I received my first cochlear implant (CI) in 2013 on my left ear and in 2018 in my right ear. But I wish that I had gotten them sooner. What I learned was that this is a regret shared by most people with CI’s. When asked why they waited, they say it’s because of all the unknowns of a cochlear implant that overwhelm them when making this decision.
In today’s world of instant gratification, a cochlear implant is something you can’t try on before you “buy” it. As with any medical treatment, outcomes can vary and there is no guarantee about how you much benefit you will get after implantation. That’s a lot to chew on when making a decision to undergo surgery. So it’s understandable that even if your audiologist and surgeon consider you a good candidate for a CI, it can still be a difficult step to take.
That’s why as someone who has gone through the process of making this decision personally, and someone who has helped countless others embark on this journey to hearing again, I want to share what I know with you.
If your hearing care professionals consider you a candidate for cochlear implants, it could be one of best decisions of your life, as it has been for my life.
My CI’s gave me my life back that I didn’t know was missing.
Before I got my CI, I was slowly falling into a life of isolation. I chose to skip out on family gatherings and outings with friends because I could not hear well enough to fully participate. I was reduced to only interacting with people that I trusted. It was also affecting my performance at work and I was concerned about losing my job.
Yet, the unknowns of a cochlear implant seemed daunting and stopped me from getting a cochlear implant for years. I didn’t know if the advantages of getting an CI would be enough to outweigh the potential risks.
But in the end, I was struggling so much every day that I realized that I had to do something. Having done my research, and with the encouragement and support of my friends and family, I finally decided that a CI was the best path towards getting my life back.
Getting a CI requires a minor surgical procedure under general anesthesia. They shaved some of my hair around the surgical site during my surgery. But I’ve since learned that this part of the procedure has changed a lot since the early days of cochlear implantation. Nowadays, most surgeons don’t shave off any hair. The incision site is small and hardly noticeable.
Post-surgery, the most common side effects are that you may lose some sense of taste, experience dizziness or headaches, or have numbness on your tongue or ear. These are usually temporary.
Watching CI activation videos on the internet can be inspiring, but it can also set unrealistic expectations. The truth is, the experience of hearing from the CI for the first time is less than dramatic for most people. Getting your hearing back is not instantaneous because you have to retrain your brain to hear again.
Not everyone has the same level of success with their cochlear implant, especially at the start. This is because everyone has a different hearing history. But the good news is that with practice and time, the average person with a CI can understand over 80% of sentences after six months.
To get a better understanding of what’s going on with your auditory nerve after getting a cochlear implant, think of this analogy. Imagine waking up in the middle of night. It’s pitch black so you turn on a lamp. Your eyes squint and blink because the light is too bright. It’s only after a while that your eyes adjust to the light and you can see properly again.
When the cochlear implant is first turned on after surgery, your auditory nerve is receiving stimulation that it hasn’t had in a while, similar to your eyes when you turning on the bright light at night. Your auditory nerve and brain is overwhelmed and requires time to adjust until they become comfortable with the new level of stimulation.
That’s why it takes time for you to hear and understand sounds again. But rest assured that the transition to hearing with your CI will be so rewarding, so take the time and effort to retrain your brain to hear. And you will receive plenty of support on your journey back to hearing. From your team of hearing care professionals, to learning from others who have gone through the same process, and free online training tools, you will not have to go through this process alone.
Over time, many individuals with an implant report that they can hear again at a normal, or close to normal, range. Their speech may even change because they can hear more speech sounds and start adjusting their speech to annunciate more clearly.
This was also my experience. Today, with my cochlear implants, I have in-depth conversations with friends and family in a variety of environments. I go to events and birthday parties. I talk on the phone by holding the phone up to my ear instead of relying on video calls or a captioned phone. My frustration levels have gone down and I am more confident.
I am amazed at the things I hear today that I couldn’t for a long time. Voices over distance, birds, children’s voices, running water, and a car coming up behind me are some of the sounds that I appreciate the most.
My relationships with my family also improved as they stopped having to compensate for me. Before my CI, they had to constantly help fill in the gaps in conversations for me because they could see my confusion. Today, I am able to communicate more clearly on my own and understand more conversations in noisy environments. I am not as tired from listening at work, on the phone, or over a work lunch, so I have more patience with my family and loved ones. The cochlear implant was a decision that changed our lives in so many positive ways.
For me, the advantages of a cochlear implant overwhelmingly outweighed the risks. When I look back at the year that I spent learning to hear again with my CI and the quality of life that I have now, I have no doubt that I made the right choice. The cochlear implants changed my world.
If the potential risks of a CI are giving you pause, think of the many benefits. Think of your special memories that are tied to hearing: a baby’s first word, the score of your son’s first football game, your name called for a special project at work, hearing your spouse say, “I love you” in the dark. With a cochlear implant, you could enjoy these sounds again.
For me and countless others, getting an implant was absolutely the right decision in hindsight. But it was also one of the toughest decisions to make. So it is important to do your research. Learn more about cochlear implants, speak with CI specialists who can answer all your questions from the latest technology to insurance reimbursement, or connect with other individuals just like you who have made the decision to receive an implant. Your life of hearing awaits!