Cochlear Implant brings Sounds, but no Aha! Moment
Cochlear implant surgery, which repairs partially or completely lost hearing, has become nothing short of miraculous. Touching YouTube videos documenting patients hearing for the first time have gone viral. Who has not seen the baby hearing his mother’s voice for the first time? Or the young woman who was brought to tears by the sounds of a doctor’s office, a nurse’s conversation, and her own response? That very woman was featured on the Ellen show and spoke about her experience with her first days hearing the world around her. However, is it possible that these miracles are too good to be true?
Glamorized stories have spoken to many in the deaf and hard of hearing community, inspiring them to undergo the procedure. This included a 44 year old Floridian named Mike Gray. Gray was tired of being held back by his hearing in his career and social life, missing the jokes told in the office, especially those about him. After a lifetime of feeling like he was one step behind in school, work, and socially, he felt the surgery would present the opportunity to finally become the best version of himself.
Despite the risks, Gray’s procedure was successful. On the day when his implants were to be activated, Gray was thrilled. He was prepared to join the community whose lives were changed by the surgery, whose reactions touched those around him. But when the moment came, and his wife expressed her love for him, he could not understand the words.
Gray was forewarned that these popular YouTube videos of patients hearing and perfectly understanding conversations were rare occurrences. It typically takes some time for patients to adjust to the surgery and as Gray listened to his doctor repeat this explanation post activation, he felt frustrated. Gray had struggled in school for his entire life because, in an effort to allow him to be “normal,” he was never entered into a program where the deaf and hard of hearing were taken into consideration. As a result, he did not learn sign language, he did not interact with other deaf children, when teachers turned their back, but continued to teach, he could not understand them; thus contributing to a lack of interest. The same continued when he entered the work force. When he was finally able to land a good job at the glass factory where he currently resides, his struggles lay with jokes, accents, and company meetings where the conversation darted about the room. Reading lips was an endless effort that did not always result in accuracy.
Gray grew tired of the constant struggle and was eager to reconcile with the faces of YouTube. After the activation, he encountered disappointment and frustration. He had to continuously ask others to repeat themselves and commented that the world was too loud, resorting to turning the implant off after the first couple of hours.
Overtime, understanding did improve. Gray began to hear things more clearly, becoming more accustomed to the level of sound the world emitted, albeit slowly. In the beginning, he “was like a newborn that couldn’t distinguish a man’s voice from a dog’s bark.” Finally, Gray came to the realization that learning to hear and understand “was meant to be a process […] not a moment” (Cox, Tampa Bay Times). With a newfound optimism, Gray received his second cochlear implant surgery and has since progressed immensely from the activation of his first implant.
Cochlear implant surgery is risky and although the results may not be immediate, the opportunity to improve hearing ability can still be considered a miracle.
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