Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why Now? Part Two

At my first appointment with Dr. Slater, he looked over all the hearing tests, scans, case notes, and everything in my file, and asked me, "You've obviously been a candidate for a cochlear implant for a long time. Why now?"*

In early 2011, it became clear to me that my trusty hearing aids were starting to give out.  I'd purchased them in 2005, right after I started working full-time, and they'd served me pretty well.  But 6 years is a tremendous lifespan for hearing aids, and the technology has advanced and improved considerably over that time.  I was lucky to have gotten as much mileage out of them as I did.  I'd had little luck finding an audiologist in Austin that I was comfortable with, so Mom looked around in New Braunfels and made me an appointment with Estes Audiology.  She might've picked them because there was a coupon in the paper.  But whatever the reason, it turned out to be an inspired decision because the people I met there made all the difference.

My first appointment was with Phallon Doss, one of the audiologists working there.  I was a little nervous going into my appointment because I didn't know what to expect.  I just wanted someone to fix my hearing aids, or in the worst case scenario, help me find something better without taking my money and running.  (Because my hearing loss is so severe, fitting me for a hearing aid is an ordeal, and I'd yet to find someone who could reliably work with me over the course of weeks and months to customize my hearing aids to me.)  Phallon put me at ease immediately, listened as I explained what was going on with my old hearing aids, and talked to me about why getting new hearing aids was probably the best course of action.  So, shortly thereafter I ordered some fancy new hearing aids, powerful top of the line Phonak aids, complete with a remote and Bluetooth receiver! 

Because my new hearing aids were so much more powerful than my old ones, it took several visits over the next weeks and months to fine-tune the settings to where I was comfortable with them.  And after I had gotten used to them, I was still frustrated that my hearing seemed to be about the same.  I still couldn't hear in the car or other noisy settings, and speech was only a little bit more intelligible.  I had reached the limit of what modern hearing aid technology could do for my level of hearing loss. Perhaps this was just my lot in life.

At one of the visits with Phallon, I noticed that she had some brochures in her office about cochlear implants.  I was curious, so I asked if I could take one home with me. She also shared her professional opinion that a cochlear implant would be the next step for me, given the level of loss. She also talked about why I would be a good candidate: I've worn hearing aids my whole life so there are some key neural networks for hearing, and I've spent a lifetime working to improve my speech. In essence, I've already overcome two of the major obstacles that many cochlear implant patients face: learning to hear for the first time and learning to speak, both of which things are increasingly difficult to do after the critical language development periods of infancy and early childhood. 

It took me a few days to get up the nerve to look through all the materials because I wasn't sure what my reaction would be.  The brochures were geared towards pediatric patients and filled with story after story of children and parents whose lives were changed for the better because the child got a cochlear implant.  It sounded miraculous and hopeful.

As I read through everything, I began to weep.  I wept because when I was a child, my parents did not have the luxury of cochlear implant technology and so they had to chart an alternate course for me to find my way in the world of hearing. I wept at the thought of living in a time when such technology could touch the lives of so many hearing impaired people.  I wept because it sounded like maybe there was another option for me, beyond hearing aids.  Clearly, there was something to this cochlear implant business after all, and I wanted to find out more.

Two weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant with Molly, and everything was shelved.  Cochlear implants were in the back of my mind, but I had more pressing matters to attend to.

In April 2012, my family was listening to General Conference. (As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we participate in General Conference twice a year.  It's a two-day meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, with talks from church leaders on a variety of topics relevant to faith and family. The proceedings are broadcast over the Internet, for convenience and a broader distribution of the messages.) Elder Russell M. Nelson gave a talk called "Thanks Be to God."  His comments about the majesty of the human body, the completeness of its functions, and the miracle of the resurrection touched me deeply.  I especially appreciated this remark:
Be we reminded that a perfect body is not required to achieve one’s divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail or imperfect bodies. Great spiritual strength is often developed by people with physical challenges, precisely because they are so challenged.
At the end of his talk, the thought came into my mind very clearly: "It's time for a cochlear implant."  I even wrote that down because it was such a distinct impression.

From there, everything fell into place quickly.  Through Soriya Estes, the founder of Estes Audiology, I was introduced to the team at Austin Ear Clinic.  I met Amy Gensler for the first time at an event sponsored by Cochlear Americas, and from there, the evaluation process started.  Now that I look back at how events have unfolded, I am amazed that it all came together so tidily.  I was able to get appointments sooner rather than later, paperwork was processed quickly, and help always came when I needed it.  The time was finally right.

*So, the answer I gave in the doctor's office was "Because no one has ever made a compelling case for one before." And he was satisfied with that.


  1. Love reading these posts Rebecca!

  2. So incredible!!! :) We are so excited for you and the wonderful things waiting for you.

  3. Amazing! It has happened when it was supposed to.