Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tennessee-Going Home

My cousin, Abby, got married at Laurelwood on Signal Mountain in Tennessee last Saturday. We parked at a location on top of the mountain and took school buses to the wedding location passing farms, mountain scenery, horses and cows, and just the most beautiful natural Tennessee country God has created on the drive there.

The wedding was held outdoors overlooking a lake and surrounded by trees, and my brother's family was already sitting in the last row waiting for us. My uncle, aunt, and I joined them. I had no idea why Dean, who is totally in denial about how much hearing he is losing from his Air Force days at the shooting range, did not elect to sit a little closer to the front.

The wedding began and I was completely prepared to be lost throughout the ceremony. I have to say I was stunned to understand nearly every single word of the ceremony from where I sat. Seriously. To be fair, I slid the magnet off my head to do the hearing aid alone comparison and found that the acoustics were so excellent that I could have understood a lot of it with some intense concentration from where I sat without using my cochlear implant, but I would have been mentally drained. However, once I slid the magnet back on I didn't struggle. It helped to see the faces of the speakers even though I was quite a distance from them. It helped to see the rate at which they moved their mouths and the expressions on their faces even though I couldn't read their lips. I actually prefer the term "speech reading" to "lip reading" because comprehension has much more to with the whole face than just the lips. I don't even like talking to someone with sunglasses on for that reason. Odd, I know. :)

At the end of the ceremony there was a prayer. I always look at the speaker during prayer, even though I can usually see what's going on around the speaker as well. What usually amuses me is seeing which hearing people are peeping around during prayer because they just can't be still long enough to close their eyes and bow their heads, and of course then they see the deaf person and instantly have the oops...busted "deer in headlights" expression. No judgement from me because God knows I've no room to talk.... just amusement, I promise. So anyway, I closed my eyes since I couldn't even see who was praying, and I darned near fell out of my chair. I easily understood every word of the prayer, except for the first names of the groom's parents who were mentioned. Amazing. I would love to have that sound system with me everywhere I go, and I'd be set for life.

After the ceremony my family and I grabbed a round table outside, and my uncle told stories of days gone by. I was so grateful that I could understand what he was saying because, first of all, he told me I was a really good kid, and that my brother was the punk I remember him to be. My mother, who passed away when I was seventeen, had left a journal stating what a joy my older brother was, and Uncle Moe clarified that Dean had her snowed. Mom also frequently mentioned how intense life was with a hearing impaired child with a flair for drama, so it was nice to hear Dean called on some of his shenanigans since I wasn't as clever as he was at looking angelic. I also very much enjoyed hearing Dean call Uncle Moe's son, Jeff, after this conversation and leave a message apologizing for bullying him as a child. Did I mention my brother is a youth minister now, and I've always been considered the wild child of our family?

Uncle Moe also told some stories about his life growing up and running a bait shop with Papaw. We also discussed some tragedy our grandmother experienced as a young child. I'm glad I didn't miss out on our conversation that afternoon. We've lost too much and too many in our family, and I treasure moments like those because they don't come often.

My friend, Dani, was supposed to come visit from Atlanta the next day, but due to a flare-up with lupus, she couldn't make the drive. She is the most amazing person and appreciates the beauty of every single day, as only someone who has nearly not made it to see another day, can. Not only does she have lupus, but she barely survived heart failure immediately after delivering her son, Ronnie, five years ago.

Dani and I lived in the same dorm during our freshman year of college, and our lives went separate ways for a while and then brought us back together again. We had to settle for a phone conversation on Sunday afternoon, but I didn't have my video phone, so I didn't think I'd be able to talk to her long. We talked and we talked and we talked. I couldn't believe it. My brain was definitely processing my new mapping. I had to concentrate and felt a little frustrated at times, but my confidence had definitely increased by the time we hung up. Dani seemed impressed I'd hung in there as long as I did, but she was worth it!

I had several more phone calls while I was there with other friends and family members and did quite well considering. At one point, my friend, Crissie, called me on her video phone with an interpreter for herself, while I understood everything she said. She's not hard to understand though, as she speaks slowly and clearly with a definite southern accent. I think if I understood no one else on the phone, I'd probably understand Crissie, but I don't think the irony of the moment was lost on either of us.

Crissie is actually mulling over the idea of a cochlear implant herself one day. Having video phones has given her a unique look into my life in the last few months. She saw me five minutes after I walked in the door from my cochlear implant surgery, groggy and wrapped in a Princess Leia styled bandage. She talked to me when I had all those crazy bells and sirens going off in my head and thought I was losing my sanity during the first week or so. She saw me holding my head in pain, frustrated and depressed, hoping I'd done the right thing. She's been on the phone with me when I've paused to listen for Aidan in the next room to see whether he was sleeping or awake. I've also been able to report to her what's been going on across the house with Aidan and his dad while I was talking to her on the phone, so she's been a spectator of sorts on my journey and isn't deluded about being an insta-Jaime Sommers (a.k.a. the bionic woman from the 70's with super hearing for you kids out there going "huh?")

Another "break-through" on my trip was a lot more mind-boggling. The family television was turned on one night for the first time since I'd arrived. No one was watching though, and the captions hadn't been turned on. Family Guy was on, and I've never watched the show. On a whim, I decided to sit in front of the TV and see if I could get anything out of it. For about ten minutes I sat there, maybe three or four feet away, staring intently and concentrating and.... understanding.... color me dumbfounded. The show was beyond stupid. Really stupid. So stupid it was almost funny, but I won't give it that much credit. If I closed my eyes, it became gibberish again. When I opened my eyes I could follow by watching the pattern of speech as the characters' mouths opened and closed. I think it was also a matter of not having enough confidence to close my eyes and focus. After a few minutes, I was tired. It didn't come easily, but I understood nearly everything being said. Wow.

The last little success of my trip that stands out to me is when I arrived back home at the airport in Houston. I was supposed to meet my husband outside the baggage area, but before I took the escalator down I heard him calling my name clearly. I knew he was far away, but I knew it was James, and I knew it was my name! I couldn't locate him though. I turned around, and finally saw James holding Aidan waving at me all the way across the escalator! It was so good to see my guys and so great to be home.

So, where does the credit go for my latest successes? Is it all the cochlear implant? Of course not. It is one amazing tool though. I credit the amount of time I've spent wearing it, even when my head hurt, and it sounded horrible. I would wear it for hours and hours and work my way through those rough first weeks. That wasn't the cochlear implant. That was me. I also worked my way through the mappings my audiologist gave me as quickly as I could, even though it was almost overload on my brain at times processing so much data. As soon as I could, I'd schedule another appointment for another mapping and get more ambitious mappings and continue working my way through them as quickly as possible. This was my way, and that's how I did it and continue to do it. Everyone that gets a cochlear implant has to do this in their own time and their own way.

There are questions on these blogs as to whether the CIs and mappings deserve all the credit for successes. Umm.. no. Heck, no. Some people want to know more about the deaf person's real experience with the implant. I'm trying to be real. It's hard, but it's extremely rewarding. It's so much work, but there was a point I reached about a month into wearing the implant where it became very tolerable. I don't like to complain about it because I waited so long to get this, and I want to appreciate the gift of having it. At the same time I don't want to be a fraudulent ad for cochlear implants and make someone think that it was a matter of a little surgery and slapping on a magnet and processor and "ta-da"!

I'm still out of my comfort zone on the phone, but my audiologist wants me to try to use it more often for the auditory practice. I would use an interpreter on the phone for anything important. I still can't tell you what someone is singing in a song unless I know the song already. I still get occasional static when my brain hasn't processed some mechanical, electrical sounds. Most of the time I get nice quality sound with my implant, but other times it's like being tuned into an AM station, and it's not as pretty, but it usually works itself out in time. When we rent a movie, the subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are on, or we are are starting the movie over (and *sigh* it seems like we start over a lot since *I* don't usually hold the remote! :-) ....and every night, I still take it all out and sleep like a baby.


  1. I loved this post :) Is it silly to say I'm happy for you?

  2. Sounds like things are going GREAT for you!!! :-D I'm happy for you!!!

  3. This is great! I especially agree that you can't just slap on an implant with surgery and it's all voila! It's like learning a new language with a sense we hadn't used in years, if ever.

  4. You know I feel the same way about the three of you!!! Thanks, Sara, Kelly, and Nabeel. :) It really does help having new friends with similar backgrounds going through this experience at the same time... it keeps me a little more sane and patient than I might have been otherwise. ;-)