At some point in the past, I think I wrote about how I felt that getting Alex’s hearing aids would be a double-edged sword. Well, I guessed right.
It’s been an emotional few hours. Alex’s dispensing appointment ended just three hours ago at the time of writing this. The appointment itself was very straightforward. We arrived at the building with a few extra minutes to spare; the roads in Buffalo are somewhat messy today. In the waiting room, I saw my first cochlear implant user in person – he looked to be in his 40s and had one CI. The magnet was underneath his hat, somewhat hidden. I couldn’t stop looking – not because it was weird, but because I’ve done so much research on these and had yet to actually see a person wearing. He was at the office with his daughter. Our audiologist approached them both in the waiting room with a few CI parts – it was then that I saw that the daughter also had a CI. She had a light speech affect when she spoke, but I later learned that she was implanted after having been in school for a while with hearing aids, so she learned to speak based on them. Regardless, it was amazing to see. Aside from the SLIGHT affect (which I was actively listening for), you would never have known she was a CI user. Of course, it helps that the daughter had long hair, but still. Just very cool to see.
When the audiologist was in the waiting room taking care of the family I mentioned, she spotted a few other patients, gave them hugs, exchanged big smiles, etc. Loved seeing that sort of interaction. I’ve felt that our Early Intervention team is truly going to be a major influence on our lives, and to see her genuine reactions was both touching as well as exciting as a parent who was about to start down the path with her.
We met with our audiologist on time (you really begin to appreciate these things after you go to enough doctors appointments). It was my first time meeting her, but between what I’d seen in the waiting room and all of the recommendations that had pointed us to her, I already had a very positive first impression.
As far as the dispensing process went, it was an understandably clinical affair. The casualness of it was tough to deal with, though. Shannon and I, up to this point, hadn’t had to deal with anything visible on Alex indicating that he was deaf. He’s still so young that his deafness isn’t evident in our everyday interactions with him. So after our audiologist put Alex’s hearing aid into his little baby ear for the first time, it hit hard. I knew it was coming, but that action seemed to bring a close to one phase of his life, where no one would know that he had any issues and where his physical needs were that of any other child, to an end. A wave of sadness passed over me, and I knew it had to Shannon as well, who was brave enough to hold him throughout. This didn’t last for entirely too long for me, though. The rational part of my brain kicked in and I reminded myself that we’re doing all of this so that Alex will be able to experience sound, and that’s the goal. This isn’t going to be easy or handed to us or him, and I think it would’ve been odd if WE were very casual about it. I wonder if parents who have to get their kid glasses go through something similar?
His hearing aids are pretty small, even on his little ears. We chose a silver color because we wanted to give him a spiffy color without it being insanely fluorescent, but also didn’t want to try to completely hide them with a clinical beige. Our audi (let’s go with that to keep things short) explained how to insert them into Alex’s ears, how to change the batteries, how to store them, etc. She told us about next steps, which involve testing Alex with his hearing aids in a sound booth, and tweaking the aids (which basically means turning up the power). After she finished with the boilerplate, we talked about Alex’s upcoming surgery date; she was surprised that we had one that early. She also explained that she’s worked with our doctor quite a bit, and that he does somewhere in the vicinity of 50 surgeries per year. That’s quite a lot if you think about it. She also stated that if she had a child who was going to get a CI, that she’d go through him. That was all great information and very relevant; Shannon and I have talked a lot about how, if we find out that Alex is eligible for implants, that at that point we’ll really research doctors and surgeons across the US to determine who we should go to if our current surgeon didn’t have a lot of experience. It’s good to know that if we’re lucky enough, it’ll be less of a decision to make.
After the mini Q&A, we made two follow-up appointments. One for Alex’s next hearing aid tweak, coming up in a week or two, and one for his activation(!) for the week after the fourth of July. I tried to see if we could get in beforehand so that Alex might be able to hear fireworks, but in reality, there’s no way we’d have the kids up that late at night anyhow. Ha. Our audi gave us a little bit of insight into the activation process – it’s about two hours long, and the idea for the first “stimulation” is to give the child just enough sound that they visibly respond to it. She explained that usually, the reaction is annoyance. Then she takes it back a step. At subsequent appointments, the sound will be brought up and up as the child learns to tolerate their new sense.
By the time we finally left, Alex was clearly tired. His hearing aids were out for the car trip, because they will whistle if they’re close to a surface, like his car seat. We left to pick our daughter up from daycare. I think Shannon and I were both in relatively good spirits afterwards, though we were both on the same page of regarding the moment his hearing aids were first put on as being a really big deal, even if he’ll only be wearing THOSE for a few months.
Things got tough when we got home.
We put Alex’s ears in, and had trouble getting them to stop whistle. Most of you have probably heard what a whistling hearing aid sounds like – it’s a quiet, but annoying screech that has a weird digital quality to it, like a really bad MP3 downloaded from Napster circa 2000. I was having a lot of trouble getting the sound to stop. What made it worse was knowing that that sound was being blasted into his ears. Now, I know that he’s deaf and can probably barely hear that if at all, but that whistle is a very blatant reminder that my son can’t hear. I took a big emotional dip here. As I said before, Alex is at an age where you wouldn’t know that he had any hearing loss or anything else wrong with him unless you were going out of your way to test his hearing. Now, all of a sudden, there are two devices visibly strapped to his ears and this goddamned sound that’s coming out of them every few seconds. It completely broke my heart.
Taylor was in the room while Shannon and I were wrestling with Alex’s hearing aids – she took immediate interest. I know that this probably sounds like it’s a good thing, and Rational Me says you’re right, but I couldn’t help but feel hurt by it. I don’t think Taylor has really “gotten” that Alex can’t hear her, and now she did. I felt sorry for her, as if something was just taken away from her as well. It was a stupid thought, but you can’t trump emotion with rationale, so I welled up a bit.
We placed Alex on his bouncy seat with his hearing aids on. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that this didn’t make his aids whistle too badly, even though they were clearly going off every time he moved his head too far to one side. Shannon got her camera out and snapped a few shots. Alex was still whistling, so I took him out of his chair and laid him on my lap as I sat down. His ears were still whistling. It was another dagger to the soul – I can’t even hold my own boy now without his disability coming into play. I know that we’ll figure out how to get the whistling down and that we’re going to learn how to deal with it like it’s second nature, but it’s a very visceral punch to the gut.
I put Taylor to bed for her nap and came back downstairs. Shannon flipped her laptop around and showed me one of the beautiful pictures she had taken of Alex, and it immediately brought me to tears. No particular reason, just the straw that broke me down from the whirlwind of the day’s events.
Well, got the above out of my system. As it turns out, the abundant whistling that we were experiencing out of Alex’s hearing aids was just because we didn’t have them in his ears completely, causing them to feed back. We both knew that could happen, but I had thought I had them in good enough. Shannon figured it out like the warrior genius that she is, and the whistling subsided almost completely. I quite love this woman. Anyhow – I was holding him as usual, sans whistling, shortly after. Huge relief. The whistling was just the salt in the open wound, so for it to go away was very good for my psyche despite how silly that might sound.
Afterward, I headed outside to shovel out the driveway, which gave me a little bit of time to think and put things back into perspective. Knock on wood, but right now, he isn’t in a wheelchair / paralyzed. He isn’t dying. He has a very common ailment that’s being aggressively worked on, from multiple angles, to either nullify or flat-out cure. His first assistive devices will be the bulkiest and crudest he’ll ever use. I walked back into the house feeling just a little bit better. It was tough to submit to putting equipment on my son, and it’s going to be tougher to actually put him through a SURGERY… but you know what? We’ll bust our asses for him and persevere. I know our boy is going to amaze us every time I look down at him and he gives me a huge smile back, as if he’s telling me that he already knows that everything’s going to be completely fine.
It was a roller coaster of a day, and as I told Shannon, it won’t be our last. It’s a tough road, but it’s still one that we’re happy to be on given the circumstances. It’s all worth it to slowly open the world to him. One step at a time.