Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thank you, Thank you Dunkin' Donuts!

For several years now, I've been running on Dunkin.'

My love affair with Dunkin' Donuts became serious after I had my daughter, Claire. Though I have always liked coffee, I used to be able to take or leave a cup in the morning, and I was not particularly partial to any brand or shop.  Once I became a working mother of two, however, coffee became a necessity, and if I didn't have it, my chances of having a good day were minimal.

My local Dunkin' Donuts is within two miles of my home, and my addiction intensified after experiencing the intoxicating joy of my local drive thru attendant, a blonde and smiling woman my friends and I have come to refer to as "Thank you, Thank you."  Why?  After handing over my money for my necessary morning drink, this woman- who I've since learned starts work before the crack of dawn- cheerfully leans out the window and gives me a glee-igniting smile and wave before saying her signature, upbeat "Thank you, Thank YOU!"

It is the BEST, and I.  LOVE.  HER.

About a year before my surgery, my trips to the drive thru window lessened.  Even in rain and snow, I started to park the car and walk into Dunkin' Donuts to place an order instead of go through the drive thru.  Soon, I was pretty much avoiding the drive thru altogether, which was often inconvenient and time-consuming. As I noticed my hearing declining, the experience of the drive thru- and most experiences in my life, for that matter- became anxiety-provoking.   Receiving my coffee from Thank You, Thank You had always been so fun, but it was no longer the same, and I was plagued with insecurity about not being able to hear the voice over the speaker.  It was yet another reminder that I couldn't perform such an everyday task, and it depressed me.

Since my surgery, I have visited my local Dunkin' Donuts several times, and I have tried the drive thru once again.  In the beginning, it was HORRIBLE, and I would end up pulling the processor off my ear, sometimes abandoning the speaker to give my order at the window.

But I'm improving.   Even though I don't hear each word Thank you, Thank you says over the speaker (or whoever is working the window for that matter), it's getting better.  MUCH better. (Also exciting, though irrelevant to the story, is that I recently purchased an iced coffee koozie from DD.  It's awesome.  So I now have coffee, koozie, drive thru, Thank You, Thank You, and I'm hearing.  WINNING!)

So today I was driving home from a work meeting where I sat among approximately 100 colleagues in an echo-filled hotel conference room non-stop for seven hours.  It was a lot of voices- A LOT of noise- but to date, it was the BEST I have heard at a meeting.

When it was time to leave, I welcomed a brain break.  During my commute home, I took off my processor in need of some quiet.  My ears continued to ring throughout my drive (a common occurrence after a few hours of noise), but I was still given some respite from hours of constant sound.

Tired, I decided to visit a Dunkin' Donuts on the way home for a little pick-me-up (not Thank You, Thank You's location, sadly, but I don't think she works the evening shift anyway).  Pulling up to the speaker, I waited.

And waited.

"Hmm," I thought to myself, "I'm not used to visiting the drive thru this time of day, so I wonder if maybe the staff person doesn't stay by the window as much as a morning attendant might.... Oh WAIT!  My PROCESSOR!"

As quickly as I could, I put the processor back on my ear and sure enough, there was a voice: "Can I take your order?"

When I got to the window, I asked the pretty teenage girl if she had been talking to me for a while without me responding.

"Yes," she said smiling shyly.  The old Pam would have been embarrassed, but I just laughed.  I then told her about my surgery, and still laughing, I told her how nice it was to know the implant was, indeed, working.  She laughed too, and told me she was happy for me.  

Driving away, a smile on my face, I was once again reminded that I'm moving forward in my journey in so many ways.  I said a prayer using one of my favorite phrases: "Thank you, THANK YOU!"


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Applauding Small Victories

It’s been about two weeks since I wrote what I’ve come to refer to as “Pam’s Pity Party Post,” a hearing impaired bitch-fest, if you will, regarding my frustrations adjusting to life with a cochlear implant.  Venting over the Internet proved to be very cathartic (Thank you, Readers, for waiting politely as I revitalized myself with a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum).  Once I let go of some of my frustrations and anger, I am happy to report good moments returned to my life.

As my Facebook friends might have seen, I recently posted a status that yielded nearly 100 likes (Thanks, Facebook Friends).  In an abbreviated version of the following story, I wrote how my children, Colin and Claire, had their first piano lesson.  The lesson took place in an old music hall,  and I watched with joy as the kids happily familiarized themselves with the keys and notes of a beautiful, restored 1904 piano.  I think I was so pleased that they were so enthusiastically engaged in the lesson that it took me a few minutes to be conscious of my hearing powers.  As Claire’s fingers slowly paced up the keyboard, I realized I didn’t stop hearing once she got to the upper third of the keys.  In the past, I’ve had enough musical knowledge to “know” what note comes next on the scale, and to be able to hear it in my head, even if I can’t sing it.  (And trust me- when it comes to a high note, I CAN’T sing it.)  In the past, I was also accustomed to hearing the “tap” of pressing down a piano key (think of pressing a key on an electronic keyboard when the keyboard isn’t on).  But this time, I realized, I was hearing actual tones—crisp, clear, non-robotic, and in fact, pretty tones reaching higher and higher in frequency.  Once I realized what I was hearing, I informed the kids’ music teacher that I was new to the high notes, and he allowed me to prolong my moment by pressing some  more keys and even letting me experience the cymbals of a drum.  When presented one by one, I experienced each unique tone like never before.    It was a victory… a small success that my cochlear implant could happily surprise me after a long cycle of frustration.   I was grateful.

Gratitude is a wonderful feeling, but sadly, it can be so short-lived once positive thinking is removed.  After posting my tale on Facebook, I experienced a mild “Oh, how nice” kind of feeling that I had so much support, but there was a part of me that felt as though I was lying.  Sure, hearing the upper register on a piano was new and exciting in the moment,  but that’s not what I wanted from this surgery.  It didn't make me successful.  When I go out with friends, or participate in a meeting, I’m not interacting with a high G note, after all.

Speaking of interaction, however, I DID have a good CI outing on a Saturday with my husband Jeff.  We were at a local restaurant, seated at an outdoor table while a very talented acoustic singer performed near our table.  Pre-surgery, I would have loved listening to the music; unfortunately, that is all I would have been able to listen to, as the background noise of vocals and guitar would have surely dominated over any conversation at the table.  The way I was hearing was different that evening, and by playing with my CI settings and volumes, I was able to come to a comfortable place where yes, the music was there, but so was Jeff.  We could talk.  I was still looking at him, and I was still focused, but we could do it.  Another thankful day, another small victory.

A week after, a group of friends and I returned to the same restaurant for a girls’ night out.  Once again, outdoor seating, and once again, an outdoor performance, although this time it was a band.  I had even suggested the spot because of my previous weekend’s success, boasting to my friends that I would be able to hear them!  And I could… sort of. 

Dealing with four different female voices proved to be a challenge; though one setting might be ideal for Tara, the volume wouldn’t be right for Michelle.  Though the sensitivity level would be perfect for Carrie, somehow I kept thinking Kim said “cranberry” when she was really saying “grape.” (I know... Not even CLOSE). With more noise surrounding me, there was so much more to consider, and the ability to hear all sounds harmoniously presented quite a challenge.  It was certainly not the same as a single note, or one familiar voice.  My brain struggled to keep up.

My optimistic self tells me this is to be expected, and little by little, my brain will allow more complicated noise to be deciphered.  After all, I didn’t initially hear the blinker in my car, or the beep when the microwave turns off (I’m still startled every time it beeps, by the way).  On most days, these small collection of sounds have become a “new normal," an experience I would have never had before.  Still, my regular, perfectionist, impatient self typically ignores those moments and instead wonders why this whole confusing process has to be so damn annoying.

I TRY to remind myself that not every victory has to be the result of some complex, Olympian task.... I really do.  Still, I struggle with Pam’s perfect expectations, not just when dealing with my CI, but when dealing with life, in general.  Take my to-do list, for example.  Too often I won’t finish it.   I might get around to finally folding the laundry (a small victory in itself), but instead, I’ll brood over how I failed to weed my front yard, failed to make dentist appointments, failed to email my friend, failed, failed, FAILED.  Even when I heard the high notes on the piano- quite possibly the first time I had EVER heard those notes- my gratitude quickly faded when I turned my focus to how much I was still missing in conversation, how difficult it was to talk on the phone…  Failure, failure, FAILURE. 

Please remind me during my next pity party to applaud the victories, big or small, to remember the beauty of a single high G note, and to smile and say THANK YOU.  Being grateful just feels better.   

Now what small victory are YOU grateful for today?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Beware: I'm back.

Moving forward during my recent family vacation.

I have just returned from vacation.  Hours ago, I arrived to my home after a week at the beach with my family.  That was one vacation.  The other break, I realize, is the one I’ve allowed myself from the blog.  I feel like I’ve had a lot to say, but sometimes when there is so much going on, it is difficult to focus on a single topic.  Instead, I’ve kept my feelings to myself, a decision that has probably stifled my healing as I come to terms with life with the cochlear implant. 

Much has happened since I’ve last written.  I’m now a contributing writer for two business newspapers and loving it.  I’ve also started another job, working three days a week as a community outreach coordinator for a nonprofit organization.  The professional opportunities that have come following my surgery not only allow me to do what I love,  but I also have much more flexibility than ever before, enabling a greater balance between family and work.  Life should be good, and often, I’m stubborn and don’t want to admit that life isn’t as great as I thought it would be at this point post-surgery.  My hearing should be improving day by day, little by little. 

The truth: I don’t see much improvement, and I’m disappointed by my inability to provide a happy ending to my journey.    

I had a week or so when my optimism was growing.  A few friends told me they noticed a difference in interacting with me.  I felt as though I was getting closer to my goal of understanding noises around me, even if I was slowly crawling to get there.

I’m not sure what has changed in the last three weeks or so, but I feel like a failure.  I’ve met with the audiologist, and she knows my concerns.  I can hear the sounds, but I still can’t make sense of them.

This past week, my family rented a condo in Ocean City, Maryland with my husband’s siblings and parents; at most, we had a total of fifteen people in the house at one time. This vacation had been planned for months, so I knew prior to surgery that two months after, I’d be at the beach.  With so many recipients telling me that they had seen such drastic improvements in three weeks to a month to two months, I was certain this vacation would be amazing. 

All my life, I had struggled at the beach.  While the ocean breeze and the waves crashing is relaxing background noise for most people, for me it was always the only noise I could hear, masking the speech of those around me and prohibiting me from participating in casual conversation unless I gave my utmost concentration, which of course, I always did, leaving me exhausted and completely un-relaxed.

I had envisioned this vacation at the beach to be different—easy and breezy, for once in my life not having to think about hearing. 

Unfortunately, I knew on the first day that I was overwhelmed with all the voices under one roof.  I would turn down the volume but it was still loud, and the cacophony of noise remained chaotic and unclear.  Hearing-wise, it wasn’t what I had hoped, but also comfort-wise, I was having difficulty.  We were fortunate to have beautiful beach weather, but it was HOT, and the processor sat on my sweaty head uncomfortably, leaving me itchy and annoyed, and since I’m unable to get the processor wet, I had to be particularly careful around water.  Additionally, my ability to put my hair up in a casual beachy ponytail was not so easy; besides worrying about my physique in a bathing suit, I felt insecure about the mini-computer connected to my head.  Not exactly the summer look I was going for.

Bitter emotions bottled up inside me until Day 3 of the vacation when midday I started to feel sick.  My stomach hurt and my head ached, and I excused myself to lie down in my dark, air-conditioned bedroom.  Jeff came to check on me, questioning if I had “too much sun.”  I realized my body was responding to the bitterness I’d been holding in. 

Quietly, I admitted what I had been thinking for awhile: “I shouldn’t have got the surgery.”  There.  I had said it.

Jeff rubbed my back for a minute as I drifted to sleep, actually feeling relieved that I had finally vocalized my fleeting thought, hoping that it would now go away, allowing gratitude and perseverance to guide my thinking from that point forward. 

After the declaration to Jeff, I  was able to enjoy the trip, even with my crappy hearing and the itchy processor.  I decided not to focus on it, and just do the best I can.  Most of the time, that meant avoiding conversations and just relaxing on my own—not such a terrible thing at the beach.  And sometimes, I didn’t wear the processor at all (I know fellow recipients and my audiologist will not agree with that move, but briefly, ON VACATION, I wanted to forget it existed).  Temporarily, I coped.