“I had just finished the fall semester of my senior year in college. It was winter break and as usual, our family piled into the minivan and drove from our home in Ohio, up north around the lake, to my grandparents’ home in Ontario.
All a college student wants to go on break is sleep, right? And sleep I did. When the sunlight finally hit my eyes, I woke up slowly, stretched my limbs in all directions, and reached for my hearing aids. I always put the right one on first since that was my better ear. However, something was different this morning, I didn’t hear the familiar Phonak hearing aid start up jingle. I felt the sound vibrations on my skin, but I didn’t hear anything. My heart dropped like a weight and I frantically switched batteries from my left hearing aid to my right. I tried again. Nothing. I scrambled out of bed, and reached down towards my overnight bag for a new pack of batteries.
By now, hot tears were streaming down my face as I prayed for clear sound to come on and let me start my day with confidence. Nothing. I thought about trying a hearing aid on my left worse ear… but what was the point? So I just stopped. I sat still. I stared at the floral print of the comforter around me, tracing the design with my eyes and silently naming the colors over and over. My mom walked into the room to and immediately knew something was up. I saw her face fall as I told her I couldn’t hear.
I had grown up with a progressive hearing loss, so this wasn’t a new scenario for us. It occurred when I was a toddler, in first grade, third grade and fifth grade. This time was different. It had been over a decade since my last drop in hearing. College graduation was only 5 to 6 months away. I had friends. I was going to travel. I was thinking about going to law school. I had a longterm boyfriend. I was even recently crowned Homecoming Queen— who knew they did that in college?!
Thoughts were swarming around me like fish in a barrel. How was I going to complete my classes? Would I ever hear my boyfriend say the words ‘I love you’ to me again? How was I going to have a career? How was I ever going to be independent and live on my own? These questions went through my mind frantically over the next couple of weeks. I couldn’t even call my best friend or boyfriend because I couldn’t hear. These were the days of T9 messaging, so texting was limited.
That night, I remember looking up at the full moon, feeling as small as Fievel in ‘An American Tail.’ I studied the dark and light speckles. I breathed in the silence. I felt the cold of winter. I felt alone, trapped, helpless and broken. A few days later, I was in the lobby waiting to have my hearing tested when my mom suggested perhaps, I’d make a good audiologist since I had firsthand experience with hearing loss and hearing aids. I was still unsure of what direction I wanted to go in post graduation, and this suggestion floored me. YES. I wanted to help others in a healthcare setting, but I’d just never had a pull to a specific field. I’d never really grown up around or knew many people with hearing loss, so I didn’t truly understand I was different, had a high level of resilience, or was uniquely equipped.
My hearing had dropped significantly. However, with sudden hearing loss, the recommendation was systemic and intratympanic steroid injections. There was only a slim chance my hearing would recover. 2 weeks later, I was laying in my boyfriend’s arms when I heard his dog bark. ‘Woof!’ The sound resonated, and I felt the amplification in my ear from my hearing aids. All of the stress and tension melted from my neck and shoulders – for me, all I had wanted was to hear voices and have verbal conversations again.
It was because of that situation and my mother’s suggestion in the waiting room I was able to put my feet firmly down on a career path. I applied to the Northeast Ohio Audiology Consortium, was accepted and began schooling to become an audiologist. It was during our third year we started to learn about cochlear implants. One night, I was excitedly chatting about this with my parents and they told me I had been a CI candidate since I was young! They had chosen not to move forward since they were wary of the technology at the time and told me I had adapted and learned how to thrive academically they did not feel it was a necessity.
I decided to undergo pre-CI evaluations again and was implanted later that year! For the first time in a very long time, I could hear my feet shuffle on the carpet, the clicking turn signal of my car, utensils tapping on dishes and leaves rustling with the wind. It took time and practice, but eventually I could hear and understand conversation in a dark car and on the telephone. My confidence soared. I no longer had to avoid birthday parties, movie theaters, or other social gatherings.
I’ve since moved across the country from Kent, Ohio to San Diego, California to work as a pediatric audiologist. I don’t think I ever would have made such a big move had I not received my first cochlear implant. I did not have the confidence to feel safe walking alone at night, or talking on the phone with anyone other than my parents. With my listening skills and thresholds I get to have with my cochlear implants, the sky is the limit.
About 5 years ago, I had the opportunity to scratch culinary school off of my bucket list. It was THE most difficult listening situation I CHOSE to subject myself to for a long time (8 months!). The tiled floors, stainless steel equipment, appliances, high ceilings, exhaust fans, walls of refrigerators, and water constantly running were an educational audiologist’s acoustic nightmare. Not to mention, my chef/professor had a heavy French accent!
But I endured. I had him wear my FM system. I constantly asked for repetition. I asked my station buddy for clarification. And I took copious notes. I messed up, I spilled things, I ruined dishes, I lost fingertips, I burned myself… AND I mastered sauces. I broke down poultry and seafood, I created menus, I plated, I garnished. And it was WORTH it.
I am now the mama of two little girls, two fur babies, military spouse and creator of an Instagram and Facebook account where I share personal glimpses into my hearing loss journey as a bilateral cochlear implant recipient and pediatric audiologist.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dr. Michelle Hu of San Diego, CA. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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