I laid awake last night thinking about whether to get a second cochlear implant.

The first one was done in 2015. My right ear. It has worked well. It’s very functional. Bionic. If you don’t know, a cochlear implant basically replaces the cochlea in one’s ear with tiny electrodes which are then connected via magnets to a receiver worn over one’s ear. A cochlear implant replaces the faulty hearing one had with an electronic ear. The installation of a cochlear implant requires a hole drilled in one’s skull, the placement of the electrodes, testing of those electrodes while one is still “under” and several months of programming to adjust the receiver to optimum sound performance. It also, almost all of the time, means the elimination of a person’s natural hearing in the implanted ear.

In other words, I have no residual hearing in the implanted ear. However, I do have some remaining hearing in the other ear.

This means that the trade-off for a second cochlear implant will almost assuredly be the elimination of any remaining natural hearing.

This is a profound matter. Right now, without my cochlear implant receiver or the hearing aid in the other ear, I can hear myself speak. The sound is muted and very distant, but when I say words, I can hear them, however slightly. I can also hear my husband, some if not all of the time. I can hear the smoke alarm in the house, sirens if the ambulance is coming right down my street, a pile of dishes crashing to the floor. You get the idea.

So, I worry that if I get a second implant and a catastrophe is to occur – another pandemic, a global power outage, some dystopian life that so far I’ve only read about when there would be no batteries and no way to charge my receivers – that I would be left completely deaf in the world. I would be so deaf that people could shout and scream at me, and I would have no idea what they were saying. I wouldn’t hear myself shouting or screaming.

So, that’s the price.

The benefit is vastly improved hearing. People who have had what they call bi-lateral implants are overjoyed with the difference. But they are the ones who already calculated the price and decided it’s worth it.

In the dark, I thought: if I was on my deathbed this very minute, would I want to hear Willie Nelson sing “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” in stereo, both of my ears hearing every intonation, every guitar pluck, or am I satisfied with replaying the song as I remember it in my head from twenty years ago? One implant allows me to hear the words – to know what song is playing on the car radio. That is huge. But the voices are flat, synthesized somehow. Is that what I want for the rest of my life?

And somehow this question pushed me over the edge. If I want this one thing when I am leaving this world, what is the price I am willing to pay?

Oh, there are other things. All of this doesn’t hinge on Willie Nelson.

There is greatly increased ability to maneuver the world. Hearing well is such an enormous advantage with implications from the mundane – comments made by the man next to me at the symphony – to the critical – perhaps someday refereeing doctors’ conflicting opinions about what should happen next. One cochlear implant makes a difference; two would approach normal hearing. Being like normal people, like how I used to be back, oh, I don’t even remember when, a long time ago.

In the night, so much of this debate in my head was about music. How much I miss music, how the music in my head brings just slices, thin layers of thick songs, of ways of being, of the comfort songs and lyrics and melodies once brought me. I went on in my life with my bad hearing and then my new bionic ear without all of that and thought I didn’t miss it. But I do. And in the end, I guess, what I want to hear are those other voices.

I want to hear everything. I think it’s worth the price, but I worry.

9 Comments on “Price

  1. Oh Jan, I don’t know you very well but you have had such an impact on my life.. You are one remarkable lady and I know your choice is the right one, but I get what you say – you want it all, but it’s a worry. Love and hugs. XXX

  2. Are you losing the hearing in your left ear, Jan? If so, perhaps the decision is being made for you. Also, we might also say the same thing about the scarcity of integrated circuits which are no doubt in your receiver. Their supply could pose quite a problem in that dystopian future. I think I just convinced myself to get those hearing aids I need.

  3. Garry and I have had this conversation and we decided no. Garry is 80 this year — in early April. With his remaining “almost” heading gear, he can use a headphone to watch TV in bed at night and not either have to keep his cochlear on or read captions — AND he can hear the music and background. Without any hearing, he would not be able to to do that this matters to him. Plus, I think — given that he was raised in a hearing world — he doesn’t not know sign language and without his aids, the world is completely silent. It is a highly person choice, but I think for him (and us), he made the right one.

  4. I certainly have no business giving my advice. You are a capable competent woman who can make sound decisions. If I was lying in bed at night, mulling something like this over I would be completely overthinking, end up stressed, emotionally at the end, and likely near death for the amount of years it would take. Why is is so easy to fret and worry and deny something for ourselves that will likely improve the quality of life rather we have 3 years or another 30. If I could, I would kick myself in the ass, tell myself to stop thinking and just get it done.

  5. I remember your first implant. Guess we are getting to be old friends. Can’t wait to hear about the celebration when this one is finished and calibrated. We can listen to Willie together. He’s one of the few “celebrities” in the world that I would love to meet.

  6. I think it’s a very personal choice and you’ve made absolutely the right one for you –

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