During this week and in the months leading up to this week my parents had been educated by news media about cochlear implants, schools for the deaf, and the controversy within the Deaf culture. Little did my parents know that just days after getting this information, it would be directly applicable to them as I was born profoundly deaf in both ears. Deaf Awareness Week eighteen years ago prepared my parents for their unknown future.
At the age of 13 months, I was implanted with an Advanced Bionics cochlear implant in my right ear. And at the time the second ear was saved for “future technology.” This meant the second ear was not to be implanted. After many years this idea was proven to not be the best approach for that second ear. I was six years old when I got my second cochlear implant. My first implant had been a huge success for me. The journey to my success was a long one with lots of dedication, therapy, and appointments.
As a child, I went about my life as a typical young child did. I loved school, I was involved in a variety of sports, school activities, and could always be found playing outside after school. The fact that I had two devices on my ears that no other kid in my school (at the time) had didn’t cross my mind.
I never thought about the fact that I regularly had to go to the audiologist. Or that I had to advocate for myself in such a demanding way and charge implant batteries which my hearing was reliant upon. I didn’t see myself as any different than the kids around me, but I’m sure they saw me as being different than themselves.
“I didn’t see myself as any different than the kids around me, but I’m sure they saw me as being different than themselves.”
And though I didn’t think much of it then, I was constantly reminded of our differences. Whether it was through questions, comments, or blatantly obvious stares.
Once I got to middle school, my self-confidence as a deaf individual began to change. I was never ashamed to be deaf and I didn’t hide my cochlear implants. My deafness was a part of me and I was proud of it too. But things at school changed.
At school, I wanted to blend in more with the other kids. Not be the one kid who uses an FM system and takes time and attention from the class to advocate for myself. I wanted to cruise through classes like my friends.
While attempting to blend in, I found ways to hide my Roger Pen FM System. I would keep my binder open on my desk and slide the Roger Pen into the rings of the binder, between the stacks of paper. It took me a long time to see the benefits of using Roger in a class setting and even while on the basketball court. Even then I was hesitant to go out of my way to do something that would help me greatly while it set me apart from my teammates.
These challenges continued as I entered high school. Although during my freshman year, when I was 15-years-old, I had another set of challenges regarding my left cochlear implant. This was the one on my ear which had been implanted when I was 6-years-old.
My left ear had never done as well as my right ear. And knowing that my right ear was so successful compared to my left ear made me feel frustrated and disappointed. After nine years, my left ear still wasn’t doing well.
I wasn’t wearing this implant as much anymore because it gave me sound, but it didn’t give me any understanding. In the end, it made hearing harder.
I’d done so well with my right implant, so I would just wear the one ear. I became discouraged as no time or efforts were improving my quality of hearing with this second implant.
I decided that I wanted to reimplant the ear. Several factors went into this decision though ultimately it came down to this: I was at a point where I was no longer wearing my left implant. Before completely giving up on the ear, I wanted to see if reimplanting the ear would help at all. There was a certain unknown about as to why this ear was so unsuccessful. And I wanted to know before I gave up on the implant that I had done everything I could.
“Before completely giving up on the ear, I wanted to see if reimplanting the ear would help at all.”
I went ahead and reimplanted the ear at 15-years-old. Unfortunately, nothing improved regardless of the time and effort spent on therapy. I went through all this to know that I had done all I could for this ear. I’m glad that I did. About a year later I stopped wearing this implant altogether. I had tried and failed with the determination (for several reasons) that the nerve in my left ear was not a good one.
In 2017 Phonak came out with a CROS device that was compatible solely with Advanced Bionics cochlear implants. I had started using the Phonak CROS and found that it had been the solution I was looking for all along! At 17-years-old, I heard and understood out of two ears for the first time. It wasn’t until then that I realized how beneficial two functioning ears are! It was astounding!
“At 17-years-old, I heard and understood out of two ears for the first time.”
As I started realizing that my second cochlear implant was not performing as well as the first side, I became really discouraged because I had high standards. But just know, that what works for someone else may not work for you. What works for your right side may not work for your left side. But that’s okay. Try not to go into it thinking one piece of technology will work for you because if it doesn’t, there’s likely another option! Just like when my cochlear implant didn’t work, there was something else; there was the CROS. This solution may not have been around right away, but it was worth the wait!
Read more about the Phonak CROS hearing aid here!