I am in the sound proof booth, not much larger than those from the $64,000 Question program, ready for the multitude of hearing tests that would let the audiologist know just how well I could hear and understand sounds. I whizzed through several series of tests. I couldn’t stop myself from guessing what the words and phrases were and most of the guesses were right. It wasn’t looking good. But then the final test and the last chance. I had to figure out sentences that were spoken over normal cocktail party noises. There were I think 50 such sentences altogether. I understood precisely one. Finally, I was deaf enough.
Just because I got over this first and biggest hurdle however, it wasn’t a slam dunk. One of the most important factors for success of a cochlear implant is that the nerve endings in the inner ear still function. For the cochlear implant to work, the electrodes attached to the implant need a vehicle to transmit messages to the brain which then translates those messages into the sounds we hear. The nerve endings in the inner ear are that vehicle. If you have no hearing, those nerve endings aren’t being used and they can atrophy.
I have had no usable hearing in the ear I wanted implanted for a very long time. In fact, the nice young ear specialist who booked me for cochlear implant testing called it ‘dead ear’. Oh great. No nerve activity, no implant. I would be back where I started.
I had made the decision early on to only consider an implant in my totally deaf ear. If it didn’t work, I wanted the comfort of at least a little hearing in my better ear as I have now.
So here I am at Sunnybrook Hospital waiting for my appointment with the surgeon – nervous, anxious, wondering if I would receive any news at all, especially the bad news that no implant was possible. In the next fifteen minutes or so my hopes would be crushed or my life would be changed forever.
This was a serendipity moment for me as the surgeon was someone I have known for more than 25 years. We met when we were both on a hearing aid task force and worked on a project together while I was executive director of VOICE For Hearing Impaired Children.
Five minutes into the consultation he said, “We think you are a good candidate for a cochlear implant.” I heard nothing else.