“If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?”
Which led to an answer of, “Get a cochlear implant!”
Turns out my deepest desire was also my deepest fear.
It has been FIVE years since my implant has been turned on. I don’t usually get emotional over things like this, but it truly has been a journey. It was a long and arduous process of deciding what I needed the most in my life. I have had a hearing loss since infancy and wore hearing aids into my twenties. I received a high school diploma, an undergraduate degree, and a doctorate degree. And I worked my butt off. I was first introduced to cochlear implants in my undergraduate days, but never once did it cross my mind that I would be a candidate for something like that. The implant was for people who couldn’t’ hear at all. It was the “miracle implant”.
Little did I know, my career path and personal path slowly became one. I began to learn more and gain experience through my job at the House Research Institute where the OG resided. House introduced me to a whole new world of miracles happening. I knew from then on, working with children with hearing loss was what I was meant to do.
I was accepted to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I met the people who are partially responsible for changing my life and giving me the opportunity to accomplish my dreams. My first advising session was with a (fabulous) audiologist who wore a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. After a casual conversation of how things were going, how I liked North Carolina, and how the transition was going she asked, “Have you ever thought about getting a cochlear implant?” My immediate response was, no. No, I never thought of getting an implant, no I didn’t think I needed an implant, no because I do just fine with my hearing aids! I left that session feeling somewhat uncomfortable. But, I knew it was coming from a good place.
The days trickled on, the material got harder. I used my FM system, note-taker(s), and roommate to help me with the intense material. I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on until slowly people I became close with pointed it out to me. I was meeting new people everyday and reading their lips to be sure I understood everything they said so I wouldn’t miss a word. I was struggling and exhausted at the end of classes and clinic.
I began working as an assistant for the CCCDP (pediatric CI center) and my boss never missed a chance to introduce the idea of getting a cochlear implant. She too was coming from the goodness of her heart. To get people to stop asking I eventually said I would get one in 5 years, possibly when I have kids.
Next chapter, fourth year externship at House: My chance to have my very own patients and caseload excited me. I felt ready. Well, due to unfortunate circumstances we had to jump ship. We moved to USC and developed a brand new pediatric audiology clinic. There was a time where things were slow and we had a lot of time to think. More and more people were inquiring about my thoughts on an implant. I finally decided the timing couldn’t be more perfect. I had an amazing support group and one of the best surgeons in the nation at my disposal. Why would I wait until I have kids? The time is now or as some would say, “there is no time like the present!” I decided to go for it.
I recorded videos of myself during the process and looking back on them I looked surprisingly calm, but internally nervous. Though I knew everything would be okay, I was mostly afraid of the surgery and the risks involved. I eventually realized the benefits would outweigh the risks. I had to stop asking “what-if” and trust that everything would work out.
On February 20, 2014, I had the cochlear implant surgery and 3 weeks later on March 13, 2014 I had my initial activation. I had low expectations for my activation. I knew things would sound funny and I would hear beeps and whistles before I could hear speech. I put a lot of work into the therapy portion and wore my implant alone often to ensure that I would get the most benefit out of the device. I can tell you all today that after five years of listening with my cochlear implant, I went from 20% word understanding to 88% word understanding! Those closest to me comment on my improved performance. They say I respond a little quicker, I can hear them in the other room, and I don’t always have to rely on speech reading!
The cochlear implant has given me so many opportunities on so many different levels and I truly cannot wait to see what this crazy journey has in store for the future. I hope to share my journey to inspire others. Fear is a crippling thing and can get in the way of a great opportunity. I hope you can use this experience to move yourself in a way you never thought possible. Thank you to all of my supporters and superHEARos. You know who you are!