It’s working but I’m not cured.


In November, I had cochlear implant surgery. Basically, this means that I have a mechanical ear. What you see on the back of my head is the receiver/processor that sends signals through the curved wire to the circular tab that holds a magnet that matches the magnet inside my head to which twenty-two electrodes are attached and threaded into my cochlea where they deliver sounds that become words when they hit my auditory nerve. If you want to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, you could know if you could see into my cochlea. It must be  festive in there with neon lights and synchronized swimmers. The artistry would be indescribable if it could be seen. Which it can’t. Only imagined.

The science of all this is extraordinary. The calibration of the electrodes to match exactly what I can and can’t hear takes a dozen keystrokes, interpretation of graphs, great study and adjustment. I sit quietly like a specimen under glass, being done to, and, oddly, at home with it.

Yesterday, I was notched up by the audiologist to emphasize higher tones; to decrease the presence of what I can’t hear well to increase what I can hear better. It’s a thin slicing of sounds I haven’t heard in years. But they are manufactured sounds. I don’t care. It’s the equivalent of a moon shot in my head and I am wise enough to be impressed and grateful.

So I travel the world now with this apparatus on my head.

I’m glad for this because it works. For example, my tested sentence comprehension has gone from 21% with my prior hearing aids to 87% with the cochlear implant. I hear people. It’s alarming. Particularly since I spent so long not hearing people and almost as long telling myself I didn’t care if I didn’t hear people. What was it they were saying that was so important anyway? Hadn’t I already heard it all? My brain learned to turn off, to detach from people’s talking; my brain told my mind to go in a different direction.

Now, if people are talking and I can hear them, I feel obligated to listen. It’s exhausting.

I say that like I was a bedridden patient given a new pair of sneakers and told to walk up and down the hall twenty times. Giving me sneakers is unjust and unfeeling. What I want is a new blanket, something soft, hand knit maybe, with rainbow colors. Feel sorry for me. And please, don’t expect anything of me. I’m deaf, after all. Cover me up.

Sometimes when a person is talking to me, I go away in my head to the old place where their words are cotton balls and Q-tips spilled on the floor, visible and puffy but inconsequential, fluffy litter, and I mentally shuffle through to my beautiful bed with the new rainbow blanket. And other times, I sit up straight and sharpen my pencil. I attend. I listen. I try. I leave the blanket in a heap on the floor. I become the person I used to be. It comes back to me in sentences and paragraphs. I used to be all there. I used to be in the middle of things. They saved me a place. I just need to take it.

So I rejoin. I am rejoining. But it isn’t automatic and it isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it seems a pretty long hall.