will be “installed.” I’ve failed to come up with a better word. Yes, it’s being implanted, but that’s a lyrical tautology. It’s being installed. It’s thoroughly unromantic, but it’s a great adventure.
I’d tell Isaac Asimov or Aldous Huxley what it’s like to hear like a computer hears. J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be a bad chat either – cochlear implants are kind of magical. Of course, none of these conversations would work for two reasons: 1) it would be a wasted opportunity until after activation day (Ms. Rowling, if you’re listening, come on over for a visit and we’ll talk about the magic of hearing). I’d really love that conversation with J.K. Rowling. Then again, I’d really love a conversation with anyone I could hear.
That conversation in my head comes and goes but when it’s on, it always drags on. After some introspection, worry, and self-doubt – when it’s time to attend to the world again – I just ask myself, “Can you live with a few days of discomfort to have a lifetime of hearing more.” Well, duh. Cranial neurosurgery is no match for my desire to hear more (and maybe one day, more than normal – my external processor will always be improved and upgraded). Andreas said something last night: “Your hearing will never grow old. Mine will. I may have to rely on you to hear for me one day.” For a second I thought I heard a noise from the other room – I thought I heard the tables turning.
When they say a cochlear implant is a life-changing moment, they don’t mention it changes everyone’s life around you. Thank God.
Most hard of hearing or deaf people tend to gravitate to occupations that, you know, aren’t demanding listening environments. There’s sort of an extreme limit to that since challenging noise environments like factories and foundries have ridiculously high rates of hearing loss among employees. You could say you don’t need to be able to hear to work in a factory, which is good, because by the end you won’t be able to anyway. Occupational hearing safety should be about more than little foam earplugs. But I digress…
We’re talking about deaf people avoiding occupations because it’s just easier to avoid constant hearing. Caroline loves people. She loves people so much that she became a server and eventually rose to an elite level of service. She’s won city-wide recognition and awards, yes, as a server. Today, she added one more.
A little over a year ago My Beautiful Cyborg (who didn’t even know she was going to be a cyborg) needed a change of venue. A year later she’s recognized as a service leader in the hotel. Today she received a letter from her supervisor letting her know she is the Employee of the Month. Caroline works at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Edmonton (best valley patio in the city by the way).
How is it that a deaf person who listens to people all day connects to deeply with people. The answer to that is purely existential. Really, Caroline receives recognition for being who she is. And she is so unabashedly who she is, that she fights and scraps every day to hear people, and get their orders right, and make sure they feel loved and cared for. Simply, it’s a Caroline thing.
As the guy who gets to be proud of My Beautiful Cyborg, today is just another confirmation of what I already know: if machinery is what it takes for Caroline to connect with humanity, that’s absolutely what she’s going to do.