By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
In March, I visited the audiologist who handles my cochlear implant to check on my progress with the new CI, which I’ve had for seven months. (My original one is no longer supported by its maker, much as what happens when you need a new version of a cell phone or computer.) For the first time, the audiologist did a hearing test and a speech test just for the CI. The hearing test was to see if adjusting some volume levels would make it easier for me to hear specific tones. (He did raise and lower some tones, although I can’t really tell the difference.)
The speech test was to test my word comprehension. That meant turning off my hearing aid – not that the hearing aid is a help with comprehension. As someone I used to work with once discovered, I did better lip reading without the hearing aids, than I did if someone spoke to me when I wasn’t looking directly at their lips. For this test, the audiologist covered his mouth so I couldn’t see it. My score was an amazing 85 percent comprehension. For all but one of the words, the ones I missed were close to the word he said. That meant that in context – hearing someone say it in a sentence – I would probably have understood what was being said.
I was very pleased with that result, that is until my foot doctor’s office called the next week. I’d used my caption phone to make the appointment and had been very careful to repeat the day, time and place. (There is a Vestal office and a Binghamton one.) The phone call I received was a robot call, which was a good thing because I could have it repeat again and again what was being said. I did that because something wasn’t right. I went to my caption phone, had the robot repeat its message and discovered that my appointment was not on the day I thought.
When I called the office to confirm the appointment, I learned that I had the correct time and location, but not the correct date. Fortunately, I could still make the appointment, but was upset that I’d misheard the date. I’d used the caption phone because I know I have difficulty with numbers. Context doesn’t always help because there is often no way to know if, for example, someone said fifty or sixty.
This kind of mistake is not the end of the world, since, thank goodness, doctors’ offices usually confirm appointments or send reminders. But I know that hearing problems have occurred at other times. For example, I’m finding it more difficult to hear during evening meetings. That’s partly because I’ve been getting tired more easily than I used to and hearing takes concentration. One reason the audiologist changed some of the settings on the CI was to make is easier for me to hear without having to concentrate as hard. Believe it or not, he said that level of concentration actually makes hearing comprehension more difficult.
I’m not complaining about the implant because I’ve always had realistic expectations about what the CI can accomplish. I will never have normal hearing. Meetings will always be difficult, especially when I need to answer questions and absorb what people are saying. What I still appreciate and what is beyond measure, though, is being able to hear music. That ability continues to improve. It’s wonderful to listen to songs I haven’t heard or thought about in decades. Sometimes I can identify something as music, but I can’t hear the melody. I’ve tried listening to some of my former favorites again and again in the hope I will hear that melody. Sometimes, after multiple listenings, they actually sound like the songs I remember. When that happens, it’s a moment of pure joy.
Disturbing moments will always happen, but how I deal with them is mine to determine. When I started to feel upset at a recent event because I had no clue what was happening, I told myself to forget that I was lost and just enjoy the company. When talking later with a friend, she said at least I had an excuse for not knowing what was going on. That made me laugh, which is the best reaction I can hope for. Laughing or crying: those are the two ways I can react to my hearing impairment. There will still be times I cry, but I can only hope the times I laugh will outweigh them.