Mama’s got some new Bling!
Well friends, my big surgery date is quickly approaching and I’m experiencing a whole host of emotions—ones that range from intense excitement and school-girl giddiness to extreme anxiety and nervous anticipation. One minute I want to karaoke the sh*t out of “I’m Walking On Sunshine” and the next, I’m so overcome with worry that I feel like an aggravated alien may protrude from my stomach at any moment and do that cha-cha across the living room floor.
When I finally qualified for a cochlear implant and shared the news with close family and friends, I was asked a number of different questions about the process and the actual implant itself; most of which I couldn’t answer at the time. Well, I’ve done my research, picked the brains of the smartest ear doctors on the planet and most importantly, reached out to my fellow C.I. (Cochlear Implant) peeps and got the skinny on how this thing works and what to expect when it is turned on.
Here are the main questions I have received and my simplified “non-scientific, right-brained” answers:
What the heck is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that essentially replaces the need for the inner ear to transmit sound. It is comprised of two parts; an external sound processor with an attached magnet and an internal coil which is placed inside the cochlea. Oh, and something that I just found out—I will also have a magnet placed underneath the skin right above my ear. This will be annoying as sh&t when I’m going the through the metal detector at the airport, but may also up my street cred with the kids who can now refer to me as “Robo-Mom.”
At my last visit, I was given two different external sound processors—the first is similar to a hearing aid and is worn behind the ear, but has a separate attachment that will connect with the magnet in my head. Side note: The magnet will actually be placed just underneath the skin, but doesn’t that sound so much cooler? The second processor actually attaches to the magnet itself without the need for additional accessories.
Want to see the processor? Check out my video at the end of this article!!!
How does it work?
I’m going to use an example to explain how this little miracle device works. Say “The Dude” asks me for the 50th time to turn off all the lights when I leave the house:
“Linds, Can you PLEASE turn off all the damn lights in the house when you leave? Our bill is INSANE.”
My external processor (that I wear behind the ear) picks up the phrase, then sends it to an internal device that is implanted in my cochlea. This internal device then sends it to the auditory nerve.
Still with me?
Because I would’ve checked out right about now.
The auditory nerve then transmits The Dude’s request to my brain which interprets it as follows: “So….your husband is making the same request about the lights, you may or may not want to do something about that.”
While the cochlear implant is pretty much a game changer for us deafies, there are limits to its capabilities. It will not make you smarter, sexier or give you bigger boobs. And unfortunately for me, it will not remind you to turn the damn lights off when you leave the house.
Can’t you just wear a hearing aid?
Nope. Hearing aids amplify sound, while cochlear implants essentially replace damaged parts of the ear. Most C.I. candidates have such profound hearing loss, that hearing aids are of no use to them. For me, once my hearing diminished to a certain level, the hearing aids would actual interfere with my ability to recognize words because they just amplified my already crappy hearing.
Do they implant the hearing aid inside of your ear?
Nope. They implant an internal device within the cochlea or inner ear, as well as a metal plate in your head which transmits sound to and from the internal device. However, there is this new thing called a “BAHA” or bone-anchored hearing aid that acts as a cross between a hearing aid and an implant. It works similar to an implant in that it bypasses the middle and outer ear and uses bone conduction to transmit sound, but it is only recommended for those with one-sided deafness and have one good working cochlea. Because I am completely deaf in one ear and profoundly deaf in the other, this is not an option for me. I’m in the Big Leagues now baby!
That’s amazing….so you will just hear again after twenty-one years?
And that is another firm, no.
First off, hearing out of a cochlear implant is completely different than hearing natural sound. I’m told it is more mechanical and robotic, although some lucky SOB’s can actually discern the difference between different voices after several months of therapy. While I may gain word recognition (the ability to hear words) from my implant, I will never again have natural hearing out of my right ear. This was a tough pill to swallow at first, but after months of soul-searching and earning a VIP card at my therapist’s office, I finally reached a place of acceptance. Don’t get me wrong—it has not been all ponies and chocolate covered peanut butter balls around here (now I’m hungry). I still long for the days of effortless conversation and being able to wash some dishes while taking to my husband at the same time. However, “natural, schmatural.” Soon enough I’m going to experience the true miracle of modern medicine and I must remain focused on those peanut butter balls and not the shit sundae that they arrived in.
Second, I haven’t heard out of my right ear in over twenty years. Statistically, those C.I candidates with this type of long-term hearing loss do not hear syllables or words out of their implant for several months and up to a year. That is, if they ever do hear words. Unfortunately, in my situation, the prognosis is all over the board. There are people who engage in conversations, talk on the phone and listen to music (oh my god I would pretty much give my second born for that), and there are others who are able to make out sounds, but not words. I hope I fall into the former category.
When I used to think about my activation day, I pictured the flip of a switch, my husband and I crying tears of joy as I leapt out of my chair and immediately start twerking and doing the cabbage patch while shouting, “IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE! I CAN HEAR!). Unfortunately, this scenario only plays out in the movies, or on YouTube.
But, I am an eternal optimist.
I have my fingers, arms, legs and toes crossed that this surgery is successful and that I regain functional hearing; hearing that will allow me to return to my favorite daily activities, which include talking on the phone about nothing for hours on end, throwing barbells around with friends and rocking out to Taylor Swift in my car. Until then, texting until my fingers hurt, garage workouts and catching phrases here and there on the Hairband channel will be my jam!
Do you have anymore burning questions about my cochlear implant or the reason that I feel it necessary to leave the lights on in the house?
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Also, want to see what a cochlear implant processor looks like? Or what an excited and nervous soon-to-be lady of the cochlear looks like? Click below.