Road to Silence – Part II: High Tech Hearing

At 44 years of age, I was reading lips, and was not able to participate in group conversations, talk on the telephone, and hear music among other things. When Lady Gaga’s song “Poker Face” came out, I thought she was singing, “Cherry Pie.” I started putting on the closed captioning for the television, (talk about driving your family crazy), and communicated with family and friends either with text messaging or email.  My husband acted as liason for doctor appointments which required phone use.

I became my own island. Communicating with people was frustrating – not only for me but for them as well. I had to teach my family to talk directly at me and not while they were walking away from me so I could read their lips to understand what they were saying. I still had hearing aids at this point, but the problem wasn’t hearing what they were saying. It was understanding what they were saying.

After seeing several ENT doctors, who claim it was Meniere’s Disease again, I simply wouldn’t accept that as an answer. This time it was different. The symptoms were different. How I felt and had to alter my life because of what’s happened had never occurred with previous Meniere’s attacks. So, I was given the name of a hearing specialist at the Chicago Ear Institute, Dr. Robert Battista.

While waiting in his office, I saw a pamphlet on Cochlear Implants. While reading who a prime candidate would be, I could have sworn they were living in my home for the past several months and monitoring my every move. This was me. I needed these implants to start living a normal life again.

Super Simple! Get the surgery and move on. I’ve never been a window shopper and hate all this “lolly-gagging” along stuff. Let’s “Just Do It” like Nike says.

Not so fast….

Obtaining “candidacy” for cochlear devices is not as simple as it looks. Just because you have trouble hearing doesn’t give you a hall pass to get the surgery. For one, there are several hearing tests you must get and be deemed with at least a 60% hearing loss. My first test stated I didn’t meet the criteria (this was in October of 2008). You can imagine the dissappointment as I waited another couple of months until my next test in January of 2009, while all the while still sitting on my little secluded island and missing out on key conversations, driving my family nuts with the closed captioning on tv (as well as myself), and getting frustrated with the health insurance requirements.

Cochlear implants are a high tech way of hearing. Your natural ears just become ornaments to hold the devices in place and really serve no purpose physically since any hearing you did have prior to surgery would be “killed”.

Being a two part process, they have to drill holes in your skull to place a steel plate (the size of a quarter) in the side of your head just above your ear. Then, they make an incision behind your ear, kill the cochlear organ you were naturally born with, and replace it with the high tech cochlear device.

The external device, or processor, which sits (hangs) on the backside of your ear has microphones and can be programmed for several different types of noise situations.  These run on batteries that either can be rechargable or disposable. Disposable batteries last about 5 days before they need to be replaced. Rechargeable batteries last about 12 hours before they take a dump on you mid sentence and you need to replace them. (As you can see, I’m a disposable battery gal). The sound gets amplified thru a tethered device with a magnet which gets attached to the steel plate in your skull, and those “waves” of information get transmitted to your brain.  Thus, your brain now has to re-train itself on certain sounds you haven’t heard in awhile, or for people who were born deaf, the brain has to train itself on what these sounds are like.

Most people receive uni-lateral surgery (one ear). I had bi-lateral surgery (both ears). Why? Well, I could have done one ear and gone back in a few months to do the other, but I chose to get both done at one time (again, I’m not a window shopper – let’s “Just Do It”).  Additionally, I didn’t want the feeling of having to hear out of one ear while not being able to hear out of the other. Considering the vertigo problems I’d had in the past, this wasn’t an appealing option to me.

In January of 2009, I retested for candidacy and passed. Which meant that my health insurance would cover the surgery. Back in 2009, it cost $75,000 per ear. Cha ching!

On February 12, 2009, I had bi-lateral cochlear surgery, and it was definitely a life changing moment for me.  That’s me —–>

The shiner was right after surgery. About a day or two later BOTH eyes had nice blue/purplish shiners! Thankfully, I didn’t have a photoshoot that week! LOL

Read how my life changed forever post cochlear surgery in Part III – The New Normal.


3 thoughts on “Road to Silence – Part II: High Tech Hearing

  1. Wow, Nancy!!! I had no idea how heavy duty this was. I thought it was just something they stuck in your ear canal. It’s good that you published this to educate morons like me. Was the hearing loss part of the reason you left Tellabs… I mean was it too difficult to work with the hearing loss?

  2. Well, fortunately for me, I was still able to understand speech when I left Tellabs in April, 2008. Two months later, I started having the problem of understanding what people were saying, so I guess timing is everything, or else I would have had to quit no matter what. Stay tuned, Frank – there’s two more parts!

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