Sunday, June 27, 2010

T-Minus Two Days

The moment of truth has come. The beginning draws nigh. Or, less dramatically: the day is almost here! I travel back out to California tomorrow night, and will activate my cochlear implant there this Tuesday. In less than forty-eight hours, I will have broken the silence. I will have heard something, and will be on my way to experiencing a whole new life of sounds I've never heard before. Some of which might include:

- A cat meowing
- The floorboards creaking
- Door hinges squeaking, the refrigerator whirring, other odd noises in my house
- The rustle of paper
- Birds outside
- Branches scraping against the window
- Funny car noises
- Other drivers honking at me from the road
- Keys clacking as I type
- Musical notes
- Whatever kinds of noises actually correspond to "beep," "bang," "clack," "whir," and all these verbs I've been using
- Plus a panopoly of other sounds I don't know I've been missing

I can't say how excited I am for the turn-on; it hasn't strayed far from my thoughts this week. But I'm also trying to keep my expectations low. I'll take whatever comes, because it'll likely be more than I've heard before. It won't come all at once, either. I've read that the moments of turn-on are odd and overwhelming, to say the least. Sounds won't be the same as I've ever experienced, nor will they be the same as what hearing people experience, because they will be encoded in an entirely different way. They'll rush into my brain, rapidfire electrical signals, and it'll be up to me to begin the arduous process of breaking the code.

I've read that, at first, the CI just sounds like beeps. Literally, everything that I hear: beep beep BEEP beep BEEPBEEPBEEEEP. Or that the world will seem high-pitched and out of whack, as if all its noises are powered on helium. Some even say that the CI doesn't start out as a sound at all, but a strange nerve-tingly feeling on the side of the head. Wow, what have I signed myself up for? The first few weeks might drive me nuts, but I'm relishing the challenge.

There isn't much else to say, except that I'll see what happens when the day comes. But before the sonic boom starts, I'd like to put in a word for silence.

As a deaf person, I've met many people who seem to pity me because I can't hear. "You can't talk on the phone?" they ask in dismay. Or, "You didn't hear those birds, did you?" Or, "I wish you could hear this beautiful music." They only want to share the richness of their lives with me, but they don't understand that I don't want their pity. Yes, the day might come when I, too, wonder how I could have remained so deaf to so many things for so long. But right now I don't regret the sounds I've never heard - because I, too, have been able to find richness and beauty in this world, even in my life of silence. Right now, music has never added much value to my life, so I cannot miss or long or mourn for it. I do hope that I come to appreciate and even enjoy musical notes and scores, as I come to enjoy the other sounds my CI gives me. But there is something to be cherished in silence.

Silence: it is the flip side of the coin. I have always felt that hearing people have little appreciation for its value. This is ironic in the light of complaints of "hardly being able to find a quiet place to sit and think." Stagnancy, awkwardness, boredom, isolation - these are the feelings the mainstream commonly associates with silence. Hence, they do everything they can to avoid it. I have friends who never drive without the radio blasting, who get uneasy at any conversational lull, who always sit with their iPod headphones plugged in. Music, sound, stimulation everywhere. I wonder if they have ever experienced total silence. I can, at any moment. Sometimes it is among my favorite things in the world. I feel like I am floating suspended, treading in a river of cool water. My thoughts float lazily by. I become aware of the vibrations around me, the subtle shifts of life: a breeze in the air, the shift of something in my peripheral, the tremble of the floor beneath my feet. In this bubble, I can almost feel my brain pulse.

That said, my highest hope for the CI is not to enjoy sound. I'm functional and content without sound. My hope is to gain greater social connections with people - for, in the hearing world I live in, sound is king. Without it, barriers and misunderstandings arise, and communicative isolation is inevitable. With any luck, the CI will help me break through that. But, to whatever extent I hear, I will be able to enjoy both: sound and silence. With the flip of a switch. As I stand on the brink of the unknown, this is one of my greatest reassurances: that, whatever happens in that world of sound, I will always have the silence as a reprieve.

One final note: in my last post I wrote about simulations of hearing loss. Upon talking with my parents (my local hearing "experts") on the quality and accuracy of that audio clip, I've decided to post a different one. This site offers insight into different levels of hearing loss. To get a sense of what I hear, go down to the "profound hearing loss with residual low frequency hearing" section. Yep, I'm all the way at the bottom of the list.

Enjoy. The next time I write, the waiting will be over. I will be diving into that roaring, colorful pool of sound. See you on the other side.

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