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Cochlear Implant Hearing Loss Inspiration

Choosing cyborg

Yes, cyborg. A bionic human.

Technology has come so far so fast. The biggest obstacle I face, as a deaf person, is no longer a physical barrier. It’s the way that people respond to my deafness, the outdated way people respond to my deafness – pity, patronization, even anger – because that just cancels out the human connection that technology achieves.”

Rebecca Knill

“You are going to be a cyborg!” was the response from a friend when I told him about my upcoming cochlear implant surgery. I had to Google the term. Wikipedia informed me: “A cyborg, short for ‘cybernetic organism’… a being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts.”

I typed back, “Oh man, this sounds intense.”

I can remember watching Star Trek growing up. While I wasn’t deeply dedicated, I recall the robot-people combo characters and their powers and abilities. Coincidentally, my dad shared Rebecca Knill’s TED Talk with me this past week. More cyborg references. There must be something to this.

Rebecca offers a simple description of cochlear implant technology and a profound explanation of what it offers a deaf person. Perfectly, she uses the cyborg analogy to describe what is complicated about bionic hearing – electrodes, power sources, computer chips, the technology that rebuilds a person’s sense of hearing. I watched this TED Talk, then watched it with my girls (twice), then encouraged family to watch it. Her message is not only about creating understanding of what it is like to be deaf with technology-enabled hearing, her message is about the importance of shifting our mindsets and connecting as humans.

This video is well worth your 14 minutes.

Rebecca Knill
TED Talk, February 2020
How technology has changed what it’s like to be deaf

Rebecca talks about her decision to have CI surgery: “I just needed to stop that soul-sucking cycle of loss.” These words resonate with me in a deep and powerful way. I have felt this. My mom has talked about this too. Going from audiology appointment to audiology appointment, trying so hard to hear through the exams, only to find out you’re losing more and more – “soul-sucking.”

Cochlear implant technology offers hope from this cycle.

In 2004, Mom said…

I made the decision to get the cochlear implant; it was easy. As of that moment, I knew I could finally stop focusing on losing my hearing and start focusing on getting it back. The losing was over and the gaining began then. This felt like a huge burden lifted off my shoulders because I knew, at that time, that this was the worst my hearing would get and from that moment on it would only get better. 

This past December, at Jefferson Hospital, I went for my final CI evaluation appointment – a series of tests with and without my hearing aids. Both nervous and excited, I was fairly certain of the outcome.

As predicted, I failed my last set of tests, allowing me to become a candidate for cochlear implants in both ears. It may have been the first time that failure felt like a success. A relief. The end of losing and the beginning of gaining. The audiologists delivered the news with joy. They too understand this emotional transition. In a flurry of words, they explained the next steps, the timing, the choices for CI accessories, it started to move quick. Quietly, I took in this moment. This was the start of a new journey.

When I met with my surgeon that morning, he asked if I was ready to book a date to be implanted (sounds like something a cyborg would book). For my crew, deciding on a date (for anything) requires a complex scheduling matrix, so it was not going to happen that day. But I told him I would. I told him that after hearing the team’s determination, I asked myself, ‘how would you feel, right now, if they said you weren’t a candidate?’ And I answered to myself that I would be sad. Instead, hearing that I was a candidate, I felt hopeful. This feeling assures me that I am making the right choice.

So onto cyborg living, or living my best cyborg life. I have a journey of learning and growth ahead. Rebecca, if you’re reading this, your talk feels serendipitous. Thank you for allowing me to post it here, for your work educating people about CI technology, and for putting human connection first.

Let’s shift some mindsets.

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Cochlear Implant Family Hearing Loss

On bravery

You’re so brave.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

AA Milne

I love describing my children as brave. “That was a brave choice.” Or “You were afraid but did it anyway – good job being brave.” But in all the thinking and reading I do about helping my kids be brave (the book, Growing Up Brave, is an excellent and empowering parenting resource), I don’t think of myself as very brave.

I think about my choices as logical, necessary – sometimes they’re fun, sometimes they’re hard. To me, my choices seem essential but not profound. Linear and not courageous. My daily choices aren’t usually that exciting. I have made some uncertain professional choices that have pushed me out of my comfort zone, the kind of choices that make your heart beat a little faster and worry build up in your stomach. But I have been fortunate that they have led me towards good people and work. “Jump and the universe will catch you.” One of my most dear colleagues always said this when it was time to make a decision or try something new. She has always been right.

So when I started to tell people that I made the decision to get a cochlear implant this March and they said things like, “You’re so brave!” and, “What a courageous choice!” it stopped me in my tracks. Could this decision be more than a next step? Don’t get me wrong, my stomach and heart tell me this is a serious matter. I’ve just always thought of a cochlear implant as my next choice. Albeit daunting, it’s necessary, linear, logical.

In 2004, I asked my mom about people’s reactions to her decision to have CI surgery. When rereading my Mom’s words, she focused on this exact same theme.

People remarked, “Wow, you’re looking into that surgery! You’re so brave!” It’s funny because I just can’t see myself as that brave; once I learned about cochlear implants, it just seemed like something I should do. I never considered the surgery an option or a heroic choice. This was my responsibility. I had to have this surgery, as a mother, a wife, and a person who wanted to communicate and be there for all the people in my life. It was my choice to have four children and this was my opportunity to still be the most a mother could be. What was my other option? Learning sign language at 40 years old? Giving up on the way I had always communicated and on my role as a mom? I know parents are wonderful hearing or deaf; I grew up with the love and support of a deaf father. But a mother is different in some ways. You want to talk with your mom and she’s responsible for hearing her children. I always knew if the opportunity arose to better my hearing, it was my job to seize it. 

The parallel in our thinking gives me goosebumps. While I know this is not how everyone with profound hearing loss thinks about CI technology, my mom’s words capture my perspective.

I too crave all the hearing I can possibly acquire. My life is loud and messy with three small kids, a job, friends, the world around me and I want to hear every sound. I want to understand every sound. My hearing aids cannot create this clarity for me but a cochlear implant might. So for me, this is the next step in my pursuit of hearing. And I will credit myself with being brave; I am making a choice that makes me afraid, but doing it anyway.

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Cochlear Implant Family Hearing Loss Inspiration

My inspiration

My inspiration

Be around the light bringers, the magic makers, the world shifters, the game shakers. They challenge you, break you open, uplift and expand you. They don’t let you play small with your life. These heartbeats are your people. These people are YOUR tribe.

— Danielle Doby

Not one part of this journey would be possible without my people. They are my inspiration, my cheerleaders, and my champions. They are family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, mentors. Their words of encouragement and excitement weave through this narrative and I am grateful for their willingness to be a part of my story.

My Mom, Anne Marie, is by far my closest collaborator and brightest inspiration. As mentioned, this writing project began my senior year at Villanova University. My challenge was my honors senior thesis. When considering what I wanted to investigate and document, I knew I wanted to capture my Mom’s recent cochlear implant experience and her process of regaining hearing. With the support of my advisor and family, I wrote about each step in Mom’s cochlear implant process – the final stages of profound hearing loss, discovering CI technology, meeting her surgeon and audiology team, numerous evaluations, family interviews, being activated, relearning sounds, and her deep faith and sense of hope throughout. This story was fascinating, as the technology was so new and the impact so great.

Life doled out a major twist for me that year. Two months before completing my thesis, I experienced my first severe hearing drop and found myself face-to-face with audiograms, showing my own personal loss. How would this unexpected and uninvited challenge impact my project as intended? How could I write exclusively about my Mom, pretending that I was unaffected? Ultimately, I chose to weave my story into the narrative. These quick, sometimes underdeveloped excerpts capture the details of my first audiology appointments and my emotions and wonderings about the future. And now, I am so glad I made that choice.

Recently, I have found comfort in rereading my words and reflections. When I think back to 2004, I remember a college senior, somewhat shaken but with resolve to write and rewrite and find exactly the right words to describe Mom’s brave and bold choices. Mom was generous with what she shared and her wise words rise to the surface. Rereading now, I find myself highlighting passages, saving sentences to recall later. I captured them 16 years ago knowing I might need them one day and that day is here.

A few weeks ago, I sent this note to my immediate family, close friends, and trusted colleagues:

Before too much time passes, I wanted to share some news. Over the past few months, I have been pursuing a cochlear implant evaluation. Recent audiologist appointments made it clear that it was time to take this step. I have been working with the team at Jefferson Hospital and through Auntie Mary’s connections to Advanced Bionics – all have been informative, supportive, and caring. The CI technology is incredible and the Jefferson team, who embrace Advanced Bionics, lead the field. Right before Christmas, I found out I am a candidate for an implant because of my “clarity” (how clearly I can hear the speech of others around me in all types of situations). This past month has been a time for CT scans, blood work, brain MRIs, and general observation of and reflection on how challenging it is to hear in many situations, personal and professional.  

So I set a date for surgery – March 19th! This will be an exciting journey – thrilling, a little daunting, and hopefully some humorous moments as we go. I look forward to sharing information, progress, and opportunities for you to support my process, as I learn and experience more.

The love and support that has followed helps affirm my decision to have a cochlear implant and work towards better hearing. I have found that positivity encourages me to share more about the process and what it is like to work and live each day with significant hearing challenges. It makes me feel a little lighter, more hopeful, more excited. The excitement I have witnessed in response to my decision is not unlike what Mom recounted when we wrote her story:

“Beyond the enthusiasm in our home, as more and more friends and family found out about my plans for a cochlear implant, the excitement started to build.  Everyone I told seemed thrilled, I think because they sensed my enthusiasm.”

When I told my sister Shannon I was thinking of blogging through my cochlear implant experience and also looking back at some of the excerpts from my thesis, she responded, “you have to do that and I will contribute!” Thinking about this blog’s opening quote about surrounding yourself with people who “don’t let you play small with your life” I can see the impact of these people, my people. My Aunt Mary’s late night texts encouraging me to connect with Advanced Bionics. My sisters’ phone calls asking about my research, encouraging me to keep pursuing appointments. Tim leading the kids in a parade around the first floor of our house when I made the decision to schedule surgery. A best friend correcting me about not being able to hear something – “you can’t hear it NOW but not for long!” And Mom’s example of what it looks like to have the courage and faith to make this choice.

So here it goes. Surrounded by my “light bringers, magic makers, world shifters, game shakers,” I embark on this journey and project – to revisit the stories written, document my own experiences, and make meaning in the connections.

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Cochlear Implant Inspiration

Why a blog?

So, why am I writing this blog?

A few reasons…

  • Because people have questions. After telling people about my cochlear implant plans, many have questions about the procedure and process of regaining hearing. These inquires are not only from friends and family, who look to learn more and support me, but from people with personal hearing loss or have a loved one who struggles. They are looking for a next step.
  • Because there’s not much out there. There are a few blogs and many resources shared by hospitals and cochlear implant manufactuers. But when I went in search of someone’s personal story, it was hard to find.
  • Because I have a story to share. When I was a senior in college, I documented my mom’s cochlear implant journey. It was during that same time that I started to lose my hearing. Now, as I begin my cochlear implant process, I find comfort and hope rereading that story. I think others will too.
  • Because storytelling is important. I’m a counselor + writer. For me, writing = processing = growing