‘’Could you speak a little louder please?” I ask.
“Would you repeat that sentence, please?” I ask.
“What are you, deaf or something?” They’d ask.
Yes, I am deaf, I said to myself, but have been able to disguise it.
I was not born deaf. I was considered hard-of-hearing at a very young age when teachers first noticed my disability. I did not get a hearing aid until my senior year in high school, when my drama teacher convinced me that to be on stage meant being able to hear the other actors as well. Hearing aids in both ears corrected my loss to some extent, and I made use of them as my hearing declined.
My first hearing aid was built into the temples of my glasses. This was clumsy, since taking off my glasses meant that my hearing aids came off too. Much improvement has been made with hearing aids so that an audiologist can program them for an individual’s specific loss and the aid itself is barely visible. UNCG is fortunate to have a Speech and Hearing Center that is available to everyone, for testing and making recommendations for various ear and speech deficits.
But what happens when hearing aids no longer work? My hearing tests showed significant decline in my ability to hear speech and other sounds. I found myself depending on lip reading or captions on movies or television.
Because my hearing aids was no longer strong enough on my “good ear” (right side), my doctor and my audiologist, Dr. Amy Myers, began exploring with me about getting a cochlear implant for my totally deaf ear in 2022. My diagnosis then was for “single-side deafness” with the goal being to restore sound in my left ear.
The whole idea that you’re not hearing is scary in many ways. And the left ear had not registered sound for over 60 years.
There are several stages to the process of getting an implant, but the initial stage is to research for an audiologist and doctor to work with. I was fortune enough to have the Speech and Hearing Center to guide me through this stage.
After determining I qualified, I had to meet with a cochlear implant surgeon for further medical evaluation and schedule an operation for the implantable part of the device. I also needed to allow for recovery time. This is different for each individual.
My experience with the operation in August 2023 was very positive, particularly with respect to the potential pain. I woke up with no pain at all and did not use the pain meds that I was sent home with. I did however have some dizziness and an episode of vertigo for a few days, and temporary balance problems — your balance lives in your inner ear.
Not everyone who gets an implant will experience this. I get help with my balance with a physical therapist. And I was upset that I could not wash my hair for several days.
Four weeks after my operation I visited both my ear doctor and Dr. Myers. That is when the exterior part of the cochlear implant, called the sound processor was programmed. The sound unit, which is about the size of a quarter, was activated.
I did not immediately hear voices as it will take a long time for my brain to recognize speech. For that to happen, I needed to wear my sound processor in a variety of situations.
You don’t know what you’re missing until you hear it. I heard the clicker on a car turn signal and didn’t know what it was.
I am most looking forward to hearing music, especially opera. I must play it so loudly right now that my husband doesn’t want to hear it.
Now I am working with my hairdresser to find a style that will cover the processor. I look forward to hearing speech with my cochlear implant.
Dr. Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater is a Professor Emeritus of UNCG. She taught rhetoric and composition in the Department of English.
Dr. Amy Myers is as AP Associate Professor in UNCG’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She specializes in diagnostic audiology; hearing aid fitting, dispensing, and consultation; as well as cochlear and middle ear implants.
The UNC Greensboro Speech and Hearing Center is open to the public and offers professional services for evaluation and treatment of speech, language, and hearing disorders to people of all ages.