Thursday, April 19, 2007

The magic continues....

While I am learning to interpret what my CI is giving me, I’ve also been involved for the past few days on a voluntary basis in a project that I belatedly discovered is firmly AGAINST cochlear implants, especially for infants and young children--before they are old enough to choose themselves to get an implant. The rationale behind these anti-CI opinions is that there is nothing wrong with deaf babies, and we do not need to fix them. Being deaf, according to these culturally Deaf (with a capitol D) opinions, does not prevent a person from experiencing life and its satisfactions to the fullest in every way.

And here I’ve been thinking that, yes, implanting infants makes the most sense of all! Let me explain.

My life and experience as hearing person prior to 1963 have not really helped me adapt to my CI except in the sense that I do know I can access beauty and information through my ears. I’ve been thinking that audiologically speaking, I’m really an infant with this CI. It’s not my remembered hearing but my BRAIN that is making sense of CI-facilitated sounds. The more sounds I hear, the more I practice listening, the more my brain synthesizes these chaotic, initially incomprehensible noises into meaningful sounds.

For example: the initial birdsongs all sounded alike and boring...”CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP”…like those little tin bird whistles you can buy in souvenir shops. Now I hear different birds, different songs (including, memorably, a mockingbird last week!).

Living in the city, I’ve seen emergency vehicles pass by with lights flashing every day. The first sirens I “heard” sounded like a bunch of high-pitched squeaks (or, as I put it elsewhere, "mosquitos with their tits in a wringer"). This morning, while I was riding the bus, an ambulance passed us, and I heard the actual siren. If I also heard the squeaks (and next time I hear a siren, I'll be sure to pay attention to this), my brain has learned to ignore them.

Daffy Duck is alive and well, but he’s been taking voice lessons. People’s voices, which two weeks ago were all flat, indistinguishable, and monotone are now individualized. I can tell Tim’s voice from Linda’s, Linda’s voice from Yinka’s, Yinka’s voice from Anita’s, and my own voice from everyone else’s. All of this has been the work of my brain.

I would guess that it’s the same work an infant does when it learns, finally, to say “Mama” or “Dada” or “I wan jooos!” I don’t remember what I heard as an infant, but the sounds of my own breathing and the rustling of my blanket had to be among the clearest and most identifiable. Then I learned to make sense of other sounds--my mother's voice, the dog growling. At 12 months, Peggy was saying “boog” proudly as she pointed to the Box Elder bugs swarming on the warm porch of our house in Bismarck. Tom used to say “boody” (for “birdy”) when he saw a bird. Now Peg and Tom can say “bug” and “birdy” like champions. But back then, it’s possible they had not heard all of the discrete sounds involved in “bug” or “birdy” in addition to being unable to reproduce them vocally. We call this cute baby language “baby talk.” Babies all over the world do this, and it takes them months to be able to put this into recognizable if imperfectly articulated speech.

My brain has been going through this same accumulation/synthesis process—at age 70! Of course, I’ve learned a few tricks in all that time, so already I can say bug and birdy, but if I hear those words on a recording via my CI without being able to SEE what the words are, they may not yet be familiar to my brain.

The cochlear implant is magical…there’s really no other word for it. Or rather, my brain is magical. Imagine taking this world of sounds and making sense of them! Of course they should implant babies who are born without a functional sense of hearing. Their brains won’t know the difference between what would have been theirs by nature and what is theirs now by technology.


  1. If what you are experiencing is just what infants go through when they are first born, then I too think that the CIs for infant protestors have it all wrong. In addition, we should all stop playing classical music to our infants to Make Them Smarter and stick with the simple tunes that they all love, e.g. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

  2. Peggy:
    These are just my impressions. I don't know if this is anything at all like what infants go through, but it's very different from what I expected. I expected to be able to...well...hear more or less like I did before. But the experience is very different, and it makes me wonder. I think much of the literature tries to tell people what happens when they get a CI, but we don't really know what they're talking about. Now I know what they're talking about, and it's great. And it must definitely be similar to what happens when an infant learns to hear.

  3. I didn't know that there was any controversy about setting infants up with CI, I would think that there should be no opposition to any kind of medical intervention that will enhance life's experiences.

  4. Not to be insensitive, but after experiences with deaf people in my community and following the story about the deaf school that kicked out their non-deaf provost (or was it president?) a while back, I'm inclined to think that the deaf community at large likes being seperated from the hearing community. It seems like these protesters are protesting the ability for the children to become a part of the 'hearing world' and thereby leaving 'the deaf world' behind.
    What are your thoughts Xtreme? Am I wrong?

  5. ex-shammickite:

    there is great controversy over this, alas. Deaf culturists seem to feel CIs are a huge threat to deaf culture. If all the deaf babies are implanted, poof! there goes the deaf community.


    that is what they are protesting, i think. they seem especially upset because many of them perceive that "hearing parents" are taken in by "implant doctors" claiming that an implant will make their deaf child hearing. having been through scads of medical interviews and discussions (with and without sign language interpreters) in my adult life, i can think of many reasons related to flaws in communication why they might perceive this, but i really can't believe that any m.d. in this day and age of malpractice lawsuits would make such a FALSE claim. CIs do NOT make ANYONE hearing, and any m.d. who would promise this to parents is setting himself or herself up for a lawsuit. such a claim would be simply dumb. doctors may be human and have faults, but generally, they're not DUMB. CIs are simply the latest (and quite wonderful) tool for enhancing deaf people's lives. any parent, hearing or deaf, would want their child, hearing or deaf, to have all the tools available to succeed in living.

    i think, from my own limited experience, that what may be lacking most of all is enough and proper rehab or training for the implantees. this also may be a result of false expectations: that the CI will restore (or create) the sense of hearing miraculously, rather than offer the implantee a learning experience. not all insurance policies cover anything beyond the initial and followup "mapping"--programming the processor. they do not cover the absolutely necessary rehab work. i'm sure i'm not an expert on this point, but from what i've observed and experienced, there is an immense NEED for this kind of support in order for deaf children and adults to derive all the benefits possible from their CIs.

    unfortunately, some educators can be cowed by the potential for protest by deaf culturists or hobbled by lack of funding and are unwilling or unable to offer this kind of service to their implanted deaf and hard of hearing students, or if they do have such a service, they don't make much noise about it.

    another reason for the protest is that the initial design of some implants themselves led to cases of meningitis in otherwise healthy patients. currently, candidates for an implant must be immunized against meningitis prior to surgery, and the implants, along with the surgical procedure, have been redesigned to avoid this.

  6. Just wanted to remark on what a great post this is. I totally understand what you are expressing (I wonder if someone who'd never been deaf and gotten a CI could?) I especially liked your comment above about a CI NOT making a person a hearing person! I pumped my fist and said "yes!". So many people do NOT get this. I tell people that giving someone a wheelchair doesn't make them walk again, now, does it?

    I think your self-awareness about the process you're undergoing will be a big help to you in your journey.


XE welcomes your comments. Spam and offensive material will not be posted and will be deleted.

Thanks for your patience and cooperation.