Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ode to a Hearing Aid

Today is my last day with a hearing aid in my left ear. Ever.

I don't know why that makes me sad. Perhaps it's because, for me, hearing aids symbolize my perception of my own identity. Even though their feeble magnification will likely quail before the power of the implant, I'm just not me without them. Though I've never liked seeing them in pictures, and though I was once too young and insecure to flaunt them in public with my hair up, accepting them was part of developing my self-confidence. My coming of age, so to speak.

Plus, I know them inside and out. I have learned over the course of 20 years how to tweak, troubleshoot, and function with them deftly and without thought. I know when that odd sound comes from a low battery, or when it's because I have fluid in my earmold tubes, or when my own ears are stuffed up. I have dropped them more times than I can remember. Putting them in is an automatic motion. My ears get cold without them; I hate feeling the breeze blow through my ear canal. I walk around my room with them dangling from the curve of my finger. I turn them off and on, floating in and out of silence, with total ease.

Getting the CI is an exciting upgrade, but it's also a sudden change to a device I do not know. And, while my hearing aids are extraneous to my body, my CI will be inside me. I wonder after its power over my abilities and my future.

Perhaps, more simply, this is the end of an era.

So, even though today was a day full of activity, it was also a day of grieving. My left hearing aid has been squealing loudly since I put in this morning - it just needs a new earmold, but I like to think that it's protesting. Tomorrow, I put it in a box and shelve it forever.

Today was my pre-op appointment with the surgeon, which made the reality sink in like it never has before. Sitting here in a coffee shop, done with school and moved out of my room, I feel the calm before the storm. Even through that calm (which is surprising), my thoughts only spill out as a jumble.

- Nurses, even the ones supposedly trained to interact with deaf patients (after all, wasn't this one in a CI office?), really aren't up to speed. Really. This one looked down at her clipboard and mumbled the entire time. Argh.

- Taking so much biology in college has toughened me up! I didn't get queasy when the surgeon went through the necessary disclosure of risks - piercing facial nerves, et cetera. Didn't even shudder when they talked about IV needles. Wow, big step there.

- I do not like hospitals or doctors, but honestly - the Stanford hospital is gorgeous. Parts are more like a floral garden or art gallery than a hospital at all. It was a rather cheerful place to be, until I remembered why I was there or noticed the signs pointing to the cancer or cardiovascular ward, the patients dragging their IV stands around in blue cotton gowns.

- Following that, I have not been in a hospital for years. I should realize how fortunate I am.

- The anesthesiologist sat down and asked, "Can you hear me all right like this?" No, no, no. I'm reading your lips, don't you understand? If I could hear you all right, I wouldn't be here.

- Strangest moment of the day: when the doctors insisted that I get a pregnancy test, just to be sure. I know it's protocol, but anyone who knows me would laugh and ask, Um, really?

- It's been very tempting, in making this decision, to think, Okay, hearing world, I give in. You've won. But that's not the way it is. I can only imagine what I stand to gain. And it really isn't about hearing or deaf at all, in the end.

- A source of minor stress: my surgery was unexpectedly shifted from its 7:30am timeslot to 12:30pm, which I'm not altogether happy about. First of all, I'm not allowed to eat (or drink) after midnight tonight. Meaning that, by 10:30am when I enter the hospital, I could be decidedly grumpy, and there's nothing like anxiety on an empty stomach. And I'd rather get this over with. But, on the positive side, I don't have to be at the hospital at 5:30am!

- Finally, I have some of the most amazing friends in the world. Seriously. Send me your prayers, positive thoughts, and good vibes tomorrow. It's just beginning.

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