My hearing loss started at birth, remaining mild enough for me to acquire a good language base by not hindering speech development until around 4 or 5 when children learn to pronounce their L’s and R’s. I attended regular public school classrooms without special education or technology support. In spite of hearing loss, I began studying the violin with a passion at age 8. At 17, with the encouragement of a kind English teacher, I got my first hearing aids, and speech therapy that eventually would allow me to say my own name, without having to spell it. I was a good imitator and kept up with the activities around me. However I basically grew up in isolation, not being able to hear my peers well enough to communicate. My violin, that was loud enough under my chin, was my best friend.
I developed into an excellent violinist, and followed my dream to be college music instructor, and performer. However, shortly after my senior recital and achieving a Bachelor of Music, my violin was silenced. Wearing a powerful body hearing aid, I stood in the back of the auditorium, hearing only the drums from the full orchestra, with which I had recently performed.
I stumbled personally and academically. After a Master’s Degree and Education Certification, I finally found my place working with children, who had multi-disabilities. Even with my profound hearing loss, I could function well. Then 12 years into teaching, the sound I needed to lip-read easily, was disappearing. I had to make some serious choices.
At the second SHHH (now Hearing Loss Association of America) national convention, of July 1986 in Palo Alto, California I met 3 deaf people with cochlear implants who were communicating with ease. Next I had hearing, psychological, intellectual and physical evaluations, and finally a long wait while the ethics committee determined whether I was an acceptable CI candidate. May 1, 1987, I became one of 3,000 people in the world to receive the Cochlear Implant.
On my activation day, my first sounds were awareness of birds, rain, footsteps, rustling leaves, and ticking clocks. I found that everything that moved made a sound, in addition to many things that I couldn’t see moving. I explored my world with the wonder of a child, looking for new sounds and trying to decipher them, because in the beginning everything sounded like a cage full of squawking parakeets.
Gradually I began to sort out speech sounds from the noise I was hearing. I began hearing the sounds that are visually missing from lip reading, making communication much easier. Hope of remaining a teacher began.
As time passed, I started to hear segments of broadcasts on the radio, particularly weather reports. I was working hard, listening to children’s books on tape, over and over, as I tried to follow along in the book. Repeatedly I had to start the tape over as I would get lost and couldn’t find my place. Then gradually I was able to find my place, even after getting lost. Finally I began to hear the stories without the help of the books.
Music comprehension for me was similar to speech. At first all I could decipher was simple children’s songs, or the rhythm and sound quality from instruments like solo classical guitar, piano, flute, or clarinet. There was no melody or lyrics, and the harmony was out of focus. Like with speech, I listened to music, starting with very simple working to more complex. I listened over and over and over, even when it didn’t make much sense to me. Harmony gradually came into focus and occasionally the melody peeked through.
I learned to use the telephone, with my brother’s patient help. We started out with TDD conversations, and after I was familiar with the topic, I put the phone to my ear and my brother said a sentence or two. The first few times I used the phone, sweat would run down my face and my hands would shake, as I struggle to hear and understand, through that forbidding phone receiver. Patience and practice brought slow understanding which gradually became functional conversation. Within months after activation, I was able to use the phone at school where I could converse with parents about the needs of their children.
My hearing experience has gradually broadened over the years with practice and new technology. Upgrades from the WSP, to the Mini, to the Spectra all brought new hearing experiences. I ventured into music. The church bell choir needed a ringer; would I be willing? Sure why not! Thus began a brief return to performance. I worked my way through simple compositions on a piano, which I purchased from end of season closeouts at the Interlocken National Music Camp where I studied as a child.
With these successes with music, I got braver, and pulled my violin out of its case. I needed an electronic turner to tighten the strings appropriately, but after over 20 years of silence, it sang again. I shared it with my church congregation, and students. I even played in orchestra again. However my return to music performance was to be brief, as the rare form of Muscular Dystrophy that robbed me of my hearing, had started affecting my muscles. But in trade for the ability to perform, I was given the gift to hear and enjoy music better than I have ever heard it in my life, even during my active performance years.
In 2000, I needed an MRI done, and my first implant was not MRI compatible. I was upgraded at that time from N22 to the N24 contour, which is MRI compatible, and the SPrint processor. Even though I couldn’t play much anymore due to muscle weakness, I played my violin for my audiologist the first day of activation with my new implant. It took me a couple of weeks to get use to the new implant and ACE program that seemed to serve me better than the SPEAK program I used with the N22. In a short time, I began hearing well with my CI again.
To my amazement, even though my CI allowed me to function in the hearing world and enjoy more sounds than I could possibly dream, it also became better in another unexpected ways. After 30 years of being attached to hearing technology via a cord, it was cut when I received my first BTE, the 3G, giving me freedom of movement. Also, the 3G t-coil enhanced my hearing with assistive technology, without being bound by direct connect cords. My husband installed a loop throughout the whole house giving me the freedom to hear music, TV and radio without losing anything from distance, or environment sound. It gave me the freedom to work and listen at the same time. I use to have to choose between projects involving the use of my eyes, such as computer work, sewing, cooking, etc, and talking with other people or watching TV. Now I have the freedom to enjoy participating in two things at once.
A couple of months ago I got my Freedom processor upgrade. I hear more sounds and, understand from greater distances. Music seems to come directly from heaven. I wear my Freedom into the YMCA pool area where I swim twice a week, removing it only to swim under water. I no longer have to take it off to protect it from moisture, plunging me into deafness from the time I reach the locker room until after my hair is dry again after my swim. I enjoy chatting with friends that I made at the pool.
I can’t imagine where my CI will take me in the future, but for 19 years 8 months it has never stopped expanding and becoming more beautiful.
Ruth Fox, January 2007