Implant Sounds Artificial and It IS
by Mary Ruth Summers
(Simi Valley, CA)
I took a class last semester at California State University of Northridge (Teaching Audiology and Speech for Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing - something like that). Going in, I was curious as to how CIs worked and why people were raving about it. Going out, well, it's a huge complicated answer.
For that class, two mothers of CI users came to talk to us. One was a parent educator at House Ear Institute (HEI) who brought her deaf teenage daughter and she voiced (with some difficulty) and signed for herself. We went to HEI (prominent in the nation for CI surgery) in Los Angeles and talked with their surgeon. We had an all access pass to everything about CIs. The CSUN professor is a big CI supporter, not hesitating to say, "99% of all CI surgeries work." That's a bit misleading. There's a side note to that. They work, only if the parents bring their CI-implanted kids/babies to mapping and training sessions. And they monitor infections that seem to be more normal than ever.
Yes, CIs are going to be better in bringing sounds than digital hearing aids in that they also bring in high pitch noises (on the audiogram, it's flat lined all the way, whereas with hearing aids the line diagonally goes from top to bottom, indicating a lack of access to high pitch) as well as the ability to increase your dB threshold at least 20 dB. Provided that you attend the grueling sessions perhaps fifty miles away from home if you're lucky and prove to them you did your auditory training every night with a computer software or with a hearing person who isn't making dinner at 7:30. It's not a natural process because you haven't been doing it. So with a new CI, comes with a new life. With the sounds emanating from the computer, you'd be going from detection, to discrimination (a man's voice versus a woman's voice or apple tree to tree), then to vowels and consonants, then etc. Then at your mapping session, it matches up with what your brain finally understands of the sounds. Ah, cool. Now, what's next?
There are two ways to go about it. As a deaf person, I am often asked if I would get a CI or if I favor it. My answer is simple: why make my life more complicated? CIs are a lot of work. You gotta re-train your brain for the CI-oriented sounds in speech and whatever else (that's a train, not a plane, dude), use four+ batteries to be changed over daily, put up with high pitch sounds that you never knew existed (who the hell wants to listen to crickets or that you're peeing not #2?). All for the sake of artificial noise.
CI dudes are a different set of people. I'm not saying this in a bad way. They have different needs aside of just being themselves (I'm not talking about children here). And yes, they look different with the thing magnet-ed on their heads and a cord going from their head to something magical behind their ears that I don't have, and frankly I don't care. I have adult friends who CI-ed themselves because they want to hear their children or be able to talk to their hearing relatives - going back home, but never quite getting there. Deaf children leave home when they become adults because of the language barrier. They visit maybe once every five years. They are left out almost infinitely but still have their pride. They still go back to prove that yeah, CIs work and my family has to still learn sign language. CI dudes go the extra mile. Finding out the benefits could go two ways for a CI user #1 - it didn't help me tell Ms. Jones I wanted a hot dog, not a veggie burger or #2 it helped me finally understand Ms. Jones is glad I got a CI. Screw her.
I like simplicity. It looks and feels too complicated. There's an omnipresent expectation that a CI is supposed to do something more magical than just be able to detect new sounds, yet I don't see it where I'm standing. Shall I go under the knife to see if something more could be fulfilled? It has nothing to do with my deaf identity. To me, a CI is another materialistic purchase. "Hey, lookie here - I got a CI!"
It's just that I can't help but see a struggle beneath the surface just waiting to explode. It still doesn't meet expectations. Proving that something inside is unnatural, that a deaf person became deaf or was born deaf is an unnatural process to be instilled in deaf children bugs me more than simply that when a CI will prove to the world that normal is just within reach, however never quite achieving that balance anyone paying attention is searching for.