I look “normal” to you, except that when you look at me you immediately notice the strange round thing stuck to my head. I can feel the questions you ask with your eyes, so let me explain. The thing you see is my cochlear implant – the electronic device that gives me the gift of sound. I used to hate it, but now it’s my friend. When it’s switched off, I am immersed in thick silence. Life then is like watching an old Charlie Chaplain movie – you can see what’s going on and can sense something of the mood around you – but your experiences are narrowed by thick walls of quiet. When the device is turned on, another dimension comes to life. It’s as though a “sound switch” gets turned on in my head and everything becomes… well, sort of like 3D – much, much more.
‘Sounds’ cool, huh? Well, it wasn’t at first. It was scary. My head throbbed with the newness of it all. I got angry and frustrated. Sometimes I still do. Everyday is hard work. And it isn’t over yet. It will never be over.
I was content, safe and had food. My world was quiet. Mom and Dad looked happy too – for a while at least. But then, slowly, I started to see worry scrunch their faces. I could feel that they were “not okay”. Strange. I was happy. And quiet. That’s okay, isn’t it?
Before long Mom and Dad took me to me to a nice lady (called an ‘audiologist’) who put things in my ears. It was uncomfortable, but not sore. I had to go to sleep with these cords attached to my head. An “ABR” they call it. An Auditory Brainstem Response test. When I woke up, Mom and Dad definitely didn’t look okay. They smiled when they looked at me, but I could feel their fear. I could see the shock etched into their faces and could smell their despair. “Profoundly deaf”. They almost turned blue. What’s wrong? Everything’s quiet. That’s okay isn’t it?
From somewhere inside my small little self something started to pick at me from inside… am I wrong?
And then it began. Hospital. Tubes. Sleep. Wake up feeling yuck with an itchy uncomfortable bandage around my head. Home. What is this? Get this thing off me now!! Scratch scratch. Pull pull. Mom looks distressed. No, don’t scratch. But it’s itchy! Aaarrrgh! What did they do to my head?
Finally the bandage gets taken off and the stiches come out. Okay. So is it over now? Everything’s still quiet which is normal. Am I fixed? Am I okay now?
Next we’re back at the audiologist. She gives Mom and Dad a big black case with this thing inside. The cochlear implant. Is that for me? What does it do? Everyone looks happy and excited, so I guess I must be happy too? I smile because everyone is smiling. I can feel Mom’s heart beat with hope. I watch Dad breathe his relief. Ah. I see. This thing is going to make me okay. And then we can all go home and be happy again.
Wait. It gets put on my ear; the round thing sticks to my head. And then…
WOOO-OOO-OOO! Yikes! What is that? Everyone’s eyes get wider with some sort of expectation. I’m feeling uncertain. Then again, WOOO-OOO-OOO! I blink and catch my breath. What is that and where did it come from? I turn my head in the direction of the thing I don’t know. The sound. There’s nervous anticipation all around me in the room; the air feels electric. From what I can make out, whatever “this” is, it is apparently good. I’m not so sure. I want my quiet back. My head is throbbing and I start to cry. I instinctively rip the thing off my head. Please can I have my quiet back?
Fast-forward 12 months. It’s not over, but I don’t want my quiet anymore. Everything is alive with noise! “Ka-doef!” a door bangs closed; “rhaf-rhaf!” Spot barks at the gate; “sss-sss!” sizzle the frying onions. Slowly, day-by-day I am learning new sounds. Little by little I can make sounds and eventually words of my own. Mom cries tears with a radiant smile when I say “ma-ma” for the first time, aged three.
Learn; practice; fail; practice; improve. Every. Single. Day.
My dream for when I grow up? To hear Mom and Dad say, “Son, you’re a chatterbox, you are… Please can we have some quiet?”