My Wake-Up Call

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Glen Island Park, New Rochelle, NY – Mary Grace Whalen

 

It was a busy time for me at my job. During the day, I was a full-time employee at our local College, and by night I was teaching three undergraduate courses to adult learners. In between, I was a contracted employee helping out with student advisement.

I’ve always been reluctant to take time off during a busy period, but I was coughing, losing my voice and wished I could just crawl into bed with a box of tissues. Being a stickler for attendance, I have gone as long as two years without taking a sick day. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was always a good thing.

But I rationalized that it would be just a few more days until I would go on vacation with my daughters, Valerie and Melissa. It was Valerie’s 30th birthday, and we planned a trip to Puerto Rico. I imagined myself sitting under a palm tree, with bright sunshine and perhaps a pina colada with a tiny umbrella in hand. I was certain the warm sunshine and a little rest would remedy this bad cold I couldn’t seem to shake.

Upon landing, I noticed I felt a little heady. It was a feeling similar to being underwater. My first thought was that it was a temporary result of the cabin pressure.

My right ear has always been my good ear, even though otosclerosis has permeated both of my ears. My left ear received a stapedectomy years ago, and it temporarily gave me back some of my hearing. Otosclerosis is an abnormal growth of the middle ear bones which causes them to become fixated and reduces the transmission of sound. Because of the otosclerosis, I have a mixed loss in both ears. Despite all of this, with hearing aids my loss was diagnosed as moderate to severe until 2005.

Shortly after we arrived in our beautiful hotel room in San Juan overlooking plush greenery and a pool with sapphire water, I noticed the red light in the hotel room phone was flashing. I placed the phone to my right ear to listen to messages. I thought it was odd that there was no dial tone, but I assumed my hearing aid battery just died. After changing the battery, still no dial tone. The message was beginning to register, but I was still in shock. I placed the receiver up to my left ear, which I never used for phone conversations, and I heard a faint dial tone. I sat there for a minute in disbelief.

My family members have always been my greatest advocates, and although they did everything they could to try to help me communicate, I was grouchy, touchy, depressed and yes scared. It rained every day while we were there, and it seemed fitting.

Upon returning to New York, I visited an ENT doctor who went the usual route in giving me Prednisone with the hope that the loss was temporary. But he did warn me that it was probably permanent because with this drug you must act fast.

I visited my local audiologist and she tested my hearing over a period of weeks. I remember feeling a strong vibration that was painful when she was testing my residual hearing. But no sound. I did see a look of horror on her face and saw her look at me and exclaim, “Mary!” She then came around to where I was seated and hugged me. I was now profoundly deaf in that ear. A hearing aid only provided hissing that only interfered with my ability to hear on the other side.

So this would be my new normal. I had difficulty following in meetings at work. Trying to continue with heavy phone use was a real stressor. I had trouble functioning in a classroom of 30 students. I resented I could not participate in social activities with friends. At family dinners I focused on eating because I could not hear what was going on. Food became a form of instant gratification and I found myself retreating more and more. I found a comfort zone in isolation. Realizing this, well that was my wake-up call.

www.cochlear.com/us/wakeupcall

After anger, denial and a lot of other emotions, I went into the City and visited a few doctors asking for their opinion on how to go forward. That’s when I started searching for peer-reviewed research articles on otosclerosis and cochlear implantation, and I learned many others had been successfully implanted. When I met Dr. J. Thomas Roland, I knew he would be the one to operate on me for my implant. He had operated on others with this condition, and I liked how he explained to me how Cochlear Americas had different arrays for difficult situations, and all options would be ready and available in the operating room. Despite all this, my surgery was uncomplicated and a standard array was used.

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A view of the drawbridge at Glen Island Park     Mary Grace Whalen

One day, after being activated, I took a walk down by the water in my hometown, New Rochelle, NY. Glen Island Park is a pretty shore area with a drawbridge, gazebos, a sandy beach, grassy slopes, hills, tiny sailboats and larger ones passing through when the guard lifts the gate. One of the rites of summer was to hear the ding, ding ding warning for the bridge to rise, and to see the guard wave to those crossing under the bridge. I have many coming-of-age warm memories of Glen Island, — the smell of Coppertone tanning lotion, transistor radios playing doo wop, cute boys with winning smiles and lifeguards in dark sunglasses.

So, there I was just walking across the drawbridge with my 3G, the first behind-the-ear (BTE) processor Cochlear Americas marketed. I stopped midway. I was in awe. I heard the waves rippling for the first time in years! I heard ducks quacking as the waves rippled below. There I was, hanging my arms over the bridge, my face looking down as tears streamed from my eyes. These were the sounds I missed so much from summers past. I felt like someone just gave me oxygen and I was breathing for the first time in a very long time.

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Glen Island Park, New Rochelle NY just as beautiful in winter.  Mary Grace Whalen

Then I became aware of a car slowly crossing the bridge, looking towards me. Perhaps he saw how emotional I got and thought I was going to jump? Then I felt myself laugh at the irony of it all and continued to exit the bridge.

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A view from the gazebo- Glen Island Park-Mary Grace Whalen

 

Since then, I have lost the hearing in my left ear and opted to go bilateral. Two ears are better than one because they help to localize sound. So much has changed since I received that 3G processor years ago. With new accessories I can once again watch TV, go to the movies, listen to music and participate in a conversation with my grandson. While these may seem like simple pleasures, it’s been a long time and I’m feeling very grateful to be experiencing life again in living color.

Views expressed here are my own. Consult your hearing health provider to determine if you are a candidate for Cochlear technology. Outcomes and results may vary.

Copyright © Mary Grace Whalen 2017. All Rights Reserved. Portions of this article are from my upcoming book, Living In The Color Magenta.

www.marygracewhalen.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sooo…What’s it like to date and be deaf, gray and Italian?

In an old re-run of the Sex and the City series, Candice Bergen plays Carrie’s single boss.  She laments to Carrie that the older man in her life should be seeking women his own age, and that every time an older man seeks an younger partner, the pool gets smaller for her and other older women.  This statement represents a belief held by many older women.

I married my high school sweetheart.  A few years after being widowed, I started dating again. Wow was that ever a shock for me to see what dating was like at 56!   I can’t say there aren’t good and nice men out there.  Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there.  But as mama says, you can’t hurry love.  I have often looked up to the sky and wondered what my husband would have thought of some of the crazy men I have dated.  I then imagine him looking back down at me shaking his head and asking, “Where did you meet that guy?”  But someday, if we meet again, I have a lot of stories to tell.

Admittedly, the first man I dated I broke up with because I simply wasn’t ready.  Not his fault.  He WAS a good guy.  It’s just some of the random experiences in between then and now that if anything have made me more aware, and yes given me a few laughs.

Take the hairstylist who always wanted to know if I was seeing someone.  Bingo! She knew a man who wore hearing aids, was my age and loved traveling all over the country in his RV, — something I would like to do someday.  There’s a lot of truth to the fact that we who have hearing aids or cochlear implants sometimes communicate differently, and it takes a special person to understand that.  But that is where the similarity between me and this man ends as I soon learned.  We arranged a meeting.

He took me to a top-rated restaurant and called ahead to ask for seating that was conducive to my hearing loss, which was far worse than his.  Nice.  Then after telling him I was trying to lose weight so I was going to watch what I ate, he ordered plate after plate of appetizers, insisting that I taste them all.  I’m sure he meant well.  But he spent the whole night lamenting about how his second wife left him, — taking most of his assets before leaving.  He never asked me anything about my life.  He just talked nonstop.

Then there was the guy who really tried to come into my world of profound hearing loss by learning sign language for those times I might need a little extra help.  That really touched my heart.  But he didn’t know how to talk to wait staff, and returned just about every meal he ordered out with statements about how poorly the food was prepared.  As the mother of a professional chef,  I didn’t digest that well, no pun intended.  Then one night, he asked me to close all the lights in my house because he “borrowed some money from some bad people” who were after him.  My home is not a stakeout!  I later learned his his ex-wife was also after him for child support payments.

By now, I had already received my first cochlear implant.  How about the guy who wanted to know if my hearing would get worse?  I told him I did not come with a warranty.  Besides, he had a life-threatening illness.  What if I asked him about that?  Wouldn’t it be rude? Truth is, my hearing DID get worse.  I now wear two cochlear implants.  So what?

Now this really gets good, or bad might be a better word.  I met this guy who was widowed like me.  Had two kids.  Brought me flowers. Not one dozen, but two dozen on the first date.  Took me to the top of the Rock and on a dinner cruise around Manhattan in the same day.  Took me on a helicopter ride around Manhattan another day and to see the Rockettes perform the Christmas show.  We ate in the best of restaurants and had a lot of fun together.  And then he planned a picnic upstate because I mentioned loving to photograph cows.  But he got into foul moods sometimes without explanation.  He was a no-show for New Year’s eve, and he told me he punched the TV when he found out the diagnosis of his new dog was “deaf.”  I said, “The dog is dead?,” when he called me on the phone.  He said no, “THE DOG IS DEAF!”  So now he had a deaf dog and and a deaf girlfriend.  So his behavior prompted me to do a Google search on him.  It turned out he had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, and he had an arrest for driving down the street the wrong way in another state under the influence.  He didn’t drink or show evidence of drugs when he was with me, except the moods.  But I attributed it to the grief that comes when we have lost a spouse.  When I read about his abuse and knew how I trusted him, my whole body shook.  I had to sit down and process it.  Although he was of Russian/Jewish heritage, he put down on the record I found on Google that he was Cambodian.  He must have been flying high!

Then there was the profoundly religious man 10 years my junior who loved my silver tresses.  He would call me on the phone at night when he got out of work and talk to me, — for four hours on average.  We talked about life.  About God.  He quoted Biblical passages.  He even told me after his marriage failed he was considering converting to Episcopalian to become a priest.   He opened doors, paid for everything, and I even invited him to meet my children on Christmas eve.  Then he started acting weird.  So, once again this prompted me to do a Google search on him, which I should have done in the first place.  Trust is earned.  Well, not only did he already have another girlfriend when he met me, but she created a blog warning other women to stay away from him.  This woman never knew I existed, but if I ever met her I would have thanked her for not letting me get into this any deeper.

Some of the funniest experiences I have had have been through online dating.  Men lie about their age.  When you meet them in person, they don’t look anything like their picture.  I never went out with anyone who didn’t post a picture.  Show your face if you have nothing to hide.  Then there is the type who has no picture, no profile information but just messages you with a phone number.  Huh?  What is there to love about someone who won’t be transparent?  Then there is the type that posts a profile like it is a resume listing all their accomplishments since the Beatles came to town, letting us know they were at Woodstock and that everyone thinks they are really perhaps 35 or 40. Right!

At the end of my work life, I was an adjunct professor of English.  I taught writing and research courses, and I found myself mentally marking up online profiles with that little red pen in my head.  If you are going to lie, use spellcheck!

Here are some examples:

“I went to collage.”

“I am a docter.”

“I like feminine woman who wear colon.”

Then there is the actual meeting.  One guy I was suppose to meet at Panera Bread for coffee, suddenly stepped out from a hidden doorway when he saw me.  Was he going to slip away if he didn’t like what he saw?

Also,  there was the guy who posted a profile picture about 20 years old that looked like he escaped from a nursing home when we met.  He told me he was from Poland, and that I should know his story was like that of Dr. Zhivago, leaving a wife behind that he later divorced. That he was involved in testing behavior modification in a joint project with the United States.  He claimed he escaped the former Soviet Union and the iron curtain.  History gave away his age.  For a man with a doctorate, if he was going to be a liar, he should at least have a good memory.  It was actually very nice to talk to someone smart. But no thanks.

As far as ethnicity is concerned, the beauty of this age is that we are not out to impress anyone or satisfy their limitations.  We date whomever we wish to date, and many of us care more about mutual values than background.  Diversity can only enrich our experience.  To each his own, but a dedicated, loving partner trumps differences.

I have since given up on online dating, although I know some who have had good experiences.  But I haven’t given up on love.  They say you will meet someone when you least expect it.  It’s always nice to have a partner.  That is the highest compliment you can pay your partner who has passed because it means they gave you a wonderful example of what love SHOULD be.

In the meantime, someday if my husband and I do meet again in the hereafter, I have some funny stories to tell him.

 

 

 

Hearing Loss and Aging: Fact or Fallacy?

We’ve all been present at some time or another when someone makes a hurtful comment about hearing loss.  Often, these comments imply hearing loss and aging go hand in hand.

“The ears are the first thing to go, haha.” How many times have we heard this?

Sometimes we witness people imitating a nineteenth-century horn placed in the ear or cupping the ear imitating how we look when we struggle to hear.

Over the years, one of the main reasons I have heard friends or family give when they are resistant to getting help is the negative stereotype society has placed on wearing these devices.  We’ve all seen the advertisements claiming the manufacturer has the smallest device to offer, almost invisible!  Finally, the industry has realized that a plastic flesh-colored instrument still looks like a hearing aid.  Both the hearing aid and cochlear implant manufacturers have realized that many people really want something that is small or similar to mainstream Bluetooth devices.

Is there any truth that hearing loss is a sign of aging?  The short answer is sometimes.  Babies are born everyday who are deaf.  Sometimes, children who are born deaf have multiple disabilities, and sometimes being deaf is their only disability.

Let’s talk about the adult population.  Here are some interesting facts about hearing loss, disease and aging:

“Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older.  It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.” (nidcd.nih.gov)

“A recent study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease.  Also, of the 86 million adults in the U.S. who have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than in those with normal blood glucose.” (diabetes.org)

“Studies have shown that a healthy cardiovascular system–a person’s heart, arteries and veins–has a positive effect on hearing.  Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.”  (better hearing.org)

Having a stroke may damage the areas of your brain related to hearing–this can cause hearing loss. (www.nhs.uk)

Dementia – Many of us who belong to the Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearingloss.org), have had the opportunity to hear Dr. Frank Lin speak.  Dr. Lin, as an assistant professor at John Hopkins and an otologist and epidemiologist studies the effects of hearing loss in older adults.  According to an article in the January 15, 2015 Chicago Tribune, “A 2011 study of some 600 older adults found that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia than adults with normal hearing.  In fact, the more severe the hearing loss, the more likely they were to develop dementia; volunteers with mild, moderate and severe loss were two, three and five times more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing. (chicagotribune.com)

I found this interesting because as we age, our metabolism slows down:   In a 2010 study, Shinichi Someya, et al  found that a caloric restriction extends the life span and health span of a variety and species and slows the progression of age-related hearing loss.  The study implies this may be true in mammals. (journals.plos.org)

There are other areas of our well being that hearing loss can affect.  Many people with hearing loss are isolated, depressed, lack socialization and connections, and all of these can affect our homeostasis.  As some of this research implies, the ear is not an isolated part of our being.

Finally, to get back to the beginning of this article which references jokes about the ears being the first thing to go, countless studies by health professional such as gerontologists, hospice workers and others will tell you at the end of life, hearing is the last sense to go.

“Most people with a terminal illness become unconscious in the last few hours or even days before death.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know you are there.  Many palliative care and hospice professionals will tell you that hearing is often the last sense to go at the end of life. ” (m.webmd.com)

Well after your loved one can no longer speak, he or she can still hear you say, “I love you.”  (m.webmd.com)  I think that’s pretty amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy International Cochlear Implant Day!

Things I Will Never Take For Granted

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Ocean Waves Crashing at Block Island 2015
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A Seagull at Montauk 2015

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Conch Shell Simulating the Sound of the Ocean

 

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My Kanso Processor that turns me into a hearing person.  Poof!!!!!

A trip down to the shore just to listen to the waves crashing

Seagulls gliding through a blue sky, singing in their own unique language

Being able to hear the words, “I love you”

Walking through the woods and hearing the chatter of all the tiny critters and nature at its best

Celebrating a birthday and being able to hear the people I love sing the birthday song

Crickets singing their slumber song after a weary day

The heartbeat of the people and puppies I love

The intonation and emotion in someone’s voice and words

That clinking sound of two glasses and the words “cheers”

Doing my happy dance around the kitchen table to the tunes of my youth

Being able to hear the words “everything will be alright”

Hearing Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight and knowing the world is rejoicing in the birth of a new year with me

Being able to talk on the phone and laugh and cry about life with friends and family

Being able to talk to my three-year-old grandson, and each of us being able to know and love each other through words

Just being part of the world around me and using all of my senses

How could the day go by without acknowledging the work of Graeme Clark who developed the “Bionic Ear”  and Chief Scientist,  Jim Patrick of Cochlear Corporation www.cochlear.com?  All these wonderful sounds would never be possible for me without their hard work and dedication to our cause.

 

 

Reflections On Being Deaf, Gray and Italian on the “eve” of my 70th birthday

Do you ever look at someone and try to imagine who they were as a child or as a young adult?

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Each of us has a story, with many chapters.  In a few weeks I will celebrate my 70th birthday.  For many of us, there are many versions of our “self” that include a younger version and the one that will always be in our minds.   But time does pass, and the older I get the more I realize how important time is.  Use it wisely.  It is the ultimate gift each of us is given.

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    New Rochelle High School Yearbook 1965

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    I think I was 18 in this picture.

On being deaf- If someone had told me in my youth that I would someday be totally deaf, I don’t know how well I would have handled it.  Over the years, I have struggled with this slow progression towards silence and the mindsets society has placed upon those of us who have trouble communicating with the mainstream.  Like most people with hearing loss, I have navigated my journey through rude store clerks, discrimination in the workplace and even jerky people who we thought were sensitive and above treating us like secondhand citizens.

But there is an upside to this experience for sure.  Strangely, I have experienced my greatest growth because of this experience.  Losing my hearing has made me more sensitive to the plight of those on the outskirts of society, it has humbled me and made me really think about what someone else’s journey may be like.  It has also made me determined to complete whatever goals I choose despite being deaf.

In the silence, I heard my own voice and I began to write and publish work.  In my upcoming book, Living In The Color Magenta, I compare going deaf to  smothering and drowning.  That is what it always felt like to me. Going down, no one hearing you and having no voice.  I have said it before, and I will say it again.  If it weren’t for the Hearing Loss Association of America www.hearingloss.org over the last more than 25 years, I don’t know how well I would have fared.  This organization gives people like me a place to go to advocate and share with others in our journey.  Hearing loss is isolating, and like many others I have tremendous respect and gratitude for their work.  This organization and the love of my family gave me courage when I really needed it. We need to always pay it forward.

I am very lucky to be living in an era where there is something called a cochlear implant.  Helen Keller, Thomas Edision, Beethoven and so many others were not.  Almost every week someone approaches me and asks me about this miraculous operation.  I can wake up deaf, and put on my implants and be part of the hearing world.  For this, I will always be grateful.

1012 About gray (grey) hair-I remember finding my first gray hairs when I was 26 years old and pregnant with my first child.  I was mortified.  How could I already have grays?  My hair was very dark brown, and I was still wearing a “Cher” hairdo with bangs and long dark tresses.  The steely grays really stood out.  Over the next 40 years, I went from dark brown to light brown, auburn, blonde and platinum.  One day after being sick and not being able to make it to the colorist, I examined my shimmery grays showing through at the part and I just said, “I’m not doing this anymore.”  I kind of liked that my natural pearly shade matches best with my dark Italian coloring, and it was very liberating to accept my new look and older self.  

To each his own.  I see many women ditching the bottle and feeling confident enough to be  comfortable with their changing looks.  Even my colorist told me in recent years, “You actually look younger with your own natural hair color, even though I lost a customer.”  I appreciated that.

But growing older is about so much more than gray hair.  Time is passing and we are becoming older and more vulnerable.  There’s a greater chance for serious illness or a fall.  That sometimes  scares me.  We lose lots of people we care for and love. These losses are profound.

I have always tried to be there for my children.  I think every parent always feels they want to help their children if there is a crisis for as long as they live.  But somewhere along the way, the tables turn and our kids become our strength.  It’s beautiful to have wonderful children,  but kind of shocking to witness this shift.

On being Italian- I will always be grateful for my strong Italian roots.  Being the daughter of an immigrant parent allowed me to understand the plight of so many generations who have come to the U.S.  My parents gave us a strong Christian faith, my Italian-born father’s love of opera and his garden were inspiring.  My mother’s binding efforts to give us a traditional, strong family life complete with ethnic foods and rituals.  Christmas, Easter Sunday, faith hope and patriotism… all of these were true gifts.

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Mom with all seven of her children
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Mom making her famous lasagne
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With my parents, five of my six sisters and brothers
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Easter Sunday
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With 3 of my 4 sisters a few years ago celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

A few more observations-

Sometimes I can still hear my mother’s voice– At this stage of my life, I look so much like my mother, I almost expect her to answer back when I look in the mirror.  My mother made it through some pretty tough stuff.  As a child, I always felt she was so strong it was almost intimidating.  But somehow, that shy little girl I used to be inherited some of her resilience.  I am grateful for that gift.  I recently was hospitalized after a fall and in serious condition.  As I looked up and saw IV attached to one arm, a nurse taking blood from the other, while one nurse waited to take my temperature and blood pressure, I heard words like sepsis, 104 fever, put her in cardiac care, etc.  Was my life in danger?  How would my mother handle this?  Suddenly, I could hear her firm voice speaking to the grim reaper saying, “I’m not going anywhere!”  So I repeated that phrase in my mind and it gave me courage. I’ve had these moments before, andI suspect I will have them again.

On fathers and daughters- Fathers definitely have a lot to do with how a woman will see herself as worthy and lovable.  I was lucky to have a father that instilled that in me and a good husband who gave that gift to his daughters.

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On being in love- I’m glad that I have loved and been loved.  Even though it hurts like hell when you lose someone, it is an experience to not be missed.  It is one of the greatest gifts in life. No one can ever take that away from you.

Family- It’s all that matters.  Period.  So glad my daughters are not just sisters, but they have always been best friends.

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Birthday parties

 

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Vacationing in Sag Harbor 2015

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On being a grandma- There is nothing like it!  Love this little boy.  I want to watch my grandson grow taller than me, watch him fall in love for the first time, hear his stories and keep that special connection we have forever.

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On dogs- they really are nicer than people 🙂

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Time-  It all comes down to time well spent.  How have you spent your time today?  My kids told me they are holding me to living to 100 years old, and that’s 30 more years of good living for this deaf, gray and Italian lady.  I’m sure there will be many more life lessons.  I’m ready.

 

Happy Birthday to me!   Cheers!

 

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Florence Henderson: The story many never knew

     “Although Florence Henderson’s otosclerosis was apparently treated at a time that enabled her to benefit more than me, her picture as well as those staring out from those frames in my surgeon’s office reminded me that my former doctor was wrong in telling me that I would be unemployable by the age of 50. I was 45 years old at the time, and the stapedectomy served me well for another ten years until I received my first cochlear implant. ” mw

florence_henderson_3Photocredit:  By Greg Hernandez, CC By 2.o (https://commons.wikimedia.org)

Like many Americans, I was shocked to learn this morning that Florence Henderson had passed away.  She was health-oriented, slender and a seemingly ageless beauty.  Her time on The Brady Bunch seemed to make her the eternal “mom” in her orange kitchen for those who are part of Generation X.  But her life touched mine in a way she will never know.  Like me, she had otosclerosis and she led a proactive example of how we can focus on solutions rather than problems.  She continued to perform, despite the hearing loss few knew of.

In this condition, the bones in the inner ear called the stapes, anvil and the hammer become “arthritic” and stop stimulating sound.  In addition, the tiny bones break and form blockages in the ear canal.  This condition is more prevalent in young women of child-bearing age, but still, there are many men who develop this condition.  It is often hereditary, although many bypass inheriting this condition.

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Photo from http://www.nih.gov

For over a decade, I entrusted my hearing healthcare to one doctor for my healthcare.  A huge mistake. He ended up being the head ENT doctor at a regional hospital so I trusted he was a pro.  He told me there was no hope for me and that I would be “unemployable” by the time I was 50 years old.  I remember feeling like I wanted to scream and vomit at the same time.  The truth was the Americans with Disabilities Act was about to be signed and there was already an operation called a stapedectomy which could have helped me.  The otosclerosis continued to permeate my ears and damage my hearing.

Then one day a friend with hearing loss recommended that I try her audiologist located on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.  Melanie drove me to his office on a crowded Bronx street with cars double parked, — a neighborhood I remembered visiting as a child with my parents for school clothes at the famed Alexander’s.  Richard Cortez, M.S. was a kind and intelligent man.  As my hearing declined, he witnessed many visits that ended with sobs and resistance to acceptance of my new “self.”
One day, Richard Cortez asked me if I ever heard of an operation called a stapedectomy where an artificial stapes is placed in the ear canal.  I hadn’t.  He gave me a small card with the name Alan Austin Scheer, MD.  He assured me if there was any hope of helping me, this man could.

Dr. Scheer was considered “the” doctor to see for stapedectomies, and he even patented the prosthesis device that would later be inserted in my left ear.  As I entered his office uptown on Park Avenue, I noticed a” wall of fame” containing pictures of celebrities he had operated on. People like me who had otosclerosis.  Florence Henderson was the first to catch my eye.  Then Lorne Greene and others.  Below the pictures was a tapestry of Biblical quotes a woman had put together as a gift of gratitude for his work.

The quote that always stayed in my mind was “…and in that day, the deaf shall hear…”  Isaiah 29:18-20.

Although Florence Henderson’s otosclerosis was apparently treated at a time that enabled her to benefit more than me, her picture and as well as those staring out from those frames on the dedicated “wall of fame”  reminded me that my former doctor was wrong in telling me that I would be unemployable by the age of 50.  I was 45 years old at the time, and the stapedectomy served me well for another ten years until I received my first cochlear implant.  Today, many people with the same condition would probably be treated with Cochlear’s BAHA or a cochlear implant.  And to stress my point, Florence Henderson continued to thrive for decades after receiving her bilateral stapedectomies.  After her operation, Florence Henderson formed a longtime association with the famed House Ear Institute as well as many other charities.

To me, Florence Henderson  put a face on this little-known condition called otosclerosis and I thank her for that.  To me, it was not a “wall of fame” in the end, but a wall of hope.  Despite the fact that her death has come as a shock, she knew how to live well.  May she rest in peace.

 

 

A Tale of Two Canines

 

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Bartram and Noah

 

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Melanie, Bartram and Noah

Meet Melanie Riordan, a woman with quite a story to tell!

In 2004, Melanie discovered that she had a brain tumor and her whole world came crashing down on her.  All the “what ifs” ran through her mind.  Suddenly, she felt it necessary to determine what she would do if her life came to a crashing halt.

She was in a relationship with a good man.  The thought of dragging him into her crisis led her to confront him and end the relationship.  He refused to let her go.  He said he was in the relationship for the long haul, and besides he loved her.  Not only did Melanie survive, but she thrived.

Melanie’s hearing was affected by the brain tumor, and she received a BAHA implantable device by Cochlear Corporation www.cochlear.com two years ago.  She also enlisted the help of Canine Companions for Independence,  www.cci.org, and received her first dog, Noah.  Noah passed away in 2016, and Melanie received a second service dog named Bartram in 2016 as well.  Both Noah and Bartram were always acutely attuned to Melanie and her environment.  Noah, who was with her since 2004,  always sensed the onset of a migraine headache related to her brain tumor.  During one period,  Bartram constantly nudged her to go outside the house, and he would even sit in front of the door so she wouldn’t be able to get back in.  Shortly thereafter, it was discovered there was a slow gas leak in the house.

What follows is a question and answer session regarding her experience with dogs for the deaf.  Even if you are not considering getting a service dog, this is an amazing tale.

As a recipient of a CCI Service Hearing Dog, can you tell us approximately how many commands the dogs are capable of responding to?

There are about 25 BASIC CCI dog commands that all CCI dogs know.  Then depending upon the placement during/after advanced training will determine how many commands the CCI dog will respond to depending upon job role for the CCI dog.Some basic commands are as follows:

  • Bed: dog lies down on target
  • Car: dog loads into car
  • Here: dog returns to you
  • Down: dog lies down
  • Hurry: dog toilets
  • Jump: dog places whole body on top of object
  • Kennel: Dog will go into kennel
  • Let’s go:  Dog moves forward with you
  • No/Don’t: Verbal correction to your dog
  • Off:  dog will return all 4 paws to ground
  • Ok: dog is permitted to eat or drink
  • Quiet: dog stops barking
  • Release: dog is permitted to take break while performing (like to say hello to someone)
  • Shake: dog will extend paw towards person
  • Sit: dog places rear end on ground
  • Wait: dog will not move forward until you give command “here”

Some Alerting Sounds May Be As Follows:

  • Telephone
  • Doorbell
  • Door Knock
  • Alarm Clock
  • Smoke Alarm
  • Your Name
  • Police Sirens
  • Timer on Microwave
  • Beeper on Stove/Oven
  • “Name:”
  • Go get “name:”

With CCI hearing dogs you can use ASL as well.  You must make sure you have eye contact when giving hand gestures to a CCI hearing dog.

As time goes on, you can add an unlimited number of commands.

Notable, CCI hearing dogs are the only dogs that are trained on escalators.  This is good to know because many persons with hearing loss have balance issues.  Also, the dog can help the recipient tell which direction a sound is coming from.

The CCI website describes a two-week training period for the recipient.  Can you tell us what happens during those two weeks?

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Bartram at the Santa Rosa, CA headquarters

Classes run from Monday through Friday from about 9:00am to 4:30 pm. Saturday and Sunday are usually free days.  The first day covers introductions, campus information, tour and expectations.

Classes are offered in both voice and ASL.  If you don’t require ASL your chances of getting into a class sooner is sometimes possible.  The wait list for training is two months to two years.  CCI tries to match a recipient with an appropriate dog.  Once in awhile a potential recipient is not considered an appropriate candidate.  Essentially, participation does not guarantee the participant will be awarded a canine companion.

During the two-week training period the participant will have an opportunity to work with different dogs to see which one works best for him.  Towards the end of the first week, he will be assigned a dog that will stay in the room with him. Each day there will be lectures, the recipient will be given a handbook and quizzes are given at the end of the day.  There are practice field trips to get the potential recipient used to being out with the dog.

CCI provides free housing for recipients during the two week training.  All campuses and rooms are handicap accessible, there is free WiFi and TV in every room and there is a central meeting room with a TV, — and there are washers and dryers.  There is a gated patio area as well.  They provide lunch, but you are responsible for breakfast and dinner and airfare to the site.  They have campuses in both Santa Rosa, CA and Orlando, FL.  There are kitchens provided if you prefer cooking to eating out.  Each dorm has a dorm keeper that will be available to you by email/phone/text if needed.  This person will be one of your first contacts when you arrive.

After a final exam, there is a graduation ceremony that will touch your heart. Here is a link.

https://youtu.be/7y_ihOpyg48?list=PLbGXIyIDEN2N0dz7qLzyTSvTaYrZiO3wx

What happens after you go home with your puppy?

You will be given the contact information of your puppy raiser with the option for you to contact them.  Remember, the puppy raiser was with the puppy for 8 weeks and cared for them completely. You will also be given the contact information of the instructor and assistant if needed.

In addition, CCI will be available to the recipient for the life of your puppy. They will follow up with you to ensure the dog is receiving good healthcare and is generally well cared for.  For instance, CCI is very strict on weight.  If they feel a dog is being neglected they will take him back.  Remember, CCI owns the dogs.

How do I connect to other CCI recipients?

Facebook and Yahoo groups are great connections to the CCI community.  Once you graduate you can join the various support groups on Facebook.  They have specific groups just for CCI hearing dogs and other service teams. They all share information, support, pictures, progress and help each other out no matter how far apart we may be.

The website states the average service life of a dog is 8 years.  When the dog becomes “retired” is he or she returned to CCI or does the recipient keep him until his death?

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Bartram assisting Noah

If you feel your CCI dog can continue to work after 8 years then you can continue to be a team.  My first service dog worked for 12 years.  I retired Noah when I applied for my successor CCI dog.  The option at retirement is that you can keep the dog as your family pet now or CCI will take back the dog and usually the puppy raiser will get first choice to keep or live with those that CCI has on a waiting list for a released service dog.  Of course Noah, my first CCI hearing dog lived with us until he was ready to cross the rainbow bridge.  He truly was an amazing dog.  He passed away June 2016.  He is missed every day!

CCI is always informed even after retirement of the dog’s passing and any issues as they keep all medical records up to date on all liters.

If a recipient is no longer able care for the dog due to illness or death, does CCI assume care?

If for any reason that the recipient can no longer care for the CCI dog then CCI will take back the dog.  Depending upon the situation and timeframe the dog could either be placed back into training for another recipient or given back to the puppy raiser or someone on the waiting list for a released CCI dog.

You will sign a contract agreement with CCI on your last day stating all this.

Regarding healthcare and personal care of your dog, what might a recipient want to know?

You are entitled and allowed by law to write off on his or her taxes anything related to the service dog as part of YOUR medical care.  So all vet visits, pet insurance, food, toys, dog beds, medicine grooming, etc. are covered.  Even the trip to CCI including airfare/car rental are covered.  If you decide to put up a fence, you can write that off as well.  It is recommended the recipient get a good accountant and keep all receipts.

If you purchase pet insurance, there is usually a discount for service dogs.

What are some of the activities recipients and their dogs can enjoy to network, get involved and further spread the word about this wonderful organization?

CCI has various presentations that you can attend.  Various seminars are held throughout the year that you can attend at your closest region or any region you wish.  NJ and NY just recently had a “DogFest” that raised money for CCI.  In NY it was held at the Medford Campus and in NJ it was held at the Edison Roosevelt Park.

CCI holds campus seminars that you are free to attend during various times and at any location. Instructors will be there if more help or reinforcements are needed.  You can always reach out to CCI and if more additional help is needed they will work with you to make certain that you are always working towards a successful service team.

Is there anything else you feel is important to know before considering taking on the responsibility of a service dog?

Some may say wow! Two weeks of my time… Well it may sound like a lot to you but in reality it really isn’t enough time.  You have to remember CCI dogs are learning from day one to be service dogs.  For about 2 or 3 years they are being trained for their special roles.  You then only get 2 weeks (really 9 days) to make that connection.  Classes are intense and long even with breaks.  Prepare yourself to the lead up time.  Get enough sleep and rest while in training class.  Don’t over do it a few days before you leave for team training as you feel it during team training.  If there are time zone changes try to arrive a day earlier if available at the dorms to get settled in.

With that said, — be prepared to probably have the BEST thing that has ever happened to you ever when you get teamed with your CCI hearing dog.  Your world will forever be changed! Who in the world would think that four paws and floppy ears would be your new lifeline to the hearing world.  Can’t even describe the tremendous feeling that will fill your heart!

And oh yeah, be prepared for what I call the “magical fibers” of doggie hair that will soon become part of your home and daily wardrobe! Embrace it!!!

Thank you for being with us today Melanie and Bartram.

If you will be in Southern Westchester on Saturday, November 5, come meet Melanie and Bartram.  Melanie will be a guest speaker for the Hearing Loss Association of America, Westchester Chapter www.hlaawestchester.org, Mercy College, Lecture Hall, 555 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry, NY.  The meeting begins at 1:00 pm.

For those of you who already have a dog for the deaf, please feel free to share your experience with us by replying below.

Copyright © Mary Grace Whalen 2016. All Rights Reserved.

This story is based on Ms. Riordan’s personal experience. If you would like further information on Canine Companions for Independence, please visit their official website at  www.cci.org.