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Answering questions about a Cochlear Implant

Recently I was asked a lot of questions about what itís like to wear a Cochlear Implant. Hereís some of the questions and my answers.

Is there a stigma in wearing a Cochlear Implant?
Something amazingly interesting about a Cochlear Implant as opposed to a hearing aid is that I have not come across anyone who is not proud to be wearing one. Yet I know hundreds of hearing aid wearers want to hide it. There has been a definite social stigma in wearing hearing aid, yet not as many Cochlear implantees feel it.

Iíve spent a bit of time thinking about this wondering why. Deafness is much, much more than not being able to hear sound and having a Cochlear implant is more than simply hearing sound again. Deafness, particularly for late deafened adults, is a social issue. It is about grief, struggling in a world which no longer makes sense, coupled with loss of self esteem and confidence which can eventually cause isolation. Put a hearing aid into the mix and I think this is partly why there is a stigma to wearing a hearing aid.

People with a severe to profound loss wearing aids still struggle to cope because an aid cannot restore the sound theyíre missing. So they answer inappropriately, miss things and in a sense are considered stupid because of it. It has been the case with Deaf CommunityÖ because they couldnít talk the way hearing people do Ė after all they donít get feedback of their own voice Ė hearing people thought they were strange and stupid and this added to the stigma of wearing a hearing aid.

However, from my experience Cochlear Implantees donít feel a stigma of wearing it. Most could not care if anyone sees it. In fact they are proud to show it and share their experience about how the cochlear implant brought them back to the hearing world. In my opinion the reason for this is because the Cochlear Implant doesnít simply amplifies sound, it restores what is missing, bringing the person back into the hearing world and giving them back quality of life.
So to answer your question about whether it can be hidden Ė who cares!! Thatís the way most of us feel. It has also become cool to wear a device on your ear in any case. Check out Beckham: http://lifeinaconeofsilence.blogspot.com/2008/05/excuse-me-while-i-take-this-call.html

Why do you only have one side implanted with a implant?
There has only been a recent move to bi-lateral implantation and an understanding that two ears are better than one. I was only the 94th implantee in my state and there were no bi-lateral implantees here at that time. If you donít have health insurance you may have to go on a public waiting list because (in Australia) the government will not fund a second implant for an adult.

Should a Cochlear Implantee wear a hearing aid in my other ear?
One thing which seems to be coming out of research is that the more you stimulate your hearing nerve the longer your hearing will last. (Use it or lose it). So if you can wear a hearing aid even if it doesnít help a lot because theoretically this will slow down your hearing loss.

How has having a Cochlear Implant improved my job prospects?
Having a cochlear implant changed my job prospects enormously. As a deaf person I was seen as pretty much unemployable (didnít help that I was female and over 40 in the 1990ís when the glass ceiling was thick!) I applied for 473 jobs in two years when I was unemployed and although I made 100 interviews and was even short listed 9 times I still didnít get any of those jobs because I could not hear. Now I can hear, use a phone and attend all those work meetings and this has made a huge difference to my job ability to get and keep jobs.

I have not heard of any job discrimination against people with a Cochlear Implant. In Australia there are people who work on the phones and thereís a chap here in Adelaide who works as an Aircrewman for Search and Rescue Ė a job which really requiredsgreat hearing for the safety of himself, his fellow crewmen and the person being rescued. http://www.c-a-network.com/danny.php to read his story.

What does upgrading your processor mean
The internal part of a cochlear implant is basically a radio receiver. Itís not terribly Ďsmartí as far as technology goes. This is deliberate so that as technology advances the internal implant will not need to be removed to take advantage of newer technologies. I have a Cochlear brand implant and Cochlear Ltd released their Freedom processor a couple of years ago. Once it was released they made it backwards compatible with older implants. This means people like me who were implanted before 2005 can upgrade to the new Freedom processor. This is great because the sound quality of this processor is considerably superior to the first processor I had. The very 1st implantee Rod Saunders was able to keep his original implant and upgrade his processor throughout the years until he was wearing the new Freedom before he died. How cool is that!

What about sick leave from work to have the operation
The operation is quite simple. In the USA it is often done as a day procedure. Here in Australia they usually keep us in hospital overnight. I went back to work 3 days after implantation. But I felt fragile for about two weeks until the staples came out. You would need to discuss sick leave with your employer to make sure you have enough time available.

What is it like when your implant is switched on for the first time?
After not hearing much for 20 years, switch on was an amazingly emotional moment. And for almost everyone, the sound is dreadful. The hearing nerve has to wake up and the brain actually needs to grow new neurons to interpret the sounds you hear because these have atrophied without use.

For me switch-on was emotional. The sound quality was dreadful although I could understand speech within a few minutes. Switch-on feels like the end of an emotional journey and because itís usually not good it feels a failure. But really it is the beginning of a journey back to sound. On the second day I had my processor re-mapped (programming of the electrodes) and I could tolerate much more sound and sound quality returned to much like I remembered. I had had no sound in my left ear for 30 years but it doesnít feel strange. My right ear had only about 5% normal hearing at time of implantation but we did the left one just in case so that I kept what little I had left. Of course my right ear has no hearing now.

Whatís it like now that youíve had the implant for a while?
Itís 5 Ĺ years since I have been able to hear again. I got my life back. I use the phone, go to the movies, listen to the radio, watch tv without subtitles and best of all I enjoy playing the piano again. I donít deal with deafness on a day-to-day basis and I am no longer isolated.

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