Cochlear Implant: A Six Step Process

Tomorrow is my activation day which has my thoughts wrapped up in this incredible process of hearing again. As my mind considers this process, I keep thinking its a bit like tea.

Tea is a process… 

Choose the best flavor, prepare the teapot, wait as it steeps, pour the first cup, take small sips until it’s just the right temperature, and finally, enjoy! A cochlear implant is a bit like that.

1.) Choose the best flavor:

I love walking into a tea shop and just breathing in the magnificent smells. So many flavors, as well as a thousand different teapots and decorative mugs to choose from. Just like most things in life, cochlear implants offer a variety of good choices. Which company? (Cochlear, Advanced Bionics, Med El? All of them good!) Which model? (Nucleus, Kanso, Neptune, Synchrony, and more. All of them good!) Which size, which color, which accessories?

The thing about choosing the best tea is that it’s a personal choice. Everyone’s taste buds are different, so it’s not really about which kind is best, it’s about which kind is preferred by YOU. Do you wear glasses and prefer to not have 2 things on your ear? Maybe Kanso. Do you spend a lot of your time in the water? Maybe Neptune. My personal choice was the Cochlear Nucleus 7 because I am able to control everything with my iPhone, a technology benefit that fits MY taste buds.

2.) Prepare the teapot:

My favorite teapot is in the photo above. The pot gets filled with water, and a little basket on top gets filled with loose leaf tea, then covered by the lid before being placed on the stovetop. Filling the teapot is a bit like surgery day. Open, insert, close. There are 2 distinct parts to a cochlear implant(CI) hearing system. The first is the part that is implanted under your skin, and wound deeply into the spiral shaped cochlea by a skilled surgeon. But preparing the teapot is only step 2. Still no flavor. Still no sound.

3.) Wait as it steeps: 

Waiting is the hardest part. All those lovely aromas enticing you, but you know it’s still too weak to taste good. That’s how it feels these few weeks post surgery. Knowing that the device is there is exciting! But we’re still too weak; our bodies need time to heal. The device needs time to become comfortably at home in your body. Time to steep. Patience. Pain, swelling, pressure, and dizziness slowly fade, until the tea is ready to be poured.

4.) Pour the first cup:

I have a favorite mug that fits comfortably in my hand and holds just the right amount of tea for me. Around the rim are words of positiviTEA, spoken into my day. I feel good when I drink from it. The second distinct part of a cochlear implant(CI) hearing system is the visible sound processor which is worn on the outside, and attaches to the implanted device by a magnet. It’s like the mug that holds your tea, and after about 4 weeks of steeping, it’s time to fill the mug. An audiologist programs the sound processor, connects it, tests it, adjusts it, and sends you out into the world to begin sipping on all the new sounds. Activation day is probably the most exciting! It’s the taste you’ve been waiting for, for a really long time.

5.) Take small sips until it’s just the right temperature:

Caution: Freshly brewed tea is hot! If you drink too much, too soon you WILL burn your tongue. A lesson I’m sure we’ve all learned. The full potential of a CI hearing system cannot be experienced on activation day. The intensity of noise that hasn’t been heard for so long, or ever, can be overwhelming. Scalding. It takes time to cool. Many new recipients of a CI express disappointment on the day of activation. It’s not the amazing flavor they’ve been smelling and anticipating. It’s just hot. It’s just noise. But audiologists work closely with CI recipients over time, introducing sounds incrementally as the brain adjusts and learns. There are so many new sounds to learn! It takes time. It requires patience. Adjustment appointments with your audiologist are set up 2 weeks apart, a month apart, 3 months apart, until sound no longer scalds and the steam dissipates. Stir, blow, sip, stir, blow, sip. Eventually your tea will reach the right temperature.

6.) Finally, enjoy:

Sometimes I enjoy an afternoon tea party with a group of good friends. Sometimes I like to relax on my sofa and enjoy my tea while I read my Bible. Sometimes I take it with me on the go, wherever life leads me that day.

A cochlear implant is a bit like that.

I'm listening...