What of Silence

I can sneeze again. And finally blow my nose. I can pick up something heavier than a gallon of milk. Oh yes, and one more thing. Best of all I can also hear again. This last and best thing is thanks to the wonders of technology by way of a new cochlear implant. All the other things were just nuisances, my restrictions after the surgery. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve found you can wait out nuisances but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a lot harder to deal with obstacles that threaten your way of life.

I can now say that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve experienced hearing loss both gradually and all of a sudden. If I have a choice, quite frankly I prefer the former. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a whole lot more manageable in the long run, allowing you time to prepare and practice and think your way through coping with it. With the failure of my CI last month the loss came on like a gale force, and in fact sounded like one. A huge roaring, screaming wind that threatened to knock my head off if I dared to turn on my processor. There were no hints that something was up, at least not anything to make me believe that my miracle of hearing was about to come to an abrupt halt. I was simply going about my normal day when it suddenly sounded like a motor had been turned on which had no directional clues and kept on so unrelentingly that I silenced it by turning off my processor. When I turned it back on I knew that something was desperately wrong. The noise was no longer a motor but an unbearable screaming rage.

For approximately a week Dave and I mustered forces to deal with this new prospect in our lives. I found that if I weathered the screaming for a few minutes it toned down to a dull roar which I could withstand long enough for some conversation. I even managed to make a few phone calls to arrange an evaluation appointment with an audiologist in Dallas to see what the problem might be. For his part, Dave helped me stay positive with humor, patience and understanding. In the end we made our way to Chicago to meet with my doctor and audiologist as well as a representative from Med El, the manufacturer of my CI, to come to some conclusion about what was happening and what solutions might be available. All three agreed upon seeing me and hearing my descriptions of what was going on with my CI that it had failed and would need to be replaced.

I had always said years ago with my first CI that I would be fine no matter what happened with it. In my new reality of total deafness after receiving my replacement CI that resolution seemed a tad glib. While waiting for activation (that is, getting hooked up to your processor) during my first experience I still had the luxury of some hearing in my non-implanted ear and wore a hearing aid in it. So while my world seemed a little less clear, I still functioned pretty normally. I talked with people, went to work, stayed connected. This time I had no such assistance from my other ear. Its last vestiges of hearing gave way within a year of my first implant. I awaited my activation this time acutely aware of the difference and grieving the loss of my residual hearing as though deserted by a dear friend.

The silence in some ways seemed almost as unbearable as the screaming noise from the failed CI had been. Since Dave and his family, with whom we were staying during my recovery, know little sign language we were forced to communicate through lip reading and writing notes, neither of which prove very satisfactory in following a conversation. I also knew from living with my first CI that when it was turned off I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t speak very much. So during that week prior to activation I became not only deaf but also mute, speaking only when asked something or if I had a question. My world turned inward to a terrible degree. My disquiet at this sudden deafness was surprising given my earlier resolve. Evidently things weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t so neat and tidy after all. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s one thing to say you are fine with deafness but finding your way when thrust into it of a sudden feels like being in a rudderless boat. You are adrift without direction, your connection to the greater world cut from beneath you.

A friend asked if there were something good about the silence. For me there is if the silence is chosen. At night with my processor off I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have to endure snoring or dogs barking or other disquieting distractions. In the morning it is nice to go about my routine thinking my own thoughts, free to ease gradually into the noisy world. My week of enforced silence was an endurance test, or perhaps more so, a test of my will. I marveled at my friends who have gone into this silence and accepted it as their life. Most became proficient at sign language, but all have come out the other end as productive, happy people, at peace with where they are. Given time, no doubt that would also be me if I would have to go that route. To get there would require a considerable period of adjustments not only on my part but also that of my family and friends.

Today I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m experiencing the wonders of sound again. The voice of my husband, friends, family. I talk on the phone and listen to the shrill whistle of a morning bird who frequents our yard. I hear the call and response of lambs and their mothers grazing along the creek just below our casita in Alcocer, the rhythms of jazz on a radio station streamed over our computer. I shop and run errands, managing my transactions in broken Spanish. Life goes back to normal, but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s with a new perspective. That there are still new twists and turns in my journey of deafness which require adjustments and introspection as to my response to it. I value more the varied choices of my fellow travelers in surmounting the challenges of deafness that threaten to cut off the world. I realize more than ever that my reality is an existence split between silence and sound. And I know the price exacted to achieve a balance between the two. Peace is had not by mourning the loss but by embracing the life that is.

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