The Day Before

When I first started researching CIs after we found out that Alex was deaf, I was really interested in getting an impression of how parents felt prior to the surgery. What I could find was pretty sparse, usually just one-liners about it being but scary but exciting, so here’s my opportunity to jot some things down.

Overall, it’s a crazy mix of emotions and thoughts to the point where I feel somewhat numb because there’s so much going on all at once.

I can barely believe that this is happening tomorrow, first of all. It feels like we’ve been waiting for this day for years now, even though it’s only been a few months. It seems crazy that tomorrow we’re going to walk into a hospital with our boy without an implant, and (hopefully) walk out with our boy with one. There’s been so much hype to sending him down this road that it’s staggering that he’ll have the raw materials needed for hearing in less than the span of a day.

Despite Alex being deaf, I feel lucky that Alex is getting his CIs early, that he was eligible for them, and that that technology exists today, and for all of the advances he’ll see in the future that will hopefully continue to take away the compromises he has to make as a result of his deafness.

I feel blessed and overwhelmingly grateful that we have an awesome team already assembled and ready go for him. In fact, his speech therapist texted me today and told me that she was thinking about us, and to keep her in the loop. I was telling Shannon that it’s such a small gesture on her part, but it means the world to know that the person who’s going to help drive Alex’s speech is already so invested in him. I know the others on the team feel the same way as well. The same, of course, goes for both of our families, who are going to support the crap out of this kid.

I’m incredibly heartbroken that his perfect little baby head is about to be cut open and sewn back together. There’s no real way to lighten that up without being dishonest. I know that we have a great surgeon and that from the pictures I’ve seen, that healing is quick and the scars aren’t really visible most of the time, but I utterly despise the fact that we have to do that to our baby in order to give him his shot at what so many other kids have by default.

I’m scared about the surgery for a few reasons. As helpful as the Facebook CI boards have been for us, today they’re filled with posts about post-op scariness in the way of swelling, infection, that sort of thing. This is a pretty straightforward surgery, but there’s no such thing as a surgery without risk. On top of that, Alex has developed a cold in the past few days. Last night he was coughing frequently through the night to the point where he woke up; I had to “fix” him a few times until he finally went down. Even then, he was coughing through the night. Our sleep was not the best, and I’m sure Shannon’s was even worse than mine. If Alex is too sick (and the criteria for what that means seems to vary), his surgery could be postponed. I feel in my gut that that isn’t going to happen if not just because kids are ALWAYS sick and, on top of that, I think that he just has some post-nasal drip, but the possibility is there. Luckily he’s home with his aunt today, and she’s reporting that he’s getting plenty of sleep, is eating well, and isn’t snotty or coughing much.

What I’m really trying to hold on to, though, is my excitement to get this kid going. Shannon recently blogged about how much it sucks to see that Alex is REALLY starting to get behind his peers now in terms of speech and language. It’s scary to see it creeping on and know that it will only get worse as time goes on without any intervention. There have been a few awesome videos on the CI boards recently that show what some of these kids can accomplish even after just two or three months; the two that come to mind are one that shows a child reacting to words without any visual aid and another of a boy who was babbling and then said “bahbah” or something similar. It completely blows my mind that, if we’re lucky, Alex could be babbling and even give us a word or two by Halloween or Christmas. And what a difference one year would make. Last Halloween we had learned that Alex had some degree of hearing loss, but it wasn’t known exactly how much it would be. We were thinking hearing aids might’ve just been able to do the trick. We were sad, but it wasn’t the end of the world. By Christmas, we knew that he was deaf and were just crawling out of the resulting pit of depression. I think we really lost that Christmas, which is a time that our little family usually loves, so the mere idea of him babbling or having a word or reacting to sound this time around would be a complete and amazing 180 from last year’s experience.

The roller coaster analogy seems very fitting here. It’s sort of like when you’re being taken up that first hill and you look around and can see all the twists and turns, but you can’t see the entire track laid out and trace it from start to end, so you just settle back and get ready for the ride, because there’s no getting off now anyhow.

I should also say that I’m very proud of Shannon and I for getting to this point and staying sane. It’s pretty awesome to know that our marriage not only withstood this initial shock, but made it just a little bit easier to deal with because I know that I had her in my corner. We’ve luckily been on the same page with all of the important decisions; there was never a big heated debate for us about whether or not to send Alex down this route or not, it just boiled down to “do we want him to have this opportunity?” and the answer was always “yes.” We certainly think differently at times, but I think the differences are complimentary and beneficial to us as a team. We’re both invested as hell in this kid and maximizing what he can get out of this approach. Countless conversations have been had strategizing how we’re going to give this kid the best go at it and what we can do to support and cheer him on. We’re going to jump at any opportunity to help him along and give him a kick-ass life, we’ll spend whatever amount of money it takes. We’re a focused team and giving 100% to Alex feels completely natural, not something impeding on our lives.

If you’ve looked up any deaf / CI stories about kids who went the speech route, you’ll know that the surgery is really the beginning of the story, but I think that the surgery is to the beginning of that story as stepping out of an airplane is to going skydiving. Tomorrow, we commit to a decision that will have some permanent implications, but I really feel that we’re doing the right thing for our own child.

Anyhow.  If we’re lucky and everything goes smoothly, tomorrow Alex will get his surgery. It will take about six hours. After a few hours of observation, we’ll be able to bring the little guy home tomorrow night (for anyone who cares enough, I plan on posting updates here in the form of quick posts). He’ll have a bandage on his head for one or two days, and when that comes off, the incisions will heal pretty rapidly afterward from what we’ve seen. He’ll have a post-surgery appointment during which we’ll be told that he’s healing wonderfully so far. For a few weeks after that, he’ll continue to heal up. We may or may not put his hearing aids back on just to make sure that he stays used to the idea that he’ll have stuff on his head. We’ll keep pushing him to get crawling and moving. A few days after the 4th, Alex’s CIs will be activated and he’ll be exposed to the world of sound.

I’m definitely afraid that everything won’t go as smoothly as above, especially because most of our experience with this little troublemaker has been the opposite of smooth, but… I’ve got faith in this kid and the supporting cast. I think we might just get our Christmas babbles this year, but there’s only one way to find out.  It’s time to take the leap.

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General Early Intervention Status

I thought I’d write about how all of our early intervention stuff has been going, just to give an idea of what it’s been like. Our focus had definitely been on getting the health insurance on board with the June date, so writing about these sort of fell by the wayside.

I guess the first thing to say here is that they don’t feel terribly inconvenient or time-obtrusive. I was worried about that when we first set out, but it really hasn’t been too bad. A lot of that is probably because I have a relatively flexible work schedule and our therapists have been awesome about coming either first thing in the morning or after I already get home, so even though we typically have one or two therapy sessions a week, they basically just eat up home-time, so no big deal. And of course, we’re always interested in picking their brains about what they’re looking for, what else we can be doing with Alex, bounce questions… so yeah. Even though I cringed when I had first read about having appointments all of the time, I’m pretty happy to say at this point that it hasn’t really been a big deal overall. All of our therapists are awesome and we welcome all of their help and experience.

Breaking it down…

 

Physical Therapy:

We’re still doing PT once a month. They go for about an hour. Our PT generally starts by asking us if we have any concerns, which we almost have. Once you have a kid who has one disability / issue / whatever you want to call it, everything that you would’ve otherwise written off as him just being a weirdo or taking his time becomes something new to worry about and research. So, as a result, whenever our PT asks us that question, we usually have something for her. Luckily, Alex has been doing well, in general. His balance is solid, he’s sitting up for decent pieces of time, etc.

After the PT finishes up “testing” for whatever concerns we had, which she explains in great detail, she takes Alex through the paces for everything we didn’t ask about and asks questions, usually in the form of “Has he done x yet?” An important thing she told me during our last PT session that probably would’ve saved me some stress if I had known it before – when you see PT guidelines like “Can sit up without support for 30 seconds,” they mean “Has demonstrated that he can sit up for 30 seconds” and not “consistently sits up for 30 seconds.”

After that, she goes through what she’ll be looking for at next month’s appointment and shows us exercises that we can work on with him to help push him along the path. The mantra remains to give him enough of a push that he can succeed but as little as necessary to make sure he’s working for it.

Once we get toward the end of our time, she writes down all of the exercises that we should be working on with him, and that’s that. She always tells us that we should feel free to text / call her with any questions, and she’s been great in that regard. We’ve only used that once when we were really concerned, and she got back to us very quickly.

Once Alex hits ten months of age or so and things really start picking up with crawling / walking, we might bump our appointments up to an every other week type thing. Our time with our PT is always very educational and often calming, so at this point I have no issue with doing that to make sure that Alex keeps pushing forward. But overall, he’s been pretty solid in the PT department. He’s not as far along as his older sister Taylor was, but he’s not showing anything that concerns our PT. So far, so good.

 

Teacher of the Deaf:

These are every other week and only go for about a half hour. Because our TOD actually works at the deaf-oral school Alex will be going, our sessions generally started as a “here’s what’s going to happen once he gets implanted and once he starts going to school” type thing. I think she wasn’t expecting us to have researched as much as we had in advance – we’ve gotten that a few times. Anyhow, the past three or four of our meetings have followed the same pattern. The TOD brings a bag of toys with her and works on getting Alex interested in one toy at a time. The toy generally “does something” – i.e., it’ll be a ball that has a button which causes it to light up, or a car that she’ll drive up to his face, but the idea is that there’s an action associated with the toy. Her goal has been to get Alex to make eye contact to signify that he wants that action to happen to. He’s been great in this area. When Shannon and I feed him solids, most of the time we won’t give him his next spoonful of food until he makes that eye contact, so he’s used to this. I have a feeling these meetings are going to pick up after he gets his implants, which I’m excited for, because right now Alex isn’t really being pushed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because we’re both grateful that he’s nailing the eye contact thing, but it’s going to be really cool when we can start having him use his new ears to vocalize to get those toys to move or whatever the next step ends up being.

 

Speech Therapist:

The speech therapist’s visits are pretty familiar to the TOD’s at this point. She comes every other week for a half hour.  She usually first asks us how Alex is doing with his hearing aids, whether or not we see him reacting to any sound, and if we’re having any issues with keeping them on his ears. After the quick status update she starts working with Alex. Like the TOD, she also brings toys, but they’re various animals. She works on getting Alex to make eye contact and then making the animal sound (“A doggy says woof woof woof”). Again, not really too much happens here. Alex watches intently, but you can tell that he’s not going to really maximize his value here until he gets his CIs. We’re really looking forward to his speech therapy sessions as one of the goals we have for Alex is to get him talking as early as possible and hopefully work on any affect he might start out with.

So there it is. We’re getting excited to REALLY get Alex going in a few months and teach him how to use his new ears and we’re thrilled with the supporting cast around us.

First Appointments: Teacher of the Deaf / Speech Therapist

I’m way behind on writing. In some ways, I think it’s a good thing, because I originally started this off as just a place to vent off steam. As things have sort of calmed down and we’re not in complete terror / panic / depression mode, I’ve had less steam to vent. Regardless, we’re still very busy, still a lot going on. I have a lot to write about, so maybe I’ll try out this blog scheduler thing and tear a few blogs out right now.

A few weeks back, we had our first appointments with two more of Alex’s early intervention people; his teacher of the deaf and speech therapist. They’ll both be working on different things with Alex, even though the gigs seem very similar.

Starting with the teacher of the deaf – as is with all of our early intervention team, all of Alex’s therapies will either be at our house or at his daycare. I had a LITTLE bit of trepidation over this one initially, partially because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought this might actually be a deaf adult who would teach us some of the ropes and maybe push ASL as the only thing Alex should be working on right now or something (if you don’t know, the existence of CIs is a source of great consternation among some of the more… passionate… members of the Deaf community). I didn’t want to feel pressured to go that particular way. At the time, I knew that my fears were probably ridiculous. Our Early Intervention coordinator knew what our goals were, knew we had already expressed great interest in the speech center’s oral-based program, and that any teacher who was too militant about pushing toward an ASL-only route would probably not jive well with us.

I’m happy to report that my trepidation was a complete waste of energy. As it turns out, our TOTD is actually the main teacher at the oral school we want to send Alex to! That’s huge, since Alex will be with her all the way up until kindergarten (assuming, as always, that he’s eligible for cochlear implants). She works with the kids in the program all of the time, she’s seen what works well and what doesn’t, so to have her involved early and often is huge.

As far as the content of the first meeting with her, it was sort of introductory boilerplate kind of stuff. She told us about her, what she did with the kids at school, schedules, and the general things we would work on. A lot of good info exchanged. Some of my favorite tidbits that came out of it:

  • The kids at the school get live music therapy once a week. Cool to see that the school doesn’t take the attitude of some of the more negative or older opinions of CIs in that their users can’t enjoy music.
  • Unlike Auditory Verbal Therapy, which seems to be the most common sort of therapy done with children who get implants to learn to communicate orally primarily, the system that her school uses doesn’t discourage lipreading as a tool. AVT has had a great amount of success (we see it on the Facebook parent board all the time), but I think lipreading is a tool. I don’t want Alex to lean on it too much, but if he uses it to get a little help in understanding what’s being said in loud environments, I’m all for it.
  • That said – the school DOES emphasize listening as much as possible. Our teacher told us that they regularly ensure that the kids are listening by calling their names and asking them questions when they’re not looking, for example.
  • She likes that Alex is in daycare for a few days a week – it’s good practice to listen in louder environments as well as good for socialization skills (some kids who are hard of hearing have obstacles here).

Overall, it was great meeting her. Shannon and I both liked what she had to say as well as her personality. It’s also great that we’ll be able to ask her any questions we might have about the oral school since she’s probably in the best position to answer.

Now for the speech therapist – I obviously had a clearer idea of what she’d be working on, so I wasn’t too worried about how that would go. Our first meeting with her was relatively uneventful. You could tell that she walked into the house assuming that we didn’t really know too much about CIs / hearing aids and their effects on speech. She came armed with a lot of knowledge on CIs, but we actually knew most of it already. It was no problem, of course – she probably got a good feel for what we know already. We’re really looking forward to working with her, of course. Oh – she’s ALSO on the staff of the oral school that we’re hoping Alex will attend. Past that, not way too much to say. Shannon and I both liked her as well. She was a bit more down-to-business, but I appreciate that quality for her gig. All-in-all, that was a pretty uneventful meeting, but those will get more interesting as some time goes on.

So there’s the team, all assembled. I like who we’ve got, and I feel that Alex is going to be in good hands.