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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Here’s To A New Season…

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Post surgery and on my birthday two years ago.  I’m looking forward to special chats with my grandson.

 

So here it is 11 days post cochlear implantation surgery in my left ear.   My right ear was implanted in 2005 and has been my only source of intelligible sound for a few years now.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that when the device is off, the recipient defaults to a status of profoundly deaf.  It’s really amazing to think that this tiny device implanted under the skull can reconnect someone to the world around them.  I thought about that a lot the week before my surgery and found myself feeling a tremendous amount of gratitude and a little weepy.  That my surgeon told me he thinks I will probably even benefit more from this surgery than the first one gives me the same goosebumps I felt when I received what Santa promised to deliver on Christmas morning as a child.

The days preceding surgery I spent time with my sister Stephanie in California visiting family.  It was a special time with lunches at my nephew’s outdoor picnic table, lots of laughs with her grandson Antonio, a visit to Hollywood, time catching up with a cousin I haven’t seen since I was about five years old and taking some time to discover L.A.  I also enjoyed sitting on the porch and watching the monarch butterflies, the hummingbirds and a California fall day at its best.  But one of the most profound moments for me was walking down the street with my sister and her reaching for my hand, just like we did back in the days when we walked to Washington Elementary School.  Sometimes the greatest messages take place in silence.

Before long, it was time for us to take our red-eye flight back east, and the following day I packed another bag to stay over my daughter Melissa’s house in NYC the night before surgery.  An amazing professional chef, she asked me what I would like to eat the night before surgery.  I told her something simple.

After  Melissa, Lou and the baby greeted me at the door with smooches, I sat down at her dining room table, and we enjoyed a pasta dish, no kidding, — in the shape of tiny ears.  It was a dish that contained shrimp and escarole, one of my favorite vegetables.  My family’s presence was calming.  Somehow even the dog seemed to sense something big was about to happen.

The next morning we took a cab uptown to NYU Medical Center Ambulatory Care.  Traffic was horrendous.   But once we got there, we met my daughter Valerie and all three of us waited for the nurse to call me in.  My daughter Valerie reminded me if I had trouble communicating,  just call them in.

So the nurse asked me if I was nervous.  Nope.  She asked me all those questions they repeat over and over to make sure they have the right person.  She asked if it was my left ear they were operating on.  She asked why I was here today.  The correct answer was to have a cochlear implant, but I couldn’t help throwing in there that I was anxious to have a purpose for that ear besides hanging an earring.

The nurse asked me again if I was nervous.  Nope.  At that point I just told her give me the juice and send me to that happy place and wake me when it’s over.  That surprised my kids because I don’t like to take medication.  But they broke out in laughter.

The nurse walked me down the hall and instructed me to go into Room 4 with her.  Ah, I get Suite 4 I joked.  The celebration was about to take place.  Everyone seemed in good spirits as I was told to take a deep breath and I said a silent prayer looking up at the lights,  asking my deceased husband to ask God to watch over me.

Next thing I knew, I woke up with a thick gauze “headband” bandage across my head.  I looked like I just completed a tennis match.  At first I thought I was back in L.A., but soon realized the operation was over.  My first thought was, “That’s all?”  I felt very little pain.  I had very little swelling.  I didn’t have the vertigo I had the first time.  Very little. I was shooting questions to my kids and the doctor.  I asked my kids to take a picture of me to remember the day.

I went back to my daughter Melissa’s house and shared a meal again with family.  Greek chicken soup and a lentil dish.  Melissa insisted on spoon feeding me.  What a reversed role from the past. But it was nice.  I slept in a chair (for comfort) and Liffey, their dog, stayed at my feet the whole time.  If I moved an inch, he moved an inch closer.

Valerie came home with me for 2 days and nurtured me and watched I didn’t try to do anything I wasn’t suppose to do.  I snore like a locomotive, but she never complained.  When she left, I found a card on the table expressing how proud she is of me, and letting me know we will always find a way to communicate.

My sister Stephanie came for a day and then Lucille.  Friends called to ask if I need anything.  I really can’t say I’ve had a hard time, and if this gives anyone courage to go through with this, that makes me happy.

My device will be turned on December 2, the same day the tree will be lit at Rockefeller Center.  Can’t wait to play with all those toys Cochlear Corporation gives their recipients to help hear on the phone, in restaurants and other settings.

The tree has always had significance to me because when I was a child, my mother would put all 7 of her children on the train to see the tree.  Then we would go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle, sometimes go see the Rockettes at Radio City and get a sandwich at one of those Horn and Hardart automats.  Each of us would get one of those little plastic souvenirs you shake and it appears to snow on a tiny village.  That was the beginning of the season for us.

So on December 2  after my appointment I will stay in the City for a bit and enjoy all the sounds and sights of the season. I just may go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle in remembrance of my mother and how she made the season magical, — and gratitude to my family and friends for always being there for me.