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My Journey with Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implants

by Nancy Chovancek

One of the good things about being deaf is that you can't hear your husband snore when you sleep. As a matter of fact, you have the ultimate privilege to sleep in the pure bliss of silence. There’s nothing like an uninterrupted good night's sleep unless you get punched in the face—which happens to my husband often—thanks to my very vivid dreaming.

Yes, we're still happily married.

I've been a HearStrong Champion since June of 2013. My journey with hearing loss was progressive. Diagnosed with Ménière's disease, I slowly began losing my hearing in my late twenties, but didn't really recognize I had a problem until someone asked me in my early thirties why I kept asking them to repeat what they had just said.

It was a habit I had picked up unintentionally, and I didn't realize the extent of my hearing loss until I received further complaints:

"Why is the TV so darn loud?"

"You didn't hear me calling you, mom? I was yelling loud enough to crack plaster!"

My husband was starting to get headaches every time we watched television because the sound was so loud. It was so bad, I think we broke some crystal glassware.

I did my family a favor and got fitted for small hearing aids. They amplified sound well enough for my family to not have to endure any more decibel levels that would cause them to start losing their hearing as well. A year or two later, I had to graduate to the larger, more powerful hearing aids. I guess you can see where this is going.

However, I didn't.

I woke up one day and turned on the television in our bedroom. I was looking at the weather man and I could hear the sound, but I couldn't articulate what he was saying. I said to myself, this is a different kind of weirdness. I thought it could have been the television. I went downstairs and started talking to my husband. He sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. The analogy I gave to people was that my hearing became the equivalent of an old dial radio; I was stuck in between stations trying to understand what people were saying, but it just sounded like gibberish.

I knew this wasn't another Ménière's attack because vertigo would have entered from stage right, twirling around and around, inside my head, for at least two weeks before it ended its performance inside my brain and started asking for autographs.

No. This was different.

I started reading lips, the captioning on the television was enabled to the moans and groans of my family, and I couldn't hear on the phone. My main form of communication for about a year was text messaging and email.

After several visits to ENT doctors, it was recommended that I go to the Chicago Ear Institute. While waiting for my doctor, I saw a pamphlet for Cochlear devices. I read the "You are a candidate for Cochlear devices if you have the following symptoms" list.

I had all of the symptoms. This pamphlet was telepathically screaming at me to get Cochlear devices, and I heard the screams.

After several audiological tests, I was prepped and had bilateral cochlear surgery on February 12, 2009.

When I was activated one month after my surgery, it didn't take long for my brain to become acclimated to the sounds I was once able to hear. However, I didn't realize the extent of my progressive hearing loss until we walked outside after my activation. I heard a funny sound and couldn't make out what it was. My husband said I was hearing birds.

I cried at that moment in realizing that I hadn't heard birds in probably five years and didn't realize it. What other things did I miss out on hearing? With my new Cochlear devices, I had empowered myself to reclaim all of those little sounds most of us take for granted.

Getting used to Cochlear devices isn't easy. Being a bilateral recipient, there are challenges to listening in certain environments. With my normal hearing—whatever I had left—now completely gone, my ears were merely ornaments to showcase my earring collection. I was now hearing through my brain, and my brain was getting a big workout in terms of siphoning all the sounds that were coming through and interpreting them into things I could understand.

Sometimes I understand it, and sometimes I don't. I won't sugarcoat my journey by telling you having Cochlear devices is the best thing that's ever happened to me because I still face challenges in loud restaurants, lecture halls, churches, and places with high ceilings with loud Italians talking over one another. Did I mention I'm Italian? Family functions are off limits for me—the loudness from the get-togethers sometimes brings on loud bursts that trigger my vertigo. If you don't have vertigo, you probably won't have this problem. If you're not Italian, you probably won't have this problem either.

However, I am certainly glad I have my devices and went through my hearing loss journey. If I hadn't received my implants, I would still be missing out on hearing so many things: leaves being rustled through the trees by the wind, the crunch of fall leaves underfoot, waterfalls, dogs barking, and the crying of an infant on an airplane during a nine-hour flight. The good thing about Cochlear devices is that you can always shut out the noise: simply take them off, and the sound of that crying infant magically disappears. Violà!

I also believed that this journey has given me a purpose in life. It’s a purpose to let people with hearing loss know that, yeah, it can really stink at times, but you have to laugh about it, learn from it, and try to help others who are going through the same thing.

I recently started learning sign language, and I'm thrilled to have a normal conversation with my husband in a loud restaurant. My Cochlear devices, in addition to sign language, provide me the ability to live my life, continue writing, take care of our four German Shepherds, and make sure our three sons are not getting into too much trouble in college. 

Hearing loss doesn't have to be a serious issue. There is always new technology coming out to make life easier for us. Plus, I'm always willing to lend an ear, so to speak, if you need a little pep talk or want to talk about your experience.

To learn more about Nancy, visit www.dizzinessandhearingloss.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @writeraware.

 

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