Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My hearing journey

I never thought I'd be writing a blog. Life is full of surprises, isn't it?

I am beginning a new chapter in my life tomorrow. I'm getting a cochlear implant! A lot of implant recipients I've spoken with felt it was cathartic and therapeutic to write about the experience. It's a very drawn out process; it takes several months (if not longer) to get the full benefits of the implant.  So I'm giving this whole blogging thing a shot. It's a work in progress. Bear with me.

So, before I start posting my musings and random thoughts in the coming weeks, I thought I'd start with a little background on my hearing. Appropriate, right?

On a fateful November day in 1977, I was born with a severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. It was not detected until 6 weeks later when my observant mother realized that something was not right. One day I was in the kitchen with my mother, minding my own business. As she reached for a dish at the top of a pantry, she slipped and several pots and pans came crashing down on the counter and floor. She attempted to soothe my fears, but realized that I didn't notice the loud and sudden incident. I didn't even flinch. She was shocked. As fate would have it, Mom had just read an article about infants and hearing loss just a few days earlier. She referred back to the article and looked for a number or address. Then she made the phone call that would change our lives forever.

<cue dramatic score>

When I was diagnosed with the hearing loss at the League for the Hard of Hearing in Manhattan, my parents knew there was some tough challenges that lie ahead. I was fitted for my first pair of hearing aids before I turned one. Regular trips to the League became common; I remember taking a lot of rides to the city from Jersey. Testings, hearing aid and FM unit fittings, speech therapy -- it became my childhood. When it was time to start school, it was my mother's insistence that I attend public school and be mainstreamed. She had no ill will towards deaf culture; she felt that my hearing was strong enough to survive a classroom with other hearing children. She also wanted me to have the same opportunities and benefits as any hearing kid my age. After some resistance from local social workers, she won out...and I started Kindergarten in the Freehold Township public school system.

Still with me here? Good. We're making headway!

Every student has their own set of challenges. Some struggled with math, or spelling, or language. My challenge was associated with hearing loss. With the help of professionals, I got through it. I have nothing but fond memories of my elementary years. I blended in with my hearing peers in and out of school. I remember slumber parties, field days, classroom activities. I had warm, loving teachers. I even had my first girlfriend in the 6th grade, and she held my hand every Friday night during the roller skating events at the gym. I also remember the in-school speech therapy sessions, and I actually looked forward to them every day. Some kids would be in health or gym, and I'd be the lucky one playing with puzzles and speech games.

I used the FM unit all through elementary school. I didn't mind it. Some kids even thought it was cool. My grades were proof that it helped. But as I grew older, I began to resist it. Part of it was cosmetic since I was becoming self-conscious of my image. It just didn't look cool. Another part was my insistance that I no longer needed the help. "I can do this on my own." I phased it out slowly throughout junior high, but was completely rid of it during my freshman year of high school. I was finally independent.

As with every kid, you begin to establish your own identity when you go into junior high. I found my niche: drama. Mr. Barlaam wasn't your normal drama teacher. He had a big bushy beard and an even bigger personality. They always say you never forget the teachers that touched you the most. He was definitely one of them. My hearing loss never restricted me from enjoying the pleasures of being on stage. Barlaam was sure to give me my "notes" while close to the stage so I can read his lips. Lip-reading, body language and hearing aids got me through junior high and, well, the rest of my life. Losing the FM unit made me adapt to more natural ways of "listening."

The acting bug carried over into my high school years. Another great drama coach -- and all around great guy -- Mr. Forman guided me through these years as a high school "actor." Without my FM unit, I admit that I did struggle. I had more challenges than ever before. However, my grades kept up and I'm proud of my academic achievements. I have great memories of high school, but it was also a time of awkwardness as I was lacking a sense of self and belonging. Graduation was near and I didn't know where to go, or what to do. I was distancing myself from old friends and retreating from social situations. I was becoming more and more reclusive.

In hindsight, I think I was scared of life outside of school. I remember thinking, "What if I can't hear as well as I do in a classroom?" "What if my hearing loss prevents me from getting a job?"  Everyone I know had their own fears of starting college or moving on, but I still felt alone.

Luckily I found a great pair of friends during my last two years of high school. We were inseparable. In their own indirect ways, they guided me through the transition from high school into college. Even though we went to separate schools hours apart from one another, we still remained close. They made me feel a lot less alone, despite not being physically there with me in Boston. I ended up marrying one of them years later, but that's a story for another post.

My years at Emerson College shaped me to be the person I am today. I adapted to the real world as a hearing-impaired individual. I saw the opportunities available to me. I buried myself in film at the same time, deepening my passion for the medium and learning to view the world as seen through the eyes of a film lens. After college, I landed some odd jobs in television and film, eventually landing at Fox Cable Networks in NYC, where I am now. I'm happily married with two great kids and in a really good place in my life.

My hearing loss has been consistent for 30 years. I always remembered having a good ear and a not-so-good ear. In the past two years, my not-so-good ear gradually became worse. I started noticing an imbalance of sound, that I was depending on my good ear more than ever. I was struggling a little bit.  A series of audiological exams confirmed that my hearing in my bad ear was in fact very gradually worsening. My wonderful audiologist of many years said to me matter-of-factly: "I'm not going to beat around the bush here, but...it might be time to consider a CI."

The notion of a cochlear implant was in the back of my mind for many years, but I never seriously considered it. Last year, I started doing some active research and eventually learned that it will become inevitable. I was hopeful, though; the technology astounded me and I was impressed by what it can do.

When it came time to make a decision, I thought, "Well, what do I have to lose?" I thought about how lucky I am to be surrounded by great friends and family and a good job and to be in excellent health, and I wondered, "What if I can enjoy all of this a little more? What if better hearing can make me more confident in my job and in social gatherings? What if I can hear my kids without missing a beat?"

And that's when "What If" became "Let's Do It."

And I haven't looked back!

1 comment:

JennH said...

A d*mn long post... & after reading the whole thing... all I can say is You Missing Health Class in Elementary School explains ALOT about your personal hygiene. Alot. ;)

That.. & I'm impressed with how quickly your Mom diagnosed the problem. That's a fear of mine as a mother-- not noticing something in a timely fashion.