Cochlear Implants: Two Years Later (Graphic Surgery Pictures)

It has been two years since I got my first cochlear implant activated.

It was brutal, that surgery when they cut open my head. Seriously brutal.

And they did it twice!

There were 28 staples in my skull. The vertigo was terrible. I could not move my head at all because of the broken skull and the places where they took out the mastoid bones. I could not move or do anything, and my balance was terrible.

I got the second implant six months later, just days before Christmas (only 22 staples the second time):

I don’t remember anything from 2010, except what I read in my journals.

Those scars still bothers me, and they are still tender (though healed), and I still sleep on my special pillow that gently holds my head with all its soft spots – and the equipment just below the surface.

Cochlear implants are way better than hearing aids, with far more features and sound control options.

Both times, I had to wait about six weeks after surgery to my processors, the outside part that I wear:

Here’s how cochlear implants work, if you didn’t know:

And it took months to learn to hear digitally: learning the difference between sound and silence, learning to distinguish sentences and words, learning to identify the sounds around me and the sounds of words.

Here is the link of what it sounds like learning to hear with cochlear implants. It is a sentence repeated several times, each time representing a progression in mapping. The final sound is what it is like for hearing people (I will not ever hear that well). Experience how awful and scary it is in the beginning, and why so many people quit before making it through enough mappings to get quality sound. Then they do the same thing with a music example.

And that’s just if everything works right.

But mine did work well, and I did work hard at them. I worked really hard. I wore a lapel microphone all day long everyday for almost a year to work on my speech. I diligently and faithfully worked on my listening rehab, learning new sounds digital-style, and progressing through as many electrodes as they could turn on, as quickly as they thought it was safe to do so.

(CLICK HERE to see my activation videos.)

There is also the girl piece, how I had to survive the Year of Ugly, and how it took a whole year for me to grow my hair back and made me look like Greg Brady:

I love my cochlear implants. I do love them.

And I am glad I got them. I am.

Most always, it was worth it.

(Even though still I put them on last thing before getting out of my car to go in to work, and take them off soon as I get back in my car to go home.)

They have been a source of adventure for new experiences and provided easier access in many new ways.

But I am still Deaf, and they are only tools for hearing.

I will always love sign language, and it will always be the language of my heart.

Sign language is still better for me, easier, preferred.

When I was only Deaf, and relied on interpreters and chose friends by those who did the hard work of learning ASL, people knew I was Deaf.

Now they forget, sometimes.

It makes me sad, sometimes.

It makes me tired, often.

My skull is bruised and tender to the touch, almost raw where the magnets are, worn out by long days and overcompensating and no days off.

I try to be brave and bold, but secretly it exhausts me.

I hide from social situations because group settings and classes are painful and make me sick (literally) and cause vertigo so that I lose my balance and are really, really hard for me to understand.

I isolate from friends because I am worn out from listening, tired from guessing, and exhausted from trying to discern consonants.

I don’t go to lunches or parties, and I don’t do gatherings or get-togethers. It’s too hard. It’s too much.

I grieve when I cause offense to those who want to be my friend don’t understand why I don’t reciprocate, why I don’t participate, or why I just smile and nod instead of conversing.

I don’t really understand, I want to shout!

It’s loud in busy hallways, and I can’t understand.

There are no spaces between consonants and vowels when you talk too fast.

My computer ears only get silence when you turn away while talking to me.

I can only hear one sound at a time.

I can’t hear children.


It’s easier for me to understand your husband than it is for me to understand you, but that’s just because of frequencies. I am not trying to be friends with the wrong one. It’s just that I can’t hear you, not like I can hear him.

I can’t hear whispers.

I am not trying to be difficult.

Thank you for being patient, for taking the time to communicate with me – either face to face in a quiet space, or by text, or by email. I’m not a text addict, but it’s the best way for me to speak your language. Do you want to learn mine?

I still need you to look at me when you talk, because lipreading helps.

Yes, if you know any sign language, please use it.

It’s easiest – it all works best – when you talk and sign, all at once. That feels good. That’s easy for me. That meets me halfway.

Meet me halfway.

I want to be friends with you.

It’s a lonely thing, between worlds, not deaf but not hearing.

It’s a lonely thing, not understanding very much, missing out on so much.

It was like that before implants, in the Deaf world, because I didn’t go to their schools.

It is hard not to understand, to be left out, even when not maliciously or purposefully.

Excepting I do understand, so many things, and it is amazing, and I am grateful, so I do not want to complain, and am too stubborn to ask for help, and so just want to enjoy my friendships. But they are such hard work.

Except it is worth it, because people are amazing.

It is worth it, because interpreters aren’t available 24-7.

It is worth it, because I am stubborn and independent.

It is worth it, because of wind chimes and four-year-old nieces giggling and the sound of the sprinkler in my garden, little drops falling on brand new leaves.

Excepting I don’t need any of that, for because I see it all in color and shades and shapes and motions. I can see it before anyone else, soak it in faster than anyone else, and process the patterns and layers more than anyone else.

I can see people, and know what their minds are thinking before their lips filter, see what their eyes notice it before they pretend not to notice, and hear the cries of their spirit without them saying a word.

That’s the genius of being Deaf, to know the world through vigilant eyes and sensitive touch (that can feel what is happening long before you can hear it).

Excepting all of it is amazing to hear, too, that’s true.

Both can be true, and that’s okay.

The first words I heard and understood were those of my mother telling me she loves me.

I can hear and understand many things, and fake or guess the rest.

I can speak well for my own Self in my own Voice.

I can do it well, but it does wear me out.

I work so hard at hearing for work, that there is no energy left for playtime.

And my hands are lonely sometimes,
and still
by my side,
hungry to fly,
starving to speak,
waiting to paint pictures,
wanting to say things you can only see.

He proposed to me in sign language! Do you understand? Do you see why I love him, why he is the one?

Silence is loud, where I come from.

I love my cochlear implants, and they are powerful miracles. They really are. I love the adventure and accessibility they provide, and enjoy the many new experiences I have with digital sound. I do not regret it, for they are a marvelous work and wonder. It has been a big two years learning to use these tools.

Tools. They are tools, not ears.

That is what they are: tools for sound, just like my hands are tools for communication, and lips are your tools for talking.

They do not make me hearing.

Don’t forget, I want to shout, Don’t forget I am Deaf.

My heart is Deaf,
and my mind is Deaf,
and my hands are Deaf,
and I will always paint words in pictures.

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