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No More Excuses: Parts 1, 2 and 3

Editors Note: It has been a joy and a delight to work with Mr. Betty on his adventures from hearing loss, to cochlear implantation, and back to his hearing world. I am grateful to him for keeping us updated through his journey, and we hope to receive Part 4 sometime in 2005! Thanks from all of us, to Mr. Elio Betty for taking the time, and having the patience to share his story (below). I hope youll enjoy this as much as I have! ---Dr. Douglas L. Beck, Editor-In-Chief, www.healthyhearing.com

No More Excuses - Part 1

(originally published on www.healthyhearing.com September 30, 2002)

I am writing to offer a chronological account of my cochlear implant, which took place on August 20, 2002, in New York City.

I am 64 years old, a retired television executive, and reside in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. I lost a good portion of my hearing in my left ear some 30 years ago, due to a viral infection, or so it was said at the time. All was fine with my right ear until 1987. I had a sudden hearing loss one night for no apparent reason. My hearing fluctuated for weeks but eventually settled to something a little better than my left ear, but not much better. I was severely deaf. Although hearing aids in both ears helped a lot, eventually, my discrimination declined to something just above zero, so regardless of how loud the sound was, my ears couldn't make sense of the words.

I found corporate life unbearable. As a Senior VP for a financial cable network, the combination of the strain to hear and my type A personality, became too difficult for me to enjoy my career. Eventually, I just retired. Severe hearing loss is much easier to deal with when you are retired, mostly because you can control your environment and activities.

My wife of 39 years, who is always there to assist in understanding conversations, making difficult phone calls, and generally running interference for me, makes life much easier and rather enjoyable. I had adopted to my hearing loss, and my family and friends, of whom I fortunately have many, are considerate and helpful.

Interestingly, if you read lips pretty well, and have hearing aids that give you substantial volume, people, including family, forget you're severely impaired. While it's great to feel you are not a burden to others, it creates an expectation that is sometimes difficult to achieve.

As with all hard of hearing people, noisy environments were brutal, but it also tends to level the playing field. Nobody hears well at a cocktail party, in a room with lots of people and marble floors. Heck, my lip reading gives me an edge. I have also noticed that when watching sports on television, people expect that I can read the lips of the coach when giving instructions to the players or fighting with the umps or refs. The easiest deciphering always occurred watching Indiana basketball on TV. Since it is the Alma Mater of my wife and two of my three children, they wanted to know what Bobby Knight was saying. Well, you don't need to lip read to figure that out. He used language I hadn't heard since growing up in Brooklyn, New York.

As my discrimination levels decreased and cochlear implant technology increased, I slowly became a cochlear implant candidate for surgery. Over the past year, I read the literature, met several times with my ear doctor (a prominent cochlear implant surgeon in New York) spoke with many audiologists, had many hearing tests, consulted with my family, and spent endless hours online learning as much as possible about the implant process.

Finally, I decided to have the surgery, which occurred August 20, 2002.

While the decision seemed obvious, the thought of losing what little residual hearing remained in the implanted ear was frightening. The question of ''looks'' after surgery and hookup to the processor was also haunting me in my quiet moments. Could I hide the magnet and wire with my thinning hair? Would I look like an alien if the processing unit were visible? Now these are all secondary considerations to the ultimate benefit of a cochlear implant, but being rational, is not always my strong suite! I guess the final decision actually occurred when I finally ran out of excuses.

And so it happened. I went into the hospital as an ambulatory patient at 8:30 am and left the hospital at 5:00pm with a four-inch incision and 29 staples. I have had very little pain, only some dizziness, no nausea, and no facial nerve problems. I will return on Sept. 3, to have the staples removed and hopefully set a date for the hook up and initial stimulation.

This saga is ongoing and I will check in with a follow up report in about 6 weeks. I am still anxious and trying to minimize my expectations. As the weeks go on, I expect this feeling will intensify. As my father in law would say, A wee dram of scotch daily might be of great assistance. Far be it from me to alienate my in law, so, CHEERS!

No More Excuses - Part 2

(originally published on www.healthyhearing.com January 13, 2003)

In Part One, I traced my thought process leading to the decision to receive a cochlear implant. That episode ended with growing anxiety while awaiting the conclusion of the surgery healing and September 19, the date for the processor hook up.

That day (September 19, 2002) took forever to come. By the morning of the appointment, I was quite convinced that although the expectations were very positive by my surgeon, as well as my audiologist, I only expected some minor improvement in hearing and speech discrimination. The fear of failure shined brighter than the opinion of the professionals. We of such little faith conjure up all the reasons why not, just to avoid disappointment. I am naturally a pretty optimistic person. I realize now that my optimism is for others, like family and friends, not for me. I prefer to deal with my own future with guarded anxiety.

Well, once again -- I was wrong. The day came and my wife and youngest daughter accompanied me to the audiology department of the New York hospital where the implant was done. The initial hooking up process was uneventful but very revealing as to my general anxiety since my hearing loss 15 years ago. The audiologist tested my hooked up processor via a computer program and asking me to respond to beeps at different volumes in a range of 20 frequencies. I noticed that I was trying very hard to hear the beeps at low volume, because during the last decade, during each hearing exam, I had hoped my sudden hearing loss would improve.

This made my hands sweaty and my heart beat faster.

My audiologist reassured me that it didn't make a difference at what level the sounds were clear. The computer will adjust my hearing to insure that volume levels are proper. This fact, suddenly made me realize that my hearing was going to be a function of a computerized electrical stimulus, and not a natural hearing phenomenon. I will be able to hear no matter how bad my hearing is, and it is all based on a computer program, and the electrode, not the amount of hair cells left in my cochlea. This may not be the definition of an out of body experience, but for me, it's close enough!

Finally, my audiologist unplugged the computer connection, and said it was time for a solo ride. She turned on my processor, and said ''hello.''

I heard it, and understood this new electronic sound, but I was also looking at her and reading her lips. She then turned around and counted from one to four. I miraculously continued the count from five to nine. I did hear her, and I wasn't looking. The volume level was pretty normal as well. You know miraculous is probably not a proper description of my return to hearing. It certainly doesn't compare to the true miracles of the ages, and the people responsible for them.

In our time, the work of someone like Mother Theresa is truly miraculous, and she will eventually be canonized. I don't mean to demean the word ''miraculous,'' but in my world, the ability to return to a normal hearing life after fifteen years of trying to hear, is for me, a miracle.

As I began to hear in the audiologist's office, it was as if a shroud of noise was lifted from my head, and replaced with recognizable speech. During the trip home on that wonderful day, I was able to hear my wife and daughter talking in the car, without having to rely on lip reading to assist me. It is not only a blessing for me, but considerably safer for those driving with me. Also, my driving skills seem to have improved now that I don't have to lip read while driving. Why is that, you think?

It has now been about four weeks since my hook up. The initial program was tweaked the day after turn on, which was a marked improvement, and now I am trying four different programs of different volume and frequency responses, to determine which is most comfortable, and effective.

Not that it means anything, but program one and four are better than two or three. What does that mean? I don't have a clue, yet. I will return to the audiologist in about a week to get tuned up again.

It's supposed to take about three months from the time of hook up to get to peak performance. It takes that long for the brain to adjust to the new sound, and the audiologist to adjust the programs to each individuals' needs.

I have begun to talk on the telephone. It isn't perfect, but a major improvement from my pre-implant days. Interestingly, my family and friends say that my voice is now lower and stress free, and that I look less stressed generally.

I must admit that I have a much greater sense of peace, and my daily life is easier. I can easily converse in a store, gas station, and on the golf course. However, my renewed hearing has not improved my golf game. I still can't putt worth a darn. A talent implant may be needed for that to improve!

The icing on this wonderful cake was complete when my daughter in law gave birth to a beautiful and healthy son, two days after my hook up. Hearing him cry is probably the greatest gift of all. I am thankful beyond belief, and grateful that I can share this experience with others. By the way, ''huh?'' is no longer part of my vocabulary. Once again, Cheers.

No More Excuses (You Better Listen Up -- Or Else!) - Part 3

(originally published on www.healthyhearing.com August 9, 2004)

It has been 22 months since my cochlear implant. I have written two previous accounts of my saga (abive).

Part One addressed the decision to have the cochlear implant, and Part Two related the absolute joy of having improved hearing after the processor was turned on.

At this time (summer, 2004) in the delightful journey, I can only say ''I forgot.''

That is, I forgot Im deaf. I spend most of my day unaware that I can't hear (without the cochlear implant) and now I think of myself as normal. What is really amazing is my wife, children and friends all believe I can hear normally as well. It was as if the fifteen years that I had to wear two behind-the-ear (BTE) powerful hearing aids to barely get by -- wasnt real. It seems like it was an extended mishap and is no longer of concern. So, I forgot, they forgot, and even though it's not perfect, as my father-in-law used to say, ''It's good enough for government work.''

I truly journeyed from being a deaf person, back to the hearing normalcy that dominated the first 50 years of my life. So now, it's back to normal, and its good to be back!

There was a time when, as a really deaf person, people that knew me (family and friends) were gentler and kinder when dealing with me. During my deaf days I was given some slack, considering my ''condition,'' and of course -- I took advantage of the generosity of others, and used it to my advantage! As my 22 month grandson aptly puts it bye-bye to that deal.

Now it's life as usual. And while all that gentleness and kindness is not entirely gone, it surely has dissipated! I'm back, and my opinions and thoughts are back, and my life is back.

Im still a type A personality, despite my hearing loss and my cochlear implant. I am quite vocal and opinionated, and I sometimes spend hours trying to get any and all to accept my views. I read quite a lot, especially since acquiring hearing loss. I am not necessarily right in my views, and I know that. Nonetheless, views they are, and I offer them with fervor and commitment. I am not complaining, but sometimes special treatment was nice.

When I was deaf, people used to say, '' Are you hearing me okay, or should I speak louder.'' Now, they say, ''You better listen up or else!'' On occasion my wife has gone back to ''Quit tuning me out.'' I certainly would not want to revert to my previous non-hearing status, not under any circumstance, but I sort of got used to being special, and there were some nice benefits.

Now, Rodney Dangerfield isnt the only one who doesnt get respect.

But seriously, prior to my cochlear implant, I resolved that my hearing was poor and I learned to live with it. It wasn't terminal.

The gift I received in the cochlear implant really threw me for a loop, and not the induction loop used with a telephone switch. It took some time for me to wrap myself around this wonderful change. In retrospect, I can see that I thought just maybe, someone would pull the rug out from under me once again. And I couldnt let my guard down until I knew it was a permanent change, back to hearing. With almost two years of living with a cochlear implant, I'm beginning to feel much more secure.

I know that almost no one needs to go through daily life as a severely or profoundly deaf person. I know theres a cultural issue with those born deaf. But I wasnt born deaf. I was a hearing person, and then deafness happened after 50 years of hearing. For me, the difference is day and night, and I choose hearing.

I hope all young people are given the chance to have a normal hearing existence. To me, having experienced both sides of the equation, the choice is clear. Once youve returned to almost normal hearing through a cochlear implant ''You better listen up, or else!''

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For more information about Cochlear Implants, click here.

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