I received my first cochlear implant (CI) in 2013 in my left ear and in 2018 in my right ear. But I wish I had gotten them sooner. I learned that this is a feeling shared by most people with CIs. When I asked why they waited, they said it was because all the unknowns of a CI overwhelmed them when making this decision.
In today’s world of instant gratification, a CI 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 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 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 the best decisions of your life, as it has been for my life.
My CIs gave me life back that I didn’t even 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 I trusted. It was also affecting my performance at work, and I was concerned about losing my job.
Yet the unknowns of a CI seemed daunting and stopped me from getting one for years. I didn’t know if the advantages of getting a CI would be enough to outweigh the potential risks.
But in the end, I was struggling so much every day that I realized 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. During my surgery, they shaved some of my hair around the surgical site. 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 afterwards.
After surgery, the most common side effects you may experience are loss of some sense of taste, dizziness or headaches, or numbness in your tongue or ear. These side effects are usually temporary.
Watching CI activation videos on the internet can be inspiring, but it can also set unrealistic expectations.
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 CI, 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 CI, 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 CI is first turned on after surgery, your auditory nerve receives stimulation it hasn’t had in a while, similar to your eyes when you turn on the bright light at night. Your auditory nerve and brain are overwhelmed and require 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 enunciate more clearly.
This was also my experience. Today, with my CIs, 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 relationship 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 conversation 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 CI overwhelmingly outweighed the risks. When I look back at the year 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 CIs changed my world.
If the potential risks of a CI are giving you pause, think of the many benefits.
If the potential risks of a CI are giving you pause, think of the many benefits. Think of special memories that are tied to hearing: your baby’s first word, your name called for a special project at work, your spouse saying, “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. But it was also one of the toughest decisions to make. So it’s important to do your research. Learn more about cochlear implants. Speak with specialists who can answer all your questions about everything from the latest technology to insurance reimbursement. Or connect with other individuals just like you who made the decision to receive an implant. Your life of hearing awaits!
Carrie Leising, joined Advanced Bionics in 2014 and is a Cochlear Implant Consumer Specialist. Carrie coordinates the Bionic Ear Association for the Texas region, providing education and support for Advanced Bionics’ candidates and recipients. As a cochlear implant recipient, Carrie enjoys sharing the hope of hearing through technology and innovation. Prior to AB, Carrie worked in higher education in the office of external relations for six years, fundraising for student scholarships. Carrie received her Master’s of Arts in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of San Diego.