Cochlear Implants Are Miraculous and Maddening

Summarized by Alyssa Smith, staff writer

In “Cochlear Implants Are Miraculous and Maddening,” Katherine Bouton shares her experience with her cochlear implant while also offering general insight and advice about the device. Bouton’s cochlear implant, which is approximately the size of two quarters side by side, was put under the skin two inches above her left ear. The surgery, done on an outpatient basis, involves drilling through the petrous bone and lining up the electrodes with the proper neurons in the cochlea. Bouton remembers the tenderness behind her ear and in the area of the implant on the skull immediately after the surgery; she expresses the anxiety that many patients feel as they wait for their implants to be turned on. Many times, the moment proves to be disappointing, no matter how low the expectations are. However, soon the unfamiliar noise becomes recognizable sound. Bouton has had mixed success with her implant. The auditory neural pathways in her left ear are being asked to function in a different way than before which requires some adapting. She still relies heavily on her hearing aid in her right ear and struggles with vowel sounds.

The first three months after turning a cochlear implant on are essential and should be filled with some kind of rehabilitative work. Bouton admits that the timing of her implant was not ideal. She wore the implant, but a tumultuous personal and professional period prevented her from making a great effort to train herself to hear with it. For several months, Bouton struggled to keep the implant on her head; the earpiece would often slip off and take the magnet with it. Acknowledging the device was also difficult for Bouton, and she would often try to hide it. She has to work hard to hear, and she must practice hearing and listening. While her journey has not been easy, Bouton is confident that technology will advance and someday come close to copying the human ear. As she says, “It’s a good time to be deaf.”

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