Pre-Op Thoughts

I was as surprised when she said that she wanted to go see an audiologist about a cochlear implant. She had turned the operation down twice: once when she was little and another time during college. She just wasn’t ready for it, and maybe the technology wasn’t quite ready for her either.

Like most of the hearing world, I didn’t know what a cochlear implant (or “CI”) was before I met Lindsay. A device that simulates hearing in deaf or hard to hear people. A “bionic ear”. I just knew that she didn’t want one. She remembered a classmate getting one, and not liking it. Invasive, and scary. But she wanted me to watch the fascinating movie Sound and Fury, about a two brothers, one deaf with deaf children, and one hearing with deaf children, that become estranged over the subject of cochlear implanting.

After the movie, which is neither pro-or-con CI, I read up on the device. There are some excellent books on the subject, and particularly the subject of getting implanted later in life. Here’s one. And here is another. They give fairly honest and unbiased views. I also read Oliver Sack’s amazing book about deaf culture and the importance of sign language (and of language, in general), Seeing Voices.

We would talk about it, a little. About why she hadn’t wanted to get one, and whether she would ever consider it. Those conversations were a little uncomfortable for me; I had to be as careful as I could not to sound like I wanted her to have one, even if a part of me did. If she was more involved in a deaf community, if she was fluent in sign language and preferred to communicate with it, I’d be learning ASL now, and she probably wouldn’t be considering a CI. But Lindsay does not have many deaf friends. She has always been assimilated into a hearing world. For the most part she is fine with that situation, and we are definitely fine with her. She accepts that she’s handicapped, but it is rarely an issue in today’s world of texting and closed-captioning. As she says: “It’s a great time to be deaf!”.

Every once and a while, though, it hits her. Very rarely. But sometimes I find myself consoling someone that is in-between worlds: not a part of a Deaf community by choice, but not completely able to be a part of the hearing world, either. After spending hours trying to call a government agency using TTY, or when trying to follow toasts at a wedding and finding it impossible, or having to constantly ask what people are talking about at a dinner party. And I’m always surprised when she needs a shoulder to cry on in these situations.

These are rare times that she feels this intense frustration at a world that she can’t fully experience due to her handicap. And they are the only times that I have wished that she could hear. And that is the truth. Because even though Lindsay does not choose to be a part of a Deaf culture, I know that her deafness is a large part of who she is. It defines her as much as being from Chicago defines her, as much as having a sense of humor defines her, as much as being a beautiful brunette does. And, in the way that all of those things fade into the biological makeup of one’s personality, I don’t look at her and think “I have a deaf wife.”

This cochlear implant will not magically make all of these frustrations go away. Neither of us believe that. She will most likely always have to rely on reading lips to communicate. There is no promise that she’ll be able to talk on the phone. But if she works at it, there is a chance that she could improve her speech recognition – hearing and understanding words without reading someone’s lips – by 50%. She might, with practice, be able to enjoy music more. And if it can make her life a little easier, if it can take some frustration away, it’s worth a try.

She’s a perfect candidate. Her brain may remember some sounds that she heard at a very early age. She is young and very intelligent. But more than anything, she is a determined person that works very hard, and has a hunger for learning new things. She is the most positive person I have ever met. She can do anything she sets her mind to do, and she does it well.

This blog is a chronicle of the experience of being implanted with a cochlear implant, from two sides: hers and mine. I hope it helps anyone thinking about getting a cochlear implant, and anyone that is in love with someone thinking about it, too.


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