Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's Better than Before

Losing my hearing was probably the most devastating thing that has happened to me. And learning to live with one deaf ear and one failing ear has not been easy. Every day has brought new challenges and opportunities to learn, adjust, and adapt to the hearing world around me. I still have a ways to go. But I've come a long way. 

People have been very encouraging and supportive throughout my cochlear implant candidacy, surgery, and rehabilitation -- through my worries and doubts and successes and trials. I admit, though, that some of the catch phrases they've used have irked me more than they encouraged. The one I hated the most was  "It's better than being deaf, though. Right?" 

Is a cochlear implant better than being deaf? I think it is better than before, even though it's hard for me to put a value on exactly what "better" is when what I hear is so -- different than before. It is very different. But there are so many things that indicate how much it has improved my life.

This has been my first start of school with a cochlear implant. It's been good, overall. Colleagues who knew me last year -- post deafness, but pre-cochlear implant -- have all told me that they can tell I am hearing much more now than before. And I don't feel so lost, either. I didn't have to ask for clarification very often during those first days. I think I heard and understood most of what was happening around me this year, and I could hear most of the first staff meetings, even when people were holding side conversations around me. Last year, I had trouble keeping up with the meeting even when everyone was quietly listening! It's not perfect, but, yes, it is better than before.

My principal apologized to me a few days ago because I'd misunderstood an intercom announcement and didn't take my students to recess, but kept them inside for "quiet play" instead. I had thought the morning announcements had said that due to excessive heat, we would have an inside recess.  I totally missed the part about "I'll make an announcement if we need to keep students inside." There isn't any context or visual clue to help me on an intercom announcement. So when he came into my room with an apology for me, I smiled at him, and said, "Mr. H, that's just my life now. No worries." He apologized again later, too.  Last year, I couldn't even hear the intercom until after my cochlear implant surgery. And then I couldn't understand what I was hearing. Now I can understand some of it, at least. I hear and understand more. That's better, yes?

My school district's audiologist and lead deaf education teacher came to my classroom to deliver and set up a new FM system for me to try out during my reading groups and faculty meetings. The FM delivers a speaker's voice directly to my CI to improve my ability to hear and understand. Both of them mentioned how much my hearing had improved and how much more confident I was than when they had seen me last January. I was actively advocating for myself and my students needs. I am determined that my hearing loss will have minimal impact on my pedagogy and classroom. "The difference is remarkable," they said. "You're a new person!" It's true. I was frantic and uncertain and lost when they saw me last. And ready to give up a career I love. Now I can see the proverbial forest because I've climbed those trees! That's certainly better, I think.

I went to a movie with my daughter last week. Because I'm afraid to not have the closed captioning device, I got one from the box office clerk, just in case I needed it. But during the movie, I found that I reached for my cochlear implant's remote control to adjust my processor to a setting that improved the sound quality rather than reading the script scrolling across the box. Only a few months ago, I could understand only a fraction of what was being said in movies, no matter what program my processor was set to. Now that little black captioning box only made me feel secure. I really don't need it anymore. Of course, that's better!

I'm still deaf in one ear. And one ear is failing. A cochlear implant doesn't change that. But the CI is an amazing tool that simulates sound. It's only a tool, though. I am the craftsman that must make it work. Misunderstandings, missing parts of conversations, using the finely tuned settings of my remote, advocating for my needs -- these are all indicators that I am progressing and improving and learning. That is better than before.

I can hear. And I can understand. And I can participate in my life again. Isn't that better than being deaf, you ask?

For me, the answer is "Yes. Yes it is."

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