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Sharing Stories

Mary’s Story

Even though I was born deaf, I grew up orally.  I got my first hearing aids at the age of 6.  I was mainstreamed throughout all my years at school.  I went as far as getting 3 years of college.  I had hours and hours of speech and auditory training while I was growing up. I got married young when I thought I knew everything but out of that marriage, I had two beautiful kids who grew up to be great adults.  The marriage had gone by the wayside years before I had the implant.  When I got the implant, not only was it a big adjustment for me but for my kids who were 13 and 10 at the time.  I’m what the cochlear community called a prelingual deaf adult, meaning I was born deaf or became deaf before acquiring speech. 

I got my implant in January of 1988 and hooked up with the WSP exactly one month later.  I’ve had the WSP, MSP, Spectra, ESPrit 22 and now the 3G BTE for the 22 so I’ve used all of Cochlear America’s technologies for the Nucleus 22 user. That makes me feel so good knowing I have this company’s support while it continues to upgrade the technology with the Nucleus 24 and now the Freedom.  Cochlear does not forget me!  Also it will be 19 (NINETEEN) years coming up in January since I was implanted.  WOW!  I’m so blessed! 

The day I came home after I got hooked up, I was stunned to hear that the drapery rods, doors, etc. squeaked.  I asked the kids why they never said anything and their response was that they didn’t notice.  They thought it was normal to have such a squeaky house!  Believe me, that weekend I went around the house with a can of WD-40 and squirt every little squeak that I heard!  I must have gone back to the center every other week for re-mapping, as the map was too loud all of a sudden.  My brain was constantly learning new sounds and filing them away, making the old map obsolete.  

While I was undergoing the rehabilitation process, I had a great network support system of family and friends.  Family members would take turns reading to me from books, newspapers, anything that was handy and I would repeat verbatim.  My two best friends from high school called me up on the phone and practiced with me starting out with very simple questions and graduating to conversations about anything. And of course, with each upgrade in speech processors that I acquired came with a more sophisticated programming technology than the last.  That made understanding on the phones as well as the normal daily tasks a lot easier.   

A few months after hook-up, I was able to hear my 10 year-old son’s voice.  One day as Jake was talking to me, I realized I could hear his voice.  Jake’s voice was in the soft tone range that I could not hear before I had my implant, so I relied heavily on lip-reading.  When I heard his voice, I exclaimed, “Jake, I can hear your voice and it’s beautiful!”  Aw, shucks, Mom! 

I discovered that I could hear the kids talking behind my back.  It was my secret that I didn’t understand what they were saying, just that I could hear them talking.  I would turn around and ask them “What did you say?”  The shocked look on their faces was priceless!  Another time I was in the living room reading the paper, I heard this commotion coming from the family room.  I walked to the family room and saw that the kids were arguing.  I asked them, “What’s going on?”  Shocked, Jake said to his sister, Katie, “She heard us!”   I walked back to the living room and went out the front door into the yard and yelled at no one in particular, “Yes!”  Ah, sweet revenge! 

Later that same summer, I came home from work to find Katie who was 13 at the time crying her heart out.  I asked, “What was the matter?” and she said, “Mom, I never have any privacy any more.  I want you to go back to the hospital and have them take that thing out of your head!”  Fortunately I have a good sense of humor and so I smiled sweetly at her and said, “Honey, if you need privacy, you just go into your room and shut the door!”  Today she is happy that I never did go back to the hospital! 

Understanding on the phone got easier with each new upgrade in speech processors.  If it wasn’t for my friends and family, I would never touch that dreaded thing!  I went from talking to my friends and family to phoning in a refill prescription, calling the doctor’s office for an appointment or with a question, calling a bookstore to see if they have that particular book in stock, calling any store to see what time they close to determine if I have time to make a quick shopping trip before the store closes, etc.  I sometimes practice by calling up a movie theater and listening to the recording telling of movies being shown and the times.  If I wonder what really is happening on my on/off favorite soap, I would call up the soap opera updates. 

I love educating the telemarketers.  I will never understand why they tell me they will call back if I tell them they must speak slowly and clearly.   Do they think my hearing will improve by the time they call back?  When I get one of them who gives me that line, I ask that person how it will make any difference if he calls me back.  It always throws him for a loop when I ask him that.  The telemarketer will then proceed to give me his spiel stopping every so often asking if I understand.  I would respond affirmatively.  Then I hate to tell him no but thanks after all that hard work! 

Over time, it was neat to be able to hear the clerk at the checkout stand say to me, “Have a nice day!” with me not looking at her, and I would respond “Thanks, you too!”  Lip-reading wasn’t a strain anymore.  I still can’t understand conversations around me.  For example, at work, co-workers would talk to one another over their cubicle walls but I would only pick up a word here and there.  However, if one of them talks to me slowly and clearly from her cubicle, I usually get all of the words.  Even after 18 years of hearing, I occasionally hear a new sound.  I love listening to the robins, bluebirds and sparrows chirp but the magpies and the crows have got to go elsewhere.  After all this time, I still have trouble coping with crickets.  

I can hear the ice cream truck coming from a block away. This is a big thing with me because when I was a young girl and if one of my siblings failed to tell me that the ice cream truck was coming, I never got any ice cream.  Now I can run into the house and get my money and be waiting for the truck when it comes by.  I get lots of looks from the driver and especially the kids but this means a lot to me to be able to hear that ice cream truck! 

I still hear a new sound once in a blue moon.  Earlier this summer I was out front weeding the flower bed.  Pretty soon I realized I was hearing whistling.  I looked all around me trying to place the source, and finally decided it was the painter across the street and 2 houses down.  I walked over to verify that, and sure enough, when I got closer, I heard him.  I was so tickled! 

One of my goals was to be able to order food at a fast food drive thru.  I finally got brave enough probably 5 years ago.  It helps if you have an idea of a script for each type of menu item the person will be asking you over the PA system.  For example, if you’re ordering tacos, know that they could ask you “Do you want hot or mild sauce with that?”   Before I started doing this on my own, if I was with friends or family going through the drive-thru I would quiz them what were the questions being asked for each item they ordered.  It didn’t matter that friends and family tell me they too have trouble understanding everything that comes out of that little box.  And it got better because now most fast food drive-thrus have visual screens so you can see if the person inside understood your order.  Finally the big day came when I got brave and I decided I’m going to give this a try.  And I was so shocked when I understood every squawk that came through that little box.   It gave me confidence.   I have to admit that there have been times when I could not understand those squawks either because the person doesn’t have a good “microphone” voice or is heavily accented.  When that happens, I tell the person “I’m sorry but I can’t understand you at all.  I’m driving up to the window to give you my order.”  And I’ve never had problems for doing that. 

I usually don’t wear my processor to bed unless my two young grandsons are over for the night.  We snuggle up in my bed, and go to sleep.  Imagine my shock when one of those times, I was rudely awakened by “beep, beep, beep” and I thought, “What the heck is that?”  And as soon as I thought that, the batteries in my BTE died.  Amazing! And it was such a comfort to know that I can still hear in my sleep, even my grandsons’ snoring! 

Today I’m a “young” grandma of two boys, 7 and 4.  I acquired a granddaughter when my son married her mother and she’s now 10.  The grandkids are the reasons I left my job and life in Denver, CO and moved to Washington State in August of 2000.  When my kids were born, I didn’t hear any of their bodily sounds other than their crying and cooing.  With both of my grandsons, I was amazed at how much noise an infant can make!  It is so cool!  I would sit for hours holding them and listen to them. 

I love telling people about my implant.  I have spread the word for 18 years now.  I helped form a CIAI (Cochlear Implant Association International) chapter in Denver as well as organizing a CIAI convention in Vail, CO summer of 1991.   I was also on the board from 1997 to 2000.  CIAI became CIA after dropping the International in 1998, and then a couple years ago, moved under the HLA (Hearing Loss Association) umbrella.  I really think it’s a travesty that all profoundly deaf people do not have implants but I have to be patient and respectful!  They don’t know what they are missing!

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