Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow I become the Bionic woman, I join the CIborg collective, I get my first (hopefully not the only) cochlear implant. I won’t lie; I’m as nervous as H – E – double hockey sticks. I don’t like the idea of surgery to begin with, but the thought of having wires installed in my head is, frankly, kind of creepy. That being said, the chance to be able to hear again is a huge driving force for me.
So, what is a cochlear implant, you ask? To put it simply, it’s like prosthetic ears. It’s rather quite amazing in actuality. A cochlear implant is the only technology in existence at the moment that can functionally restore one of the 5 senses. What I find remarkable, is that this technology has been around since the 80’s! In fact, my cousin was one of the first to ever receive a CI. Back then, he had to wear the processor on his belt or in his pocket, like a Walkman (remember those?) and he had a wire connecting the processor to his headpiece. Now, they are so compact, most people won’t notice I’m wearing it. Oh, and by the way – I’m the last in my family to get a CI – two of my brothers have them (one is bimodal and one is bilateral) and 3 of my cousins are part of the CIBorg collective. I guess you could say it’s hereditary and my family has blazed the trail well for me to follow suit. I even chose the same brand of implant – Advanced Bionics.
The way it works is a microphone captures the sound and transmits it to the external processor (looks like a big hearing aid) which converts the sound into digitally coded signals. The headpiece (small magnetized external component) which is magnetically aligned over the implant, receives the signals from the processor and then rapidly sends the signals through the skin as radio waves to the implant. The implant receives the signals and interprets them and then sends a specialized pattern of electrical currents down through the electrical array into the cochlea where the implant emits it as electrical stimulation pulses to the nerve receptors (similar to the work of the tiny hairs in a person with normal hearing) in the cochlea.
I’ve been profoundly deaf for almost 4 months now. Totally deaf in my right ear with 110db hearing in my left, and let me tell you, that amount of hearing doesn’t do much. Without a hearing aid in my left ear, I hear nothing. With my hearing aid, I can hear some sounds and speech is likened to an episode of Charlie Brown when the teacher is talking. Prior to losing all my hearing in my right ear, I was classed as severe to profoundly deaf. I always struggled, but managed to get by. While I had to rely heavily on speech-reading (aka lip reading), I could still enjoy music and obviously hear things happening around me. Life is so much more different without sound.
It’s important to note that a cochlear implant does not cure deafness. I will always be deaf but the cochlear implant will allow me to hear again, as long as I wear the external processor. I may never gain the fully functional hearing of someone without hearing loss, but with a lot of practice and training, I hope to be able to carry on a conversation without lip reading, enjoy a movie without captions, talk on the phone, and maybe even enjoy music again! That hope is what inspires me to undergo the surgery.