Holiday Miracle: The Gift of Hearing
The first Saturday in June, I walked by the beaver pond and heard frogs croaking. I remarked to my wife that I could rev them up by adding a croak of my own which I did. It was very funny because my impersonation was so good that they seemed to migrate to my end of the pond.
We continued on our walk to Blumont Park in Arlington Virginia to sniff the roses. Ah, the good life.
On the way home, I noticed that the traffic noise on the stretch by the freeway was turning to static, a sound just like when you hear a radio station drifts from its channel. I couldn’t hear my wife speaking very well either and it was like my head was congested.
By the time I arrived home, I had lost my hearing. I took an aspirin and laid down for a nap, hoping that the problem would clear.
When I awoke an hour later, I still couldn’t hear so I asked my wife to call the doctor. He recommended going to the weekend clinic for treatment which I did on Sunday, the next morning.
Since I had lost my hearing in my right ear in 1973 due to noise exposure in the Army, I depended on my left ear, and now all sound is lost. The nurse practitioner worked at an Ear Nose Throat (ENT) office and prescribed Prednisone pills immediately. She tested my hearing to confirm that it was lost in both ears.
I visited the ENT doctor the following Tuesday where the audiologist tested my hearing again and noted small improvement. The Prednisone, a steroid, had an effect.
A week later I returned and hearing had not improved. So, the next step was Prednisone shots through the eardrum and into the middle ear. This would happen once a week for three weeks. It sounds bad, and there was some discomfort at first, but it was easy to get used to having shots in the ears.
Unfortunately, the treatment failed. I was assured by the ENT doctor that there are solutions including hearing aids and cochlear implant surgery. He immediately ruled out hearing aids due to my profound deafness.
I immediately made an appointment for cochlear implant evaluation at Johns Hopkins University that is rated tops in the nation in otolaryngology.
By August I had an appointment with the Johns Hopkins cochlear implant audiologist who administered hearing tests and the evaluation process. She moved me forward to the cochlear implant surgeon.
I was scheduled for surgery on November 2nd. Cochlear implant surgery involves the installation of a speech processor behind the ear and creating a channel in the skull to receive a thin wire that is inserted into the cochlea. At the end of the wire at the top of the skull there is a magnet.
The procedure was outpatient, though it was nontrivial. Recovery took a about a week.
On December 2nd, after a month of healing, the audiologist installed the control device by attaching a magnetic plug to my head and placing a hook with my control over ear (like a normal hearing aid).
With tweaking and therapy session to learn how to hear with the device was back in business, hearing again, by December 9th.
So, from the time that I lost my hearing to recovery was six months, just in time for Christmas.
I was told by the doctors and read in literature that hearing with a cochlear implant device would be different from normal hearing. I tried to imagine what that meant. I realized that my device would be sending signals to my brain that would be simplified from what natural hearing provides. Would it be like Morse code, or would it sound like Donald Duck, as some people described?
In my case, the device is delivering sound that is pretty much normal in speech. Music is cryptic, however and not pleasant. At first, every car that I heard while walking outside sounded like a fire engine. My brain had to adjust to all of the noise after six months of quiet.
Now, one of the things that happened to me over years of struggling with hearing problems is the presence of ringing in the ears and the presence of music in my brain over which I have no control.
I reported this to my internal medicine physician and to my ENT doctors and audiologists. My cochlear implant audiologist remarked, “Oh yes, everyone has their music.”
Why didn’t someone explain this to me earlier? This is a little known secret that doesn’t come to recognizance by everyone.
Then a friend gave to me a gift, a book called Musicophila by Oliver Sacks. I found in this book cases describing people with many of the things that I experience about music in my head. The book was published in 2007 and became a best seller. If you have any questions about hearing or music in your head, this book will ensure that you are not alone at least.
Hear an excerpt from Oliver Sacks on NPR.
“How a 'fairy godmother' helped a girl hear
BY MIKE BOONE, THE GAZETTE DECEMBER 10, 2010 8:51 AM
Eight years ago, Dan and Maureen Ryland were visited by an angel.
No, this isn’t some treacly holiday season Movie of the Week. The encounter occurred in the real world, at Montreal Children’s Hospital, and the Rylands got the name of their seraphic visitor: Judy Flaherty.
The couple were going through a tough time. Twenty-two months after she was born, their daughter had contracted meningitis. The baby was treated successfully, but the disease left Jessica Ryland with total loss of hearing.
“Of all the effects of meningitis,” I think I would have chosen that one,” Dan Ryland says. “The others are more severe and can even be fatal.
“The fact she was deaf, I didn’t feel the impact of it initially. We were in quite a fog.”
Their daughter had been at the Children’s for three weeks, including time in the intensive care unit. During Jessica’s convalescence, as the Rylands came to grips with her impairment, an “incredible woman” dropped by Ward 6-W.
“Judy Flaherty just appeared,” Ryland recalled. “To this day, and for many reasons, we call her our fairy godmother.”
At this point in our phone conversation, Ryland apologized. In an effort to describe what Flaherty meant to his family, words were failing him.
Ryland, 49, has been an IT project manager for 30 years – a “career nerd,” he jokes – at Canadian National. The Rylands have a son, Evan, born a year after Jessica.
His recreational hockey buddies are familiar with the feelings that overwhelm Ryland when he talks about his daughter and Flaherty. The emotion, they say, is written all over his face.
Who was this person touching the Rylands’ lives so deeply?
Flaherty was an emissary from the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf. The school is celebrating its 60th year of providing “habilitation and education for children with hearing loss from infancy through to early adulthood.”
Habilitation and education were to come later for Jessica Ryland. What Flaherty brought to the hospital room was hope. She explained that the baby was a good candidate for a cochlear implant.
Just as your wall of LPs has become an iPod, clunky hearing-aid technology has been miniaturized into a tiny electronic device that, quite simply, allows the deaf to hear. Equipped with a cochlear implant, children are taught by the Montreal Oral School – the first step in a process of integration that helps them join the hearing world.
The two greatest advances in deaf education, Oral School principal Martha Perusse says, are cochlear implants and newborn screening for hearing impairment.
Full disclosure: The educator is married to my friend and colleague, Gazette music writer Bernard Perusse. But even absent this connection, I’d be inclined to laud the amazing work of the Oral School, based on Ryland’s personal testimonial.