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A Patient’s Story about Hearing Loss and the Cochlear Implant

[Getting a cochlear implant can be a life-changing event for many patients. Once in a while a patient will describe their feelings and emotions, and it expresses the experience of many patients. In this story, one of my patients, whom we implanted with the Nucleus 22 implant in 1995, tells her story. I have re-printed the letter that she sent me with her permission. Dr. S. Bhansali]

Part 1 – written in 1995

I finally wrote it all down, and I wanted to share it with a few special friends (that’s you).

When I was 12 years old, my hearing impairment surfaced, and my parents frantically made the rounds of all the ear, nose and throat specialists in Atlanta. They all agreed I was suffering from nerve deafness in both ears, would eventually need hearing aids, and quite possibly would become completely deaf.

It happened just like they said it would; however, they couldn’t even guess at a time-table for all these events to occur in my life. It actually took 35 years for me to lose it all.

I started wearing one hearing aid in March just before graduation in 1966. In September of that same year, I got a second aid for the other ear. By the time I was 25, I could no longer understand voices on the telephone, TV, radio, or in person. I automatically started reading lips (I believe God helps us compensate for lost senses). I learned American Sign Language and began teaching it to others (school, work, family and friends). I had an interpreter at church, in college, and at work. Mind you, I could still speak normally but I couldn’t hear clear speech from others. Actually, it was “others” who needed to learn to sign, not me.

Fast forward to 1995 – I was experiencing slight, but frequent, dizziness and picked an ear, nose and throat specialist out of my PPO insurance directory. There were many specialists in the group that I went to, but the one that I saw about the dizziness also was a cochlear implant surgeon. He talked to me, showed me a film about it w/success stories, and ran physical and psychological test on me to determine if I was a suitable implant patient. At that point, age 47, my hearing aids were useless because the nerve damage was profound. All tests came back normal (cochlea normally shaped, auditory nerve intact, brain still there!) Ha! Ha!

The microcomputer, a coil of 22 programmable electrodes was implanted in my cochlea. The electrodes simulate receiving the impulse that the nerve cells would normally respond to and forward that impulse to the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve doesn’t know the difference, so it works! After boring out some of the mastoid bone behind my right ear (in my hard head), a magnet serving as an FM receiver encased in silicone (oh, Mom! that’s what they make boobs out of!) was embedded in that little bone bed. Each electrode is programmed for a frequency range that I can tolerate (softest to loudest) by running a cable from my external speech processor to the audiologist’s PC The map of my range of hearing is stored on a floppy diskette in the doctor’s office (My gosh! I really am BIONIC). The speech processor runs by AA and AAA batteries (just what any man would want, a battery-operated woman), and is expensive to maintain, but definitely worth it!

The day they hooked up the outer parts (5 wks. after surgery) I made myself wear that thing until bedtime. I did not hear clear speech the first day, but I heard beeping noises that were extremely nerve wracking! Next night, watching the news, I actually heard a few words which got me really excited. That was in November before Thanksgiving week. Everyone at work was rotating my therapy lessons at break and lunch time, so I could learn to listen for words again. I had a great support group, and my family practiced with me when I began trying the telephone. By Christmas, I called my children (I’d never heard their voices on the phone before in their lives!) and friends I had not been able to call in about 25 years! It was wonderful!!!!

Within 3 months after surgery, my new hearing was tested. I had always joked with the audiologist that if she turned my audiogram upside down, it looked normal :-). The speech test was something I hadn’t been able to score above zero on since I was a teenager. With the cochlear implant, I scored 99 percent three months after surgery, and I was answering the phone at work for the first time ever. Even my surgeon was amazed at how fast I was progressing. I’m his guinea pig, too. I go once or twice a year to dinner meetings at hospitals and restaurants to speak to physicians and hearing health professionals with him.

After about 25 years of almost complete silence, I am able to hear music, TV, telephone, birds singing, babies crying (ugh) and laughing, my son playing his guitar, my daughter’s dog barking, and I don’t have to have an interpreter anymore. One problem, though, I feel like Rip Van Winkle, music-wise that is, because I still prefer 50’s and 60’s music. I do listen to some newer stuff sometimes. It has made a big difference in my life to put it mildly. My hearing with the implant is better, per the comparison of audiograms, than it was when I was 12!

Isn’t that a wonderful story? And it’s TRUE!

Part 2 – written in 2008

Wow! Where did the years go?! I have really been enjoying living in the “hearing world” since 1995. The cochlear implant on my right ear gave me hearing, and it’s been amazing! However, I am profoundly deaf in my left ear, too. It’s been 15 years since I’ve heard a peep out of my left ear and about 30 years since I’ve heard and understood speech. So…how do you resurrect the other deaf ear? Simple answer. Have another cochlear implant and become bilateral – YES!

Many insurance companies are now approving coverage for bilateral cochlear implants, so I am thankful that I was able to have successful surgery for the Freedom implant on February 13, 2008. It was outpatient surgery with a shorter recuperation period which has improved tremendously over my first implant surgery 12 years ago. Four weeks after implantation, my new Freedom processors (yes, one for each ear) were programmed. I have a Freedom processor, thanks to the continuing innovation from the Cochlear Corporation, for my old Nucleus 22 implanted ear as well as the same-type processor for my newly implanted ear.

The enhancements in the technology of the Freedom implant & processor are superb! I actually had no remembrance of surround sound, and I am learning to love living in stereo. The best thing is that speech is clearer and music is more melodious.

I have never regretted leaving my deaf life behind. This is the way to live – plugged in to all the sounds of life!

Part 3 – written in 2020

A 2020 update to my story you have on your website:
Thanks to the long term durability of my cochlear implants and Cochlear’s commitment to patients like me to provide upgrades in technology, I am celebrating 25 years of cochlear implant hearing. The Nucleus 7 streaming capability for smartphones allows me to hear a phone conversation, listen to music, podcasts and my church service.  I don’t have to hold the phone next to my ear to hear. The sound is crystal clear which means I can discern different musical instruments and understand speech and lyrics I’ve never heard before now. Hearing is amazing, gives me confidence and turned me back into an extrovert.

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