Suffering an unsound situation

A little piece of electronics fell a distance that was just over five feet.  60 inches of travel, making contact with a wooden floor. It wasn’t a heard action. It wasn’t an outright noticed incident either. It had fallen from behind the ear of this author as he sat on the edge of his bed and made preparations for use of the device itself.

And the only action derived from noticing the fall and reclaiming the object has been silence.

I went stone deaf in 1997 after a necessary operation to reduce/remove an acoustic neuroma; an inter-cranial benign tumor from my head. That tumor had already played a part in me losing hearing in both my ears during the previous four years. The surgery, for the sake of having a life, had to happen though.  When the operation occurred in December ’97, I was also implanted with what is known as the Auditory Brainstem Implant, a variation of the Cochlear Implant – a device that brings the hearing world to those who are implanted with it and who use an external sound processor to enable it. For a deaf person to adopt this technology is a chore – to learn a new dimension of life. For a late-deaf adult? It’s a miraculous resumption of a realm of living.

I’m living in silence right now and I’m in hell.

In March 1998 I was supposed to start life with a sound processor and I… I balked at the idea when I first experienced sound through it. Beep, tweet, bloop, chirp, and a wide array of variations of those sounds were what I heard and it freaked me out. This was not sound; this was a disjointed audio chaos too far from it. I declined use of the sound processor I was being prepped for and went on in a life of deafness for more than three years. A dumb deafness in that I didn’t learn much of sign language and neither did those immediately around me. It was a social loneliness that was mended by chatting online as well as with people in reality through those with the patience to write me notes in notepads to tell me things.

Three years after that incident, almost four years after going deaf, I went through the process again of trying life with implanted sound. It played out as I remembered it from March 1998 – beep, bloop, tweet, chirp – but it was more welcome. I wasn’t just hearing these things; there was the sensation of sound. It’s such a common thing in the life of anyone with hearing (or even hard of hearing) that I hadn’t missed in 1998 when I first experienced the sound processor’s productivity.

While I cite minor, electronic sounds that seem so common, don’t take them as singular items.  What I was hearing (both times) was a mass of them, creating a chaos of noise. What happens with time is that these things blend together and start creating a picture, an audio picture. Soon, it turned into a simple re-introduction to sounds made by objects. Almost outright I started noticing and recognizing the tones of people’s voices. A welcome reunion to such a mundane aspect in day-to-day life.

That evening, October 10th, 2001, I was reintroduced to music by way of the Star Spangled Banner being sung on television before the first game of MLBs American League Divisional Series between the Oakland Athletics and the in-the-wake-of-9/11 New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It was an epic moment for the five boroughs of New York (and Americans in mourning nationalism) as well as an epic event for a guy who hadn’t followed a song in so long. I watched on TV and I was left in shock by being able to follow the words without the aid of close captions on the screen.

Sixteen years later, to be thrust back into deafness is a disaster of great magnitude.

Music’s partially at fault… Well, that and me wearing my Cochlear Freedom sound processor that lacked a battery connection. It was late on Friday, August 4th. I was going to bed where I tend to listen to music on my iPod to relax and help me fall asleep. What I was doing was getting cords (and a body-worn battery pack) when that technology slip happened. The external processor is nothing more than an inch in size, directly resembling a normal-yet-powerful hearing aid. It’s complex and powerful technology within a dainty and convenient container.

Now add 10 years of age to the device. Add previous knocks and accidental falls here-and-there. It results in the fact a minor bump produces a knock-out punch. A TKO delivered to an ally, not an opponent.

Now, if this was 2015, it turns into a minor inconvenience and the suffering of silence will only last a few days. Cochlear Americas will ship a replacement with no major speed bumps. Your audiologist would have to do the programming and in that regard there is a little extension of downtime, but things still would get back to where they had been in a jiffy.  That’s how it was for a Freedom user up until mid-year 2016.

Cochlear Americas deemed the Freedom sound processor obsolete. The true end-date was January 1, 2017. The company had started pushing users to upgrade to the Nucleus 6 sound processor or another model in June of 2016 in preparation for the end. I didn’t jump at the idea; I was busy running Raw Charge and struggling with life in a social and physical way. The upgrade process didn’t appeal to me when I stepped away from running SB Nation’s Tampa Bay Lightning blog either. Add a nice little health incident (sarcasm oozing) in December 2016 as well as the health struggles of my father (who passed away in July this year) and upgrading technology of any sort was an afterthought. Hell, Saturday, August 5th was a planned return trip to my father’s grave with his brother / my uncle and Cousin. Another aunt and uncle were in town for a visit with a planned night out and party that evening. There were bigger things to focus on and deal with.

Were. Past tense.

So, the sound processor fell from the back of my ear on that Friday night. I didn’t think anything was wrong. I hooked it up to the body worn battery pack as planned and pressed the power button. No response.

It’s just the batteries, they probably zonked out and need changing, was my justification for the issue. I did a quick switch-over to some freshly recharged AAA batteries in the battery pack and… No go. With dismay and concern I tried one more power angle – reconnecting a behind-the-ear battery pack (a cordless option that runs on 3 zinc air hearing aid batteries) which I had only just removed. It was futile; all that was produced by the power button was more silence. Saturday’s big day with family was cast into doubt.

“Doubt” might not be the appropriate word here. “Failure” seems more fitting. Saturday morning I broke down in frustration and anguish when trying to restore a dimension of life that was missing. I can’t go into the details of my inabilities thrust on me by way of what happened. I was there, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t participate and go out-and-about as I was lost (vision issues that aren’t spoken about here paired with this total deafness impaired me to the Nth degree).

And in so many ways that’s been the feeling I’ve been left with for two weeks now. I’m in the dark in so many ways, it has been a malignancy in social relations with family and an insecurity monster menacing me.

I filed for an upgrade on my sound processor last week. It’ll take 4 – 6 weeks (or longer) for me to be approved and receptive of a new unit. That doesn’t count the complication forthcoming with travel to Los Angeles and the House Ear Clinic to get things set up. I like traveling to LA, don’t get me wrong. The problem is I’m a guy who has been in a marred state for a year when it comes to mobility. You try negotiating Tampa International Airport and LAX when you’re using a walker as a 37 year old.  Now think about getting around the geographic variation of Los Angeles. I’m likely to be isolated at my hotel the entire time I’m out there, with the exception of a taxi ride to House Ear and Super Shuttle van rides to and from the airport.

But to regain sound justifies it. It ain’t suffering and it ain’t pain to deal with challenges like what I’ll face when I know I’ll be able to once again enjoy over five decades of popular music again. Not when I know I’ll get the convenience of day-to-day sounds back. Not when I know I’ll hear the vocal tons of those around me, returning an aspect of people’s very identity (and, you know, hearing when people talk to me so I can communicate with them again).  I’ll suffer the challenges and I’ll do it gladly. That’s life after all.

For now, though, I’m in hell. I’m alone even with friends, family and loved ones in contact with me and communicating when and how they can. It’s still a void, one enacted by a simpey technical failing brought forth by chance.

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