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Receiving Cochlear Implants: An Interview


I recently blogged about my sister surprising us at Christmas with news of receiving cochlear implants [2] after living over 43 years in silence.

I am very pleased that she has graciously agreed to an interview which I am posting here. (I have done some slight editing to allow for the difference in the rules of grammar in American Sign Language [3] and spoken English.)

You have been profoundly deaf since birth. What does that mean? Did you have any hearing in either ear before the surgery?

Partially or completely lacking in the sense of hearing. Before surgery I lacked complete hearing without hearing devices.

Did the doctor describe any risks associated with the surgery?

Yes. There are a few risks, life-threatening as a matter of fact. My Doctor highly suggested I have a meningitis vaccine a month before surgery which I did. Other than that, infections and some considerable pain in the swollen area.

How did you find out about the surgery? What convinced you to try it?

My husband and I found out about cochlear implants at the Portland Deaf Expo in Oregon. There were associates of the different devices available and some helpful material to take home. We continued researching cochlear implants information with full details. Also, my husband found the movie "Hear and Now" and took me there as a surprise for me. The movie reached my heart and I made the decision. I told my husband that I was ready to have cochlear implant devices. I just decided it's time I hear everything hearing people do.

Describe how the doctor installed the device in your head. How long did the surgery take? How long was the recovery?

The actual surgery took less than two hours. First, there is a spiral-shaped cavity forming a division of the internal ear. For hearing people these vibratory strands vibrate, however not so for the deaf. A cochlear implant is done by incision to the skull behind and around the ear, exposing the skull. A miniature hole is then drilled in the skull to allow passage of a snake-like spiral miniature wire. The wire is equipped with 22 different electrodes and frequencies. A very flat device with a small battery is inserted over the skull and connected wire. The incision is then closed and the healing process takes place, full recovery being 6 months to a full year or more.

Were you nervous to have the cochlear implant activated? What were you anticipating? What were you fearing?

Yes, I was nervous to have the cochlear implant activated because the cochlear implant therapist warned me about possible shock when the cochlear is activated and be prepared. I didn't know what to anticipate and I was not sure about it.

What was most surprising about hearing for the first time?

The most surprising thing I heard was my own breath which I was not aware I would be able to hear my own breath. There have been more surprises. I learned that pencils make noise during writing on the paper. Afterward, I learned a lot more of the soft sounds and I am asking my husband, "Where does the sound come from?" and he's teaching me where the sound does come from. It is so amazing what I have learned! A lot of soft sounds! Also my ear is very sensitive. Some soft sounds are too loud for me.

Did people's voices sound like you expected them to? What surprised you about voices?

Well, when I used my regular hearing aid, all I knew was people's voices are the same. But when I got cochlear implant device, I learned those people's voices are very different! They have an accent of their own. Of course, I knew people do have their own accent but didn't hear their own accent with my regular hearing aid until new cochlear implant device and it's a big difference!

You have said you don't like the sound crows make. What other sounds do you find annoying or bothersome?

Of course, I still dislike the sound crows make. It drives me nuts, ha ha. And also when my oldest stepdaughter was cooking bacon and when I walked in between kitchen and dining room, I heard the sound bacon makes and I didn't realize it was the sizzle. It sounded way too loud. At first I was searching where that sound comes from and my two stepdaughters were helping me find where the sound came from. They said "Oh the dog" and I said "No, it's not from the dog." Then they asked, "What do you hear?" and I told them I hear the sound like machine, like "zzzzz" or something. My other stepdaughter knew what I was talking about and she answered to me "Oh! It's bacon! Ashley is cooking now." Then I said, "Wow! That was so loud! I heard it and it made me nervous." Then, I took my cochlear implant device off and I was very surprised that bacon makes noise. I now know I dislike that sound.

You have said piano music is beautiful. What other instruments have you heard and enjoyed?

Of course, I have heard piano with my regular hearing aid and I knew that piano has a very musical sound. Now that I have cochlear implant device, I can hear the sound piano tunes make. I like most to hear piano without singing. It makes me feel more calm, peaceful as thinking of God in my heart.

What are your therapy sessions like? How long will you continue therapy?

Well, I have appointments for therapy sessions to increase volumes of my cochlear implant programming and give my brain a chance to gather all the sounds which my brain has not heard. It has been sleeping 43 years. Cochlear implant devices have volumes beginning with low soft sounds. We slowly increase the volume "step by step" (but I would saying "baby steps"). I will continue learning through the therapy sessions and my husband and kids and others are continuing to help me when I ask what the sound comes from. I believe that I will continue therapy at least a year because my cochlear implant devices still have more programs of volumes. My therapy has a computer system for my cochlear implant device to increase the volume. Plus the computer system could tell how much my brain improves recognizing the sounds.

Feel free to ask any more questions.

Thank you, Shellie! We are all rejoicing over your new discoveries!