I'm confessing. It's yet another weekend where I spent as much of it as possible without my ears on. Unlike most people, it's not sci fi when I admit I can remove my ears. Some folks know about my cyborg or bionic status, but for those who don't, I had two bionic ears surgically implanted last June, and now I'm relearning the world as a noisy place.

Yes, I can hear! So well, that many people at work at my day job don't know that I was deaf for 30 years - they treat me like any other hearing person for the first time in my life, and hey, I like it! I even use the phone at work and experience a sense of triumph when I hang up and realize I heard everything that was said, and not only heard, but the other person didn't know they were talking to a Deaf person.

Because these ears are bionic, and when the batteries run down or the connectors fall off or I stick to some magnetic surface or if I just don't put them on in the morning -- then I'm Deaf again. Beyond Deaf, for any residual hearing I once had is now gone with these bionic ears. Some call them cochlear implants, but honestly, I don't see them that way and I hate the term. The cochlear is a little bitty place shaped like a periwinkle that also is a vestibular (balance) organ, and the implanted device is actually about three inches long with two cords and only the very end going into the cochlear. The rest of it is aligned from the inner ear outwards and upward about two inches above the ear to the magnetized connector implanted in the bones of the skull. Uh huh. It's round and about the size of a nickel. It matches the magnets in the round piece that sticks on the outside (but under my hair) and transmits sounds digitally like in a recording studio with synthesizers and sound processing adjusted by computer. It's taken over 28 hours so far to program the two. I insisted on two, it didn't make sense to me to go for one, get used to it, and then go through surgery all over again for the other side. Both ears were equally deaf, and unlike my brother, mom, cousin, and many friends who have one cochlear implant, I didn't want to lean and depend on only one side.

And oh boy, I'm glad I did! I'm glad I was stubborn about it, for it is like I remember hearing when I was a child (I began losing my hearing at age 7, was profoundly deaf by high school, and lived very successfully as a Deaf person in the Hearing World and thought I was functioning magnificently with my hearing aids until I actually got tested for this surgery and found out my hearing aids were not helping at all, my understanding of speech had completely flatlined. I had zero word discrimination/understanding. Ah! That was a shock! It was so bad, I started dreaming up a detective series where the audiologist is found murdered in that soundproof booth with the audio testing cd's on loop to play over and over and over again...


But sometimes, life just gets too noisy, or I need to focus, like when writing the book or otherwise on my computer. I find I turn them off to read undisturbed, because good gawd, the world is a noisy, intrusive (audibly) place! The many halloween parties we've stumbled into as parents of a first grader, then found me staggering in bewildered confusion, bombarded by so many noises in so many directions! I'd just have to escape, or... turn them off. I find when I need to focus entirely, I just can't leave them on.

And there are the times where I'm comfortable having some music on (oh is music the most incredibly unbelievably WONDERFUL experience, I can't describe, it's just... music! It's real! It's live!) and then my 7-years-old-next-Saturday son comes exuberantly through the door with "Mom!" and it's like a whole wall of sound crashing into me! I'm physically jarred! As he continues with his tale, and I'm hearing everything, but too much of everything, and I can't turn them down, so I nod and panic and turn them off! Then I notice he is using sign language with me out of habit, anyway, and I can relax again and listen with my eyes. After that initial exuberance, he usually calms down and makes more normal sounds, and then I can turn them on again and sit back and soak it all up, for this is the first time in his life and mine that I have heard him! And I'm hearing him painfully trying to pronounce words as he learns to read! Telling stories or getting excited about Halloween and counting the days until his birthday party! Singing! Even off tune! It's the most amazing thing!!!

Miracles can hurt sometimes, and they're not always perfect. I haven't forgotten the detective series idea, and when people are telling me to write about this, life as the bionic woman, I'm tempted, truly.

Life has become a lot of firsts! As a deaf person, I avoided going out to bars unless people there used sign language. At Bouchercon, we hit Rum Runners. At my agency's State Public Affairs Conference, I went out for the absolutely first time with a group of people I had just met, and no one signed, and I didn't need sign interpreters. It was so strange because I wasn't sure what to talk about, and when I could hear conversations around us, I felt embarrassed. Like, hey, I'm hearing EVERY detail of that lady's life and loves, and I don't know what to do or how to react, it's just downright embarrassing! And to be able to order something when the waittress lists the specials and to understand them - then be able to just order, without that sense of total incomprehension that it was like being Deaf. At work, I can overhear phone conversations in the adjoining workstations, and I feel embarrassed there, too, especially when I see these people afterwards. I can't help but listen in, for it's going to take years to fine-tune being able to hear and getting my brain to know what to filter out and what to listen to! I do the extremes - tune everyone out and miss everything - or focus and pick everything up and wish I wasn't getting most of it!

We had a satellite training session on Ethics - straight from the Washington DC area - and I just could not get over the fact I could sit there and understand everything being said! It was the most awesome feeling in the world and, though the discussion was on mandatory ethics training and most people in there looked completely beyond bored, I just soaked it all up and couldn't stop smiling and kept hearing all of the words in my head! I took notes, pages and pages of notes, for I could hear stuff to write down! I used to never be able to take notes, because I had to watch the person's face and body language, or the sign interpreters, so I just would jot down keywords for myself to refer to later. This time, I was scribbling away like it was the most absolutely fascinating training I'd ever had in my life.

I haven't stuck to anything much lately, just continue to forget and lean down to get things out of the freezer and suddenly my head latches on and the speech processor dangles off the door. I'm always worrying my processor is going to attach to something and I won't realize it and will lose it. My understanding is they cost about $28,000 U.S. dollars. Not sure how much that is in euros, but it's not pocket change.

I will be glad when this Halloween season is over, though... and am looking forward to awashing myself in the midst of the Anchorage Symphony on Halloween night, for it is completely immersing into the music, and this will be my first symphony and instrumental concert. The only equivalent I had was at Bouchercon and Mr. Whitekeys and his band at the Anthony Awards banquet was just too loud and too much noise, I couldn't hear the music! It overwhelmed everyone, and became something I had to tolerate instead of enjoy! Then I went to Pamyua, the Y'upik doowop group and their band. It was just the most awesome experience and their CD didn't replicate it -- nothing was like sitting there live and hearing the harmony, the individual instruments, the wonderful rhythm. And now I'll get to experience Rat-a-tat-a. I'm looking forward to it! And am so glad that when they give you your hearing back with these devices and surgery, they also let you take the processors off, because I think life, such as it is, is too noisy for the normal bionic ears.

Here's the Peace Corps Online and Anchorage Daily News stories:
Download Peace Corps Online | 2007.09.23_ September 23, 2007_ Headl...

Stay tuned.

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