Deborah is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. She experienced familial progressive hearing loss, which presented at age 10. Her first ear was implanted in 2005, the second ear in 2008. A native New Yorker, she presently resides in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. She is involved with HLA-NC, is a volunteer at the Wildlife Rehab Center of the NC Zoo, and is a board member of the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina. In her spare time she takes courses at the local college, and enjoys walks and photography in the nearby Uwharrie National Forest.
I love being out in nature, taking long walks and observing the world around me. I often capture some of what I see with my camera. Trees, sky, colorful blooms, rivers and streams, rocks, fungi, ferns. All are a delight to my senses. However, there is nothing I enjoy photographing more than bugs. Yes, bugs. From the stingers to the crawlers, the colorful to the camouflaged, the loners and occasionally those in flagrante delicto. From the time I was a young girl, I loved the outdoors. When my family and I still lived in the city, you could find me in the back of the apartment building, climbing a small fence so I could wander around the grassy patches that remained among the asphalt yard. When we moved to the suburbs, on a dead end street that had many acres of woods adjacent to it, I was delighted! This was still a time in our culture where folks were not so afraid to let their children run around the neighborhood, playing at friend’s homes and backyards. I chose to run around in the woods, usually by myself. I was not yet so hard of hearing that it was a concern, nor was it an explanation for why I preferred solitude. I am still this way today.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how my love for observing and photographing bugs ties in with my experience as a cochlear implant recipient. I was recently in New York for a visit, and one day a friend and I went to visit some museums. She, an artist and therapist, had been curious about my fascination with bugs. As we all know, bugs do not have a great reputation. Much time and resources goes into controlling or eradicating them. No one had ever asked me about this, and I can honestly say I’d never really wondered. I thought about all the people who seem to hate these fascinating beings! Nevertheless, my response was immediate and striking to both of us: it is in the little things that we learn the most about life. The whole world can be found in one of those little creatures. From the smallest of them we can receive the greatest lessons. When I observe a spider building a web, or an ant carrying an object many times its own body weight, and when I consider the role that each bug plays in the scheme of life, I am awed and humbled.
It is the seemingly inconsequential experiences of hearing with my cochlear implants that offer the most striking images of the radical impact that “hearing again” has had on my life. When I mentor someone who is considering getting a cochlear implant, I have found that sharing the smallest CI moments, such as the one that follows, best illuminates the impact of the ability to hear with the technology.
Six months post activation of my first cochlear implant, I was driving across Colorado to visit with clients I served in a statewide program for individuals with traumatic brain injury. I made a stop at a gas station, and went inside to buy a soda. It was a busy time, and the gal at the register was moving customers through fairly quickly. We spent about a minute together as she rang up the purchase, collected my money and made change, made a joke about the crazy weather we’d been having which made us both laugh and to which I offered a humorous rejoinder. (No, I don’t remember what it was anymore, but she thought it was funny, and that’s all we need to know J ). She wished me a good day and I left the store, still smiling over our enjoyable interaction. Suddenly, a realization hit me with such force that I came to a complete standstill: I was able to have a quick, light-hearted interaction with the girl at the gas station. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I was half laughing, half crying: I had joined the living. Before I could hear again with my cochlear implants, my days were filled with experiences I call “smile and get the hell out of there” moments. If you are not hard of hearing, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to read the lips of everyone encountered each day. Struggling to accept that along the way I left any number of people with the impression that I was very pleasant but a bit slow was a fact of my life. But now I was one of those people who could banter, who could have lots of marvelous little interactions with people if I so wished, and I recognized right then the enormous impact this was going to have on my quality of life. I am sure that until that moment I had not fully comprehended that this is what people do, this is what is meant by “small talk”. It wasn’t long before I realized that I could also eavesdrop. LOL! To my hearing friends I say: Don’t act so shocked! You do it all day long and don’t even think about it! Six years hearing again and I can confirm that it’s not all brilliant commentary. But I like being able to decide that for myself.
So, the next time you see a little bug, think of me, and stop and watch it for awhile. If it’s in your house, don’t stomp on it. Scoop it up and put it outside, and observe it. Discover all those insights and life lessons right in front of you, free of charge.
Guest Writer, Deborah Marcus
© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal