Journey to my Cochlear Implant

As I briefly stated in my About Me page, I was born with a severe-profound hearing loss in both ears. I received hearing aids when I was 2 1/2. From that moment on, I never wanted to take them off! I wore hearing aids ever since in both ears...

...Until July of 2010...

The World Changes: My husband and I had been in the process of packing to move to Tennessee all summer. I was sitting at our garage sale with a friend, when all of the sudden, I started hearing a ringing noise (a long drawn out rrrriiiiiiiinnnnnngggg). I turned to my friend and was like "What is that noise? Is something ringing around here?" She just looked at me with a perplexed expression and said "There's nothing ringing out here." I swore that I could hear some sort of ringing, so I proceeded to stand up to walk into my house. As I was walking, I was off balance (walking at an angle) and was hit with the worst headache! :( So, I spent the rest of the day curled up inside trying to get the ringing & headache to go away.

Thankfully the headache disappeared, but the ringing did not. It didn't take long to realize that the ringing was occurring in my left ear. I was super sensitive to sounds in that ear. It was very uncomfortable and only felt better when I did not have my hearing aid in (as it seemed to make the ringing worse). So then, I was down to only utilizing one hearing aid to help get me through everyday life. It was AWFUL! The doctor confirmed that it was Tinnitus and that there was nothing that could be done to fix the ringing.

When my husband and I got home after that appointment, I broke down and cried... I was so devastated that I had lost my ability to hear in that ear (as I would no longer be able to wear my hearing aid). This is when the topic of cochlear implants (CI) came up. So, my husband and I went in for a consult for CI's and after multiple tests, it was determined that I was indeed a candidate. However, as with any surgery, it is not guaranteed to be successful. Many people don't know that when a person gets a cochlear implant, it destroys what little hearing they have. So, if the surgery was not successful, I would be completely deaf in that ear. After much thought and discussion, I decided wasn't going to get a CI. I was determined to overcome this obstacle, just like I always had. And I best as I could...for a while...

Turning Point: Later that year, around the Christmas holiday, we were up visiting family in Ohio. Six of us were piled up in a van, driving around, doing some last minute gift card shopping. It was evening, so the light was low and disappearing. Earlier in the evening, we had all talked about going to APPLEBEE'S after we picked up a gift card from Texas Roadhouse. So, we pulled into Texas Roadhouse, parked, and everyone started to get out. I was so confused at why everyone was getting out when my sister was the only one that needed to go in to get her gift card. Everyone looked at me and said "We're eating here." I was like "When was that decided?! I thought we were going to APPLEBEE'S.." It was then explained to me that plans had been discussed and changed in the van while we were enroute. Now, I have always struggled to follow conversations in the car, especially at night, but I had NEVER been so completely oblivious to what was going on. It was another devastating event for me and the turning point that made me seriously consider getting a cochlear implant. 

I went back to the CI doctor to further discuss my options. I was concerned that the CI would do the same thing as my hearing aid did, which made my Tinnitus worse when it was on. I didn't want to go through the surgery, only to become super sensitive to sound again. He then proceeded to explain that there was a good chance that this would NOT happen as hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds (forcing sound through the ear), whereas with cochlear implant's, sound travels directly to the nerve. Again, he couldn't 100% guarantee that the surgery would be successful (which is true for any major surgery). In the end, I decided it was worth the risk and scheduled my CI surgery for October 2011.

Day of Surgery: My parents drove down from Ohio to be there for my surgery and recovery. (They are the BEST parents ever...I LOVE them so much!) It's hard to explain how I felt on that day. I wasn't really nervous about the actual surgery itself. I was more concerned with the fact that I always have thrown up from anesthesia in the past and I absolutely HATE puking! Haha...So, when they reviewed all of the possible dangers before they wheeled me into surgery (possibility of facial paralysis, change in taste, death, etc.), I was like " what are you going to do to help me not to puke when I wake up!?" My husband thought I was crazy and was teasing me that I was more concerned about puking than facial paralysis or even death. Haha! I told him that all surgery's have those risks that I cannot control, but if I can control whether or not I wake up throwing up...I am going to do so! :)

Needless to say, the surgery went well (No puking...YAY!). They tell you before surgery that you will be expected to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10. So, when I woke up and they asked me, I replied a 2-3. I mean, it was very minimal. Which surprised me, due to the experiences that I heard from friends who have CI's and stories I had read online. You may be thinking that it was only because of the pain meds from the surgery, but it stayed at that level or lower from that point on (and I never took another pain pill after I left the hospital). I've included a pic of what the incision looked like after surgery...They did a FANTASTIC job with the stitching...I apologize for the yucky iodine in my ear... :)
******W A R N I N G******Graphic Pic******W A R N I N G******

The incision site of my CI
Recovery: The recovery process went very well for me. I had no pain. (Just discomfort) Many people experience lost of balance, walking at angles, etc. I did not experience these side effects (Phew!) Mostly, I just felt really worn out and weak from the surgery. I did feel as though I was sitting in a boat in the middle of a really calm lake. Just a little floating/rocking sensation that was barely present. This lasted only about a week though. Nothing major at all. My parents and hubby took great care of me in those first few days of recovery and I couldn't have been more thankful! The worst thing about the recovery process was the fact that I had to take off a week of school. I absolutely hate missing school! My students were so concerned for me prior to my surgery (some of them have CI's themselves) and I knew they would worry every day that they did not see me... :( Luckily, I have a WONDERFUL assistant that did a good job at taking my spot for a week and kept the students updated on my progress while I recovered.

One of the best things about having dogs...they ALWAYS take care of you when you are sick or hurting. :)
Darla & Hank taking care of me...
Turning the CI on: Since I healed so well from the surgery, I was able to turn my CI on rather quickly (2 weeks later). I wasn't getting my hopes up because there was no guarantee that 1.) it would turn on; 2.) my Tinnitus wouldn't interfere. I was more nervous than excited... As it turns out, I was nervous for nothing! It turned on and I wasn't reacting sensitively to noises like I did with my hearing aid! The surgery was a SUCCESS! :) You may be curious as to what the first new sound I heard was ... clothes brushing on skin. This may be weird to say, but before I went to get my hearing tested with my CI, I had to use the bathroom. It was there that I noticed that clothes made noise when you pulled them down. I had no idea! WOW! This was the first of many new sounds that would open up to me...

I thought I would post my audiograms of what I hear with just my aid and what I hear with my CI & aid combined. Realize that I was born severe-profound loss, which means I hear NOTHING without aids. Also these are the audiograms of when my CI was first turned on. I have not gotten another recently and there is a possibility that it has improved as I've become accustomed to new sounds.
Hearing Aid Only (Moderate - Severe)
CI & HA (Primarily Mild)
Explanation of Hearing Loss Levels
Visual of Sounds Heard at Certain Levels
New World of Sound (Frequently Asked Questions):
  • What sound made you cry? MUSIC...I absolutely LOVE music. I always have. My mom owned a dance studio for many years, so I grew up dancing. But, I never truly HEARD music. (intricate melodies, especially higher pitched ones) I love to listen to guitars playing! I cried in Church one day when I first heard one of the women sing. It was amazing to truly be able to hear her beautiful voice. Also, she played a tambourine (which I could never hear before).
  • What is your favorite sound? The pitter-patter of my dogs' claws on the hardwood floor...I can hear them walking across the house, outside my door, etc. I never heard that before. I LOVE hearing them follow me around. I can also tell the difference between Darla and Hank's walk! :)
  • What aspect of your CI do you enjoy the most? Being able to hear my husband speak and respond from across the house... I can now hear when he is trying to get my attention from across the room or across the house without him having to frantically wave his hands or stomp on the ground to get my attention! Haha... It is so nice and is something that I truly enjoy being able to do now!
  • What are some new sounds you hear now that you didn't before?
    • Clothes on skin
    • Music
    • Pitter-Patter of dogs' claws on floor
    • Computer mouse clicking
    • Did you know that Library's are noisy?! I didn't realize how loud it was in a library. (Keyboards clacking, books scanner beeping, etc. Something I didn't hear before...)
    • Water in another room (toilet flushing/running, shower, faucet running)
    • Water boiling (I no longer have to constantly look at the pot to see if it's steaming, I can hear it now!)
    • Birds chirping / wings fluttering
    • My name being called from behind me
    • Breathing 
    • Recognizing student voices when turned towards the board (They no longer can get away with what they did before! :)
    • A flower rolling along the concrete floor
    • Dogs smacking their lips
    • And so much more...
I am so happy with my decision to get my CI! It has been a blessing that I thank God for everyday! It has truly opened the world up even more for me... :) 

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