Bilaterally Bionic

I am a late-deafened adult, and when I lost my hearing it happened very quickly (within a week of the onset of tinnitus). I now have a CI in my right ear, activated last June, and it is *wonderful*. I am so excited to be having conversations again with my family and friends!

People keep asking if I’ll get one in the left ear as well, and up until a few days ago, I always replied with an emphatic YES. However, I started having serious doubts. When I take off the processor to sleep, shower, change my clothes, or do my hair, I am more aware of the things I AM still able to hear with my left ear. It’s not much, but it’s not complete silence. I can hear loud noises, such as a phone ringing or my daughter screaming at her brother or sometimes even a knock at the door. And though it’s not even close to normal hearing, and I wouldn’t be able to understand speech, it’s still something. And going bilateral would mean, well, silence. Completely. And I don’t know… do I want that? Is that a reasonable price to pay in order to have two good, working, bionic ears?

Knowing there are many people on the Advanced Bionics forum who have gone bilateral, and perhaps also wrestled with these same questions, I posted my concerns and asked for some perspective. I was astounded at the number of responses I received. All held great perspective and food for thought, however one in particular struck a nerve I hadn’t realized was exposed.

PaulW writes:

Mindy,
I wonder if the real issue isn’t fear.
I see that you are a mum. And I know mums are supposed to be perfect caregivers, protectors and comforters. How can you do that if you are deaf? But hubby can hear – right? And there are two children who can learn to look out for each other – even during the night. Teach them what smoke detectors sound like and what to do – i.e. wake you. Teach them not to open the door to strangers and to come and get you. Teach them that if either is sick to come and wake you. I do think that everyone can learn to look after each other and be a secure, strong and safe family. It’s not all on your shoulders! And if truth be told, what can you hear? You might be doing your family a much bigger favor by improving your own hearing and ability to share their happiness, experiences and socialize. That might be your biggest mum gift to them and yourself!

He is right, the issue is not fear. What is the issue? I think it is that I allow myself to have unrealistic expectations of myself. While it may have been realistic two years ago to be able to hear a smoke alarm or whether a kid is crying at night, it is no longer. I am deaf now. Expectations change. My husband knows this, and he certainly doesn’t expect me to hear those things at night, so I shouldn’t either.

But with a change in expectations, we can go one step further and prepare the family so everyone knows what to do in certain situations. The thing is, this is not just for our family. Every family should have fire escape plans. And every child should know who they can come to when they are sick or frightened in the middle of the night. These are things that every family should discuss.

So, back to the burning question of getting a second CI. I still have some hesitation, but if I’m honest with myself, I would say that my left ear is pretty damn useless. I think that I am starting to accept that fact, and am willing to sacrifice that residual hearing in order to gain better hearing by going bilateral. I’m told by many that two is so much better than one. One person said it’s exponentially better, like 1 + 1 = 3. And if I can have better hearing during my waking hours and while I’m with people, being in complete silence all the other times is worth the cost.

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