Friday, May 29, 2009

What I Learned in Freshman English

It's been a few *cough* years since I was a college freshman, but I've never forgotten the first year of English classes. I love to write about my own life experiences or short stories about my views of the world around me. Even though I was great at procrastinating, I could usually throw an English paper together two hours before class during the fall semester and still make a decent grade. I'd write the final draft first, off the top of my head, at lunch before class. Then I would write a quick "rough draft" version a little more shabbily and toss it in the pile and turn it all in for the week's work.

I don't think my teacher's expectations were too high for any of us, but my roommate, who would spend a week polishing off her paper to the last perfectly typed detail, would mockingly pout when we'd bring home the same grade. (Mind you, this was the one class the I could bluff my way through so easily. The rest of college? A rude awakening. :)

During the spring semester English became something a whole lot tougher to fake (and my roommate's diligence started to pay off.) All of a sudden papers had to be researched, referenced, doubled-spaced, and typed. (Ahhh... the pre-computer boom era... lots of careful pecking on a clacking electric typewriter with nothing more than prayer and liquid paper for those 911 typo emergencies.) Looking up information through microfiche files and the card catalog system was tedious and boring in the days before the internet. Once I finally had the information I needed for a subject, I started enjoying the assignment a tad bit more. We also began to receive much more specific assignments for writing that required a little more thought than some fluff written over dessert in the university cafeteria.

One freshmen English assignment ended up being a life lesson that still comes to play in my life today. I had to write a persuasive paper on a subject that articulated my thoughts and opinions in a mature, well thought out manner. The next week? I had to be equally mature and persuasive and write the opposite opinion on the same subject. What the heck? That was just crazy talk because I'd already proved my point and shown the validity of my argument! What did she mean she wanted to hear me argue the other side of the debate? Oh, the blasphemy!

I don't even remember on what subject I wrote flip sides of persuasion to convince readers of my passionate points of view. I only remember learning through the process that, well, maybe, just maybe, there's more than one side to a debate that's relevant and fair and deserving. Also, in the search for information to support an argument, it seems to be a great skill to be able to also look for information that supports the other side of the debate as well. Isn't this a valuable skill that allows a truly talented lawyer to shine in a courtroom after all?

Often the lesson I've learned is that no one side is "right", but that there is more than one way to view a situation, especially when the different sides involved have substantial facts, information and history that supports their beliefs. There are often valid arguments for opposing sides, and sometimes the best resolution is finding a middle ground, a compromise, and when all else fails, all parties trying to find a way to respect each other enough to agree to disagree.

I've spent the last few months closely observing this deaf blogosphere I've recently entered. I've read many heartfelt blog posts and watched quite a few equally ardent vlog posts. I've been fascinated by the wide range of viewpoints on various subjects by a blogging community that includes hearing and deaf parents of deaf children in oral deaf education, bi-bi programs, mainstreamed classes, and deaf schools. Other bloggers include the deaf adults of those hearing parents and deaf adults of deaf parents, as well as educators, active members of the Deaf community, and adults deafened later in life. Of course the modes of communication used in this community are just as diverse as the group itself. A few that come to mind quite readily include ASL, total communication, cued speech, Signed English, and spoken English.

There are the blogs of lifelong d(D)eaf adults who grew up educated and living in an environment that supported one type of communication, but as adults chose to use an entirely different mode of communication based on preference or needs. There are blogs by adults who have been deafened later in life by an illness or accident that have never had any type of prior exposure to the deaf community or sign language. There are those deaf who have grown up dabbling in one world or the other, yet not quite feeling a complete identity with either.

As a deaf mom and a former deaf education teacher, the blogs that touch me the most are those of the parents of deaf children seeking the path their children should go. Many parents stand at the crossroads trying to figure out where they are going next. The signs point in different directions and the roads are many. All look equally important, but only one can be chosen. The billboards promise that their road is the surest way to reach the desired destination successfully. So many decisions, so little time, what to do, what is right, what is best, what is fair, which way to go, will there be regrets, will there be dead ends, will there be bumps in the road, do we head this way full throttle, but oh... that sign over there... look what it promises!!!... what if this road is wrong... what if that road is right?? Oh what to do... see here... see here... my child grew an inch just last night in his sleep... time is flying.. there's no time to waste... I must pick a path... I must go without haste for my child awaits.

No matter which path these parents take, the one thing most of us would likely agree upon is that these parents have their hearts in the right place. As loving parents anywhere would feel, they only want what is best for their children and their future. Likely there will be second guessing and "what-if" moments, but isn't that a rite of passage of parenthood for all of us regardless what of what challenges we face? In the end isn't it the loving, involved parents armed with information and positive support from the community around them that will thrive most confidently? Aren't those the parents with the most successful children, no matter which road they chose?

The most divisive issues that have really come to play in this world front and center seems to be the preservation of the Deaf community and the rights of the parents to choose the path they feel would best serve their children's success in the "real" world. At this center of this storm today? The cochlear implant. Is the cochlear implant the only issue? No, of course not. It is, however, the common denominator in many of these blogs. The opinions are many. Stands have been made. Each side feels right. It's a battle; it's a war. Lines have been drawn in the sand, and the ones who stand to lose the most are our children.

The landscape of the Deaf community and culture is changing. The progress in technology is moving forward. Each side has an equally strong and impassioned case. Each side has excellent points. Our children's future success being deaf in a hearing world and their right to inherit an intact, strong, and supportive Deaf community is at stake. It's not an either/or issue, but maybe, if we all stopped and put our heads together, we could give them "all of the above". Our children deserve to have every chance for success and every bit of support that is rightfully and historically theirs.

It's up to all of us, and we all have something unique to put on the table that will provide our children support, confidence, and pride long after we are gone. Perhaps if we, as adults, could suspend our personal beliefs for a moment and listen to what the other side has to offer to our children, we might find a common ground upon which we can give our Deaf children a truly wonderful tomorrow.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mapping #5 and Updates Courtesy of the Truly Fab Facebook Status

So funny that when things seem to be progressing the most quickly is also when I have the least amount of time to devote to blogging. I have so much to catch up on since I haven't been able to blog much recently, and yet, the cochlear implant awaits no blog. The progress this little computer in my head and I are making together has made everyday an exciting experience lately.

I will start off by saying that my fourth mapping (mentioned in my last post) that was supposed to sustain me at least seven weeks was just not cutting it a week later. I had maxed it out and was completely ready to take on an even bigger range of sound. I made an appointment on May 7th, my fortieth birthday (yes, yes, 40 is the new 30 and all that jazz...), for another session with my audiologist. Michelle is just the greatest at squeezing me in spur of the moment and allowing me advance at my own pace instead of going by the book. I adore her for that, and I'm sure I would not have made nearly as much progress without all the time she has put in creating new maps for me and here I was just five weeks out ready for my fifth mapping!

My mapping session was the highlight of my birthday. (Thank you, Michelle!) James was on his fifth day in the ICU at the time, and getting a new tune up with TONS of power was a great gift on an otherwise pretty gloomy day. Even taking Aidan to the park later that evening to visit the ducks was a bust as he was exhausted from daycare and missing his daddy. He threw a temper tantrum on the grass worthy of an Oscar before collapsing in my arms crying and asking for his dad. Whew. Some days this mom business just isn't a walk in the park (pun intended.)

So, Michelle increased my range of sound almost to the point of distortion, but she stopped short of that, of course. I had pushed her for something I could work my way up to in the next few weeks, and she was worried that I would leave with something too loud for comfort. However, every time I've left her office with something that seemed loud, my brain would adjust to it quickly, so I had no fear of the great big booming world. My tolerance for louder programs increases even more when I put my hearing aid on my left ear, and when we work on the mappings, I don't put it on until we are wrapping up.

I was given four new programs on my processor. They were for using everyday, filtering out background noise, focusing directly on a speaker (anything or anyone I can look at directly), or listening to music. This would be more for music in a very quiet environment or with an Ipod. Michelle also said it would be good for listening to nature and birds.

Each program has nine different volume levels. I've maxed this sucker out....again....(level nine, baby!) and am trying to refrain from going back for a new mapping right away to give Michelle a little space to actually see her other clients. The only thing is that now that I'm at maximum level and comfortable with it, I'm hearing a lot of background static that is making me batty. It's like radio static on a station that is just barely out of range.

One area of improvement has been a surprise. Music is getting better all the time, even though some people seem to prefer the music they heard prior to the CI with their hearing aids. The high pitched notes on the Faith Hill song I always listen to for comparison after mappings and as the weeks pass are actually the sounds of a guitar. It makes so much sense now.

Music used to have depth for me with my hearing aids, but it was a one dimensional depth. I couldn't isolate different sounds as I'm starting to do now. I could usually hear very basically how the tune sounded, but I couldn't pick out any of the details, especially those sounds in the higher frequencies, and I had no idea how much I was missing.

I asked James recently about different sounds I was hearing in the background when we were in the car, and he'd tell me what he thought it was. Once it was a brass instrument, another time I heard something distinct it was a piano, and another time it was a guitar. Voice clarity, at least, is as good as it was with both hearing aids with a little more oomph added now (meaning if I know a song and have memorized the words, I can usually follow if the voice is easy to distinguish from the music), but I know that comprehension and clarity will probably be my biggest hurdle to cross eventually whether it's by spoken word or song.

I started watching this season of American Idol with two hearing aids, then I only had one after surgery, and by the finale I was rocking out with a screaming toddler and a cochlear implant. I was able to appreciate the voices of both finalists a little more fully by the finale than I would have a few months ago. One guy was a full blast glam rocker/power ballad singer and the other was the simple yet creative song writer/singer usually sporting a guitar. Both had God given talents that I could enjoy with my brand new God given bionic hearing.

I would have been happy with either guy winning based on talent alone. The sad part was the viewers and the media who tried to turn it into a culture war with neither fan base looking too hot, but that's a blog post for another day. (I will say that the grown up friendship between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen AND their families speaks volumes in itself about the respect those two guys and their families have for each other. *heart melting*)

One thought that keeps crossing my mind lately is that I have not a clue how hearing people can handle so much noise commotion at one time. However, I keep thinking about what if I were blind and not deaf? What if I was able to see by some miracle? The kaleidoscope of the summer landscape in our neighborhood, while wonderful to see for the first time, would have to be incredibly overwhelming to take in all at once. I can label a tree, a cloud, birds, a garbage truck, a child on a bicycle, a wagon in the yard, and a rooftop on a house, but if I had never truly seen before what would I make of all of that? Would it all just jumble together visually as sounds seem to do for me now? That is how I try to view my situation and keep my perspective when I feel a bit impatient. I cannot fully understand how it is to process this maddening world of sounds just yet, but I learn something new everyday. I can only imagine a blind person learning to see would also have to spend time deciphering that information just like I'm trying to do now with a cochlear implant.

So here's my idea of updating my progress since my last mapping on my birthday... I'm copying the relevant Facebook status messages from my profile since the last tune up. :-D Clever, eh? On that note thank God for Facebook, or I wouldn't know what I was thinking at 11:00 pm three months ago. Gosh, how have we lived without this glorious technology all these years? *insert slight sarcasm and a big smile*

....and now for the status updates....

Michelle talked to her extremely in denial hard-of-hearing big brother on the phone last night without an interpreter or captions and didn't do any worse than he did... Okay, that's not saying much... but a month later we've gone from bats n bells in the belfry to talking on the phone...kind of... Score one for the bionic ear. Boo for tuning me in to two year old tantrums in high definition though. May 12 at 11:40pm

This was a major triumph for me! The conversation with Dean was pretty simple, but it was great practice for me. I was able to do this by turning my processor to the telephone switch and maxing out the volume.

I also had a couple of other phone conversations with my "adopted" mom in Tennessee. She's very soft spoken but is clear and enunciates well. She was excited we were having the conversation sans interpreter and captions. I still use my video phone, with interpreter, for most calls because the clarity isn't quite there and even having a simple conversation requires a lot of concentration at this point, but I'll get there!

I think the biggest issue with speech is probably understanding consonants. Vowels, I can pick up pretty well, and my brain usually works extra hard taking those vowels and tying them in with the few consonants I might catch, the sentence structure/number of syllables, to the topic at hand to piece it all together. That requires a lot of tiring brain work, but I haven't had a real conversation on the phone like these calls in a long long time. It was just awesome to even be on the phone and comprehend anything at all, much less with 10-20 minute conversations.

Michelle is quite amused by her two year old waving to her from his high chair saying, "hi baby!"May 14 at 9:55pm

Mostly posting this because the kid is a hoot! However, I didn't have to ask my husband what he said because I understood him myself. I did clarify this statement with James though because I keep thinking I misunderstood something Aidan said. "Did he really say 'hi babe'?!" I have a hard time believing that I understand the odd little comments a two year old will make. Funny thing?? I seem to understand whatever James understands Aidan to say. It seems almost any time I ask James to repeat something Aidan just said now, he usually doesn't understand it either!!! Amazing? I think so. Thank you, God for my bionic ear and my silly child!

Michelle: Oh, you chirpy little birds are so loud.... I haven't heard you since I was a kid... and never in high def like this... Thanks for stopping by today... even though I have a feeling you've been there for a long time. :-P May 15 at 6:20pm

This was a super duper red letter day for me! Seriously! We have birds... lots and lots of birds in our 'hood. Who knew??? Not me! I cannot get enough of listening to the beautiful music they make. If the television is off and no one is talking, I can even hear them in my living room as I sit on the couch. Wow! Truly this is a gift.

Granny and I used to listen to birds on her back porch when I was much younger. I'd forgotten what it was like to hear their singing, and even as a child I didn't hear them quite this well, but my grandmother would tell me what to listen for as we sat out there quietly looking up towards the trees and the sky. Now I am telling my son to listen for the birds when we are outside which kind of chokes me up a bit. *sigh*

I slide my magnet off and on when I sit outside to remind myself not to take this for granted and to remember just a few weeks ago I would not have been able to enjoy this. With just my hearing aid on, all I can hear outside is the low buzz of the air conditioner, and the quiet sound of my husband's voice. He's a loud guy, and we have loud birds. I love my new outside world.

Michelle's startling hearing moment of the day: hubby's cell phone... across the house.... while the TV was on... I couldn't hear that thing ring if I sat on top of it two months ago. Dude! :-P May 17 at 12:22am

Oh my gosh... oh my gosh.... OH. MY. GOSH! James' cell phone has a cute little ring tone. I was on the computer one night, and over the sounds from the television in another room, I heard very very clearly his phone ringing as if it were in the room right beside me. Holy cow! Un-freakin'-believable! I couldn't hear that thing ring...ever.... before! I always thought it must be the quietest ring that required super duper listening skills. Not at all. It's quite loud. Seriously, this is my husband... super duper listening skills??? *said affectionately*

Michelle's bionic moment of the day: hearing something from the living room while the TV was on... hmmm... is it??? *venturing to bathroom to look* ... why yes, the sink water is running while hubby is brushing his teeth. Can I get a woot? :-D May 17 at 9:02pm

This was another shocking moment for me. Running sink water?? Over the TV? I'm the chick that can leave the water running right in front of my face and not have a clue. Of course I can't blame that completely on being deaf, since I know I can just be scatterbrained period. This was just too cool. Had lots of cheesy woots from friends on FB!

A runner up moment of the day that didn't make my status report but I included in the comment section reads: ".... listening to different bird calls in the back yard and actually being able to find two of the birds I was listening to on my fence "talking" to each other... I knew it was them because I could beak read them... seriously... ;-)" I do sometimes try to locate the birds I hear now if they are visible and not hidden in the trees.

Michelle has spent an hour frantically looking for her lost CI processor only to find it ..*whistling* (now, don't tell anybody this...) ... behind her ear... sad... just sad... May 18 at 11:00am

What kind of a ding dong am I? Like I said... nothing to do with being deaf... just naturally absent minded on occasion. I had this sucker on... magnet and all and the only reason I "found" it is because I finally stopped searching and stood in the living room puzzled, scratching my head...thus locating the darned thing. It wasn't turned on though if that makes me any less of a ding dong! ;-)

Michelle had lunch on the patio of Joe's Crabshack.... listened to the music on the speakers.... placed orders for hubby and herself as she carried on conversation with waiter with no repetition necessary.... (and did I mention the restaurant faces the freeway???) Today's bionic moment is brought to you by the makers of Nucleus Freedom... :-D May 19 at 3:26pm

Now THIS is what it's all about, people! Multi-tasking listening skills sorting themselves out... so, so, so fabulously cool! Yes, I had to lipread the waiter as I placed the order, but I could hear him clearly over the noise of the freeway and music as well. I could hear the music clearly separate from the traffic. I carried on a conversation with my husband without strain in spite of the music and traffic. It was really awesome to have him home from the hospital after a long stay and much healthier than he had been in months while enjoying a nice grown up lunch outside and knowing what was going on around me. At this point, I'd just been activated about 6 weeks.

Michelle's bionic moment of the day.... (you've been sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for one, right?! ;-) ....hearing the little Thomas the Train chugging in place on the couch wasting a battery over the sound of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV... (had to turn the TV sound off to actually locate the little bugger though...) Thomas lives to roam off tracks around the big world of our living room another day. Fri 8:18pm (May 22)

Oh the things I can hear now and all the batteries it may save on toys in the future hopefully! I can actually relate to the parents that have to listen to the racket of multiple toys going haywire simultaneously now. I know every bionic moment won't be puppy dogs, rainbows, and Audubon musicals, and that's okay!

My friend, Melissa, asked me if there is anything I didn't like to hear at this point... my response: "LOL!!!!!!!!!! Ummm.. quite a few! let's start with the screaming demon... (2 year old piercing tantrums hurt).... and all the static coming in from the craziest stuff like the refrigerator humming... only it sounds like static when I'm not next to it and I can hear it over music or the TV... (I've turned off the TV and followed the sound to the kitchen and the static turns into the fridge or dishwasher humming) or when we go outside and the bird symphony is joined by the AC... there was a cricket I was trying to hear but my neighbor's AC clicked on and drowned that out (also sounds like static)... oh... and when paper is crinkled or packages or opened by others when I'm in the car, by the TV (I promise I don't watch that much TV.. LOL!).. whoa... it is loud and sounds like it's tearing right in my ear (like James opening ice cream cones or bags of popcorn)... Phoebe (our cat) was playing with a plastic bag next to the computer and that was very crispy loud and startling...")

I'll end with this moment from yesterday, though I only heard about it second hand. My guys humor me. Life with a two year old at it's finest:

Michelle's laugh of the day.... When Aidan's daddy came home from the store he opened a bag and asked Aidan if he wanted some candy. Aidan's response? "Money? Two dollars?" (no, kid... it's free... you're two... where do you come up with this stuff??) 10:39pm

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mapping #4, Gonna Fly Now!

So much has been going on in my life and with my implant in the last few weeks that I'm a little bummed I didn't try to blog along the way to catch the small stuff. However the illness I mentioned was my husband's and required a long hospitalization, but he's home and on his way to recovery now. We are blessed that he doing so much better. If you are the praying type, we would appreciate if you would add James' continued recovery to your prayer list.

Even though my attention was really elsewhere, I've made quite a bit of progress recently with my implant, and I'm really excited. I made some notes after mapping #4 (April 28) so I can probably summarize the day pretty easily, but it's the days after that I wish I had kept more notes on. However, I can hit the highlights of that particular big day... the day I felt like I'd finally run up my own gazillion steps and could see the future a little more clearly.

The day began with one of Houston's infamous floods that subsided quickly, but it was a big mess on this Tuesday. Many schools and businesses were closed for the day. I had made arrangements for Aidan to go to daycare and was hoping both the daycare and the HERF (Hearing Ear and Research Foundation) office would be open so I could get this mapping done. I was ready because the mapping I had at the time was feeling very limited, and I was ready for a big tune up! Luckily the roads were passable where I was going and both places were indeed open.

When I met with my audiologist, Michelle, we went into detail discussing what was going on. I told her I was just a little frustrated by how sloooow my progress was, and then I would mention, "oh by the way, I can hear if Aidan is crying or laughing through a closed door at nap time" (which kept me from opening the door if he wasn't and distracting him) or I would say, "oh, and by the way, I heard the rain outside my window and then I heard the rat a tat tat sound of the rain when I opened the back door" (as opposed to the steady roar with my hearing aid.) Finally after a few "oh by the ways" she just looked at me and told me I was just an outside the box case, and that my progress for my type and history of loss was really nothing to sneeze at which made me feel better. I told her that I've always felt "outside the box" when it came to my hearing loss because I could compensate (*cough* fake) my way through anything, but with the cochlear implant it was kicking my booty! (can't believe I just said "booty"... is that more PG than "butt"?..probably not..) After a pep talk from her, I was feeling much better. I swear my audiologist is like a special ed teacher that inspires her students to graduate with honors. ***Insert Rocky theme song here***

Michelle did four progressive maps, each slightly louder than the other for me to work my way through. She also told me normally I'd come back in the 3 months for the next appointment but since I was going to see my family in Tennessee in June for a wedding, she was willing to do a mapping 7 weeks later before I left and do the different types of programs including the one for music.

She tested with beeps. I'd raise my hand as I heard the beeps. I got hard to test like I always do because my ears start ringing as soon as I hear high pitches and play tricks on me straight through testing. However, she did a neural test as well, and the computer did all the work checking out my brain's reaction to sounds. I really need to research that further to understand how that happens. I just loved that I had to do nothing. My neural test closely matched my beep test, so I didn't look like a total clown. Those two tests were used to create my mappings.

Michelle pulled out papers and a box and started rifling through them and WOW, was everything LOUD! I was fine with it though. I wanted the boost, but it was something of a shock and it wasn't like it was going to cause more nerve damage. *smile* We did a booth test after that, and it was just amazing how much I could hear. Of course I'm referring to beeps and whistles and such, not speech. There's still a long way to go, but my brain is processing this information well.

As I was leaving the building I noticed how the world seemed more "open" and more sounds were coming through. When I got to the car, I played the Faith Hill song I always play after mappings or whenever I turn up my processor. I was able to turn my map up to the third program already and tolerate it fine. The sound was amazing. It was much more like listening with my hearing aid, but with the added benefit of high pitched frequencies and instruments I could almost pluck out of the to complement what I was hearing in the left ear with my hearing aid. Even starting the car, hearing the music, and the traffic on the freeway while paying the lady at the toll booth as I was exiting the hospital was liberating and not even too overwhelming. This is the day I finally saw the potential in my cochlear implant and truly became excited.

I picked up Aidan and took him to the library to get some new books to read at bed time. He ran to the toddler section and the noise level was crazy loud. I looked around, but no one was even reacting. I thought libraries were quieter???? Of course toddlers with puzzles and puppets aren't going to be little angels, but I really did not know how loud the kid section of the library is. However some child started banging on metal shelves, and Aidan walked over and copied that child. Before I could pull him away the librarian was on MY case about my child. Hey, it was the other kid, lady. Sheesh. (Okay, my kid isn't blameless... but still. ;-)

That evening, I watched American Idol going back and forth between my third and fourth mappings. Just a few hours later and I had maxed out my new mappings. I did have to adjust to Aidan rolling his car on an end table while I was watching tv. That was startling and annoying (especially when he would be at his loudest any time anyone was singing. How does he know these things? He has uncanny timing.) Hearing him talk was even crazier. In the car I easily knew when he was talking. It was almost like he was sitting right beside me and not in the back seat with the windows down. This was a great day.

More updates to follow on another post.... :) I'm not done yet.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stay Tuned

I know I've taken a break from my blog recently. I have a lot to share soon. After mapping #4, everyday has been a new adventure in listening as opposed to just the torture of bells and whistles with an occasional recognizable sound before that mapping. I'm hearing more speech, more environmental sounds, and most importantly understanding my son so much better. I have a long way to go, but I like where I am now because I see the potential, and it is liberating. Of course at the end of the day, I take it all off and just relax. Sometimes silence is the best sound of all, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'll check in soon. Due to my son's second birthday last weekend and now an illness in my immediate family, I've been otherwise preoccupied. I appreciate the emails and support I've received from friends and family.

I'd also like to thank again those who donated to my friend Melissa's March for Babies fundraiser. She went over her goal by $50 ($350 total!) and walked 5 miles on the day of the walk. Her son just started walking himself. *sniff* What a long way he's come since he was born two months early. I'm so proud of him and his mom!

Take care and see you soon,