Welcome to CIHearu – Chronicles of a Bionic Woman! This is my journal / blog to relate my hearing loss and how I decided to pursue a Cochlear Implant (CI). There are a number of blogs dealing with this subject – and those that I have seen are very interesting. Some provide a wealth of technological information. Me – I’m not much of a techie. So, this is just my thoughts and my experience.
There were no childhood illnesses or trauma that would explain a major hearing loss. As a hearing impaired adult with no family history of deafness, it’s been a journey from the initial shock – “Hey! What do you mean? I can’t be going deaf! Do something!” To grief over the loss of something I always took for granted – the ability to communicate. And, more despair with each further progression. My audiograms began to look like a landslide.
I lost a big chunk of my hearing in my mid-20’s, and since then, my hearing loss has been progressive. It went from mild/moderate to moderate/severe to severe/profound — which is where I am now. At the time it started, I was about 27 and living in Hawaii. Oh Yeah! Life was good! I had joined the Air Force in 1975 with perfect hearing. I began to notice increasing difficulty in hearing sound – conversations, TV, telephone, music lyrics, PA announcements, etc. It began with mostly higher frequency sounds – which include consonants – making speech harder to understand. Since I was an active duty member of the AF, I always received good medical care. My hearing loss was recorded, specialists called and tests performed to rule out the scary stuff. They determined what it was not, but not what caused it. So, luckily, it wasn’t a brain tumor! Hey – it is what it is, but it sure would be nice to know. I initially spent time with the audiologist and ENT specialists at Tripler AMC in Honolulu for a lot of testing. Got my first pair of Hearing Aids there, and of course I hated the little buggers. Actually, they weren’t so little! In the early ’80’s they were big ol’ BTHs. Later when I was reassigned to Ellsworth AFB in SD I was seen by specialists in Denver. Interestingly, I went to a one week “Aural Rehab” at Walter Reed. There they taught the basics of speech reading – or lip-reading – and did more ENT testing to see if anything was missed in earlier tests. Also got to spend time with other hearing impaired military individuals. It was quite interesting, and a free trip to DC! I can’t complain that the AF didn’t try to figure this out and help me along the way. The help they provided was increasingly larger and stronger hearing aids. Since it was my goal to retire with 20 years, I never pursued a medical discharge. Instead, I just tried to stick it out and fly under the radar… not to create a situation that would bring attention to my lack of hearing. I became an expert at faking it, sometimes with disastrous and embarrassing results.
When I was reassigned from SD to Nevada; Nellis AFB sent me to the Navy Medical Center in San Diego twice a year to see the audi and continue ENT workups about every couple of years. I even had an MRI in about 1987, which was completely normal. After NV, I was assigned to Charleston AFB, SC in 1989. My audiology care while on active duty in SC was mostly at the Charleston Navy hospital. In 1990-91 I was deployed to Desert Storm / Desert Shield and lived in tent city, in very primitive field conditions. In retrospect, it was really unwise to be in a situation like that without the ability to hear and clearly understand communication, warnings, etc. Again, a lot of faking it!
Obviously a lot was happening in my personal life, besides being hearing impaired. I was divorced during my last year in Hawaii. Then I met, fell in love, and re-married Bruce – a wonderful man I met in SD. We will celebrate our 26th anniversary soon. We have enjoyed our lives together, and have a great time together. There are so many things in life that we share, and he has always been hugely supportive.
When I retired from active duty in 1997, the VA awarded me an 80% disability based on my hearing loss, and word discrimination scores – which are in the basement! So, all those years of testing, etc, paid off by having my hearing loss very well documented as it progressed. Not to mention all the free hearing aids over the years
So, now – as of late 2009, I’m a candidate for a Cochlear Implant – with a surgery date of 21 July 2010. I chose to be implanted with an Advanced Bionics device for a number of reasons, mainly because I think their technology is the best. They offer great customer service, and have an outstanding website which includes the Hearing Journey – an on-line source of information , support and fellowship for CI users, friends, family, and anyone seeking information. No one other than another hearing impaired person fully understands the feelings of isolation, depression, and frustration to be missing so much communication – it’s no exaggeration to say that I miss easily 80% of what is said in a group of people conversing, or in a noisy environment–even one-on-one in a quiet room is a challenge. I rely on my lip-reading skills for the majority of communication – and, that’s exhausting. So, that endless frustration and the feeling of always being left out – that affects almost every aspect of my life, is what is driving me into this journey
Deciding to consider an implant was a slow process. But my industrial strength hearing aids can no longer provide any additional benefit – I’m maxed out with these babies, so my audi suggested that I do some research on my own in mid 2009.
So, after what seemed like an endless process of research, appointments, approvals, and on-line support from my Hearing Journey buddies at Advanced Bionics – hear I am!