Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lessons From Jamaica: A Six Month Update

Kathryn on her wedding day and me in Montego Bay, Jamaica
Hi there.  Remember me?  I realize a long time has passed since I last posted.

A week ago, I drafted an apology for the lack of updates.  I started by explaining how “insanely busy” I’ve been throughout September and October.  It was similar to a recent talk I had with a personal trainer at the gym.   First you should know this guy was not ­­my trainer- I’m not that cool or rich.  Rather, I was waiting for someone at the gym, and the trainer was nearby, so I chatted with him.  I initiated the conversation by telling him how I really want to make it to the gym more, but I am just so busy with this, and that, and this…   He listened to the tales of my complicated life, then shrugged and said, “If you want to be here, you’d be here.  There are many people busier than you and they get here.  You have a lot of excuses.”

I guess I could have been pissed off, but I tend to appreciate straightforward people.  And he was right.  I was making excuses.

The same goes for writing… I love it, and I love this blog.  If I really wanted to, I’m sure I could have posted an update.  Lord knows I spend enough time on Facebook commenting on photos.  So what has been holding me back?

When I started the blog, I wanted to inform my family, friends, and colleagues of my decision to get a cochlear implant.  I figured it was easiest to update everyone all at once as social media carried my news from person to person.  It worked, but once I published, I also realized the weight of my shame as a hearing impaired person, its heavy presence on my shoulders day after day, and the constant voice whispering, even in the presence of success, “You’re not good enough.”  Sharing my feelings via the blog was an incredibly freeing experience, an occurrence I credit for changing my life.  I wasn't just ready to hear, but also to heal.

Following surgery, my activation and initial weeks in rehabilitation proved to be challenging, and as frustrated as I was with the new cochlear implant, I at least recognized as a writer that my experiences made for a good story.  I was also generally optimistic.  I figured in the months that followed, I would persevere through my trials and tribulations.  I predicted that one day I would say to you: Yes, the beginning of this journey SUCKED, but LOOK AT ME NOW!   I’d be sharing stories of how I talk for hours on the phone with my friends, or how when driving in the car, I pick up all the lyrics to a song, or how my new hearing makes me feel fully competent, completely included, connected and whole.

I tend to describe my cochlear implant success based on how well I communicate in “bigger” milestone events as opposed to everyday occurrences.  I realize this analysis might not be the most accurate, but I can’t help but put more emphasis on the significance of hearing during special occasions.  Post-activation, it was my son’s communion and my daughter’s birthday party—two events surrounded by a storm of unrecognizable noise.  NOT a great hearing weekend.  Then came my first family vacation with the implant, and the reality that life with a processor was often inconvenient.  I mourned the loss of natural hearing I once had in my right ear.  I was also saddened by the difficulty I experienced trying to understand multiple voices in a single setting. 

With each milestone that passed, I hoped the next big event would be better.  May events were difficult, I still struggled in June, but with the arrival of summer, and a few different mappings, I thought I was on a better track. Though I still wasn’t where I wanted to be, people around me were noticing a difference, saying I was more relaxed and seemed to understand more than when I was without the implant.

My BIGGEST event of 2012, the one occurring a whole six months post-activation, was the wedding of my best friend, Kathryn.  She and I talked about the occasion before I even went through surgery, and I’d say things like, “I’ll be able to HEAR at your wedding!  YAYYY!”

This was NOT just any wedding.  Oh no.  This was a full five-day event in Montego Bay, Jamaica, complete with all-inclusive cocktails, a trip to the spa, uninterrupted, child-free time with my husband, and more than 70 guests joining for what would be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.  In my airplane group alone were four sets of parents collectively leaving seven children ages 8 and under with trusted babysitters.  This does NOT happen every day, friends, and I promised to embrace every second of Jamaica to the fullest.

And I did.  The wedding was beautiful, the resort was amazing… but it’s not a complete story if I didn’t admit to the cochlear implant frustrations.  First, before I even made it to LaGuardia Airport en route to Jamaica, the ear hook on my processor broke.   Of course, it was my last small one.  I was forced to use a large hook for the remainder of the trip, resulting in an awkward fit around my ear.  I spent the first two days at the beach feeling my processor dangling from my head, petrified it was going to get too wet and no longer work.  But I didn’t sweat it… it was the trip of a lifetime, and in the days that followed, I didn’t wear it at the pool or beach.  Was it hard to hear?  Yes, but I was in Jamaica.  No problem, Mon.  Plus there were endless frozen drinks.

I was able to push the processor frustration aside, but another remained.  I had anticipated hearing much better WITH the processor than what was actually occurring.  I expected success in the airport (I had never been able to hear in an airport before), but I found it just as difficult to communicate as it had been in pre-implant life.  I also found group conversations to be more difficult than I expected.

At dinner one night at a restaurant at our resort, I sat among some of my favorite people in the world—beloved family members, my best friends, my husband’s best friends.  Conversation was occurring all around me in various directions, and several times, people had said something to me but I failed to understand.  For a few seconds, I let my frustration show, and admitted to the table I was having a lot of trouble.  As soon as I said it, I felt the tears coming.  

 I was NOT going to cry in Jamaica, I had told myself, and I excused myself from the dinner to shake it off in the ladies’ room.  I later realized the tears were not just because I hope to do better, but because I realized, others so wanted it to be better for me too.  I saw the hope in each person’s face that surrounded me at that dinner table.  I often cry when I feel loved, and that night I definitely did. 

The next day- the wedding day- Kathryn had gone to her suite to start getting ready.  It was midday as I sat by the pool when suddenly, those tears returned.  But this time, there was no shaking it off.  This time, they flowed freely and uncontrollably.

The few women around me understood I was emotional because my best friend was getting married.  I blubbered on and on about how much we had been through together,  how she had been by my side at my wedding, and a bunch of other dramatic-girl sentences that left all of us in bathing suits sniffling and hugging while slurping our daiquiris.

But it was more than that.

Perhaps prompted by the previous night at dinner, I had been thinking about the cheerleaders in my life.  I thought about how Kathryn had always wanted the best for me when it came to my hearing.  Having lived together for four years during college, she knew of my situation during a time when I spoke with very few other people about it.  Her understanding of me wasn’t just because I shared my feelings with her, but because she saw it.  She LIVED it.  And in many circumstances, she was my lifeline, filling in the missing pieces when I didn’t understand, rephrasing or repeating when I needed it.  Above all, I knew she didn’t see me as “the hearing impaired friend,” but just as Pam.  I’ve been blessed to have developed other similar relationships since that time, but considering how special Kathryn’s and my friendship is, and how really, she served as the first person I truly “came out” to, it was completely justifiable that I turned into an emotional basketcase three hours before the wedding.  I cried from a place of gratitude.

So why haven’t I written?  Maybe it’s because the writer in me felt that the story was not getting any more exciting.  Maybe I felt I was not only letting myself down, but letting others down, as well.  Six months post-activation is really no different than three months ago.  Sometimes life with the implant is fine, and other times, it’s annoying.  I remain grateful I can hear the phone ring, but totally pissed that I can’t talk on the phone without struggling.

Speaking of phones, I recently talked with my friend Kathryn, now  married and settling into life after Jamaica.  We don’t speak on the phone though… rather, we text each other for hours at a time, often providing one another with amazing commentary during Real Housewives episodes.

In our last texting exchange, we talked about continuing to motivate each other to work out, to maybe do a half marathon soon… and at the end of the conversation, she suggested we put a phone call- a REAL one-  in our schedules.  She followed up by saying, “Who cares if you can’t hear me?  We can text about it after.”

At this point in the journey, I seem to be at a plateau in the climb.  Still those who love me continue to be patient and cheer for me, and even push me to try harder.  I am grateful because frankly, I need it.  The challenge continues, but I try to remember what my friend Kathryn tells me: “You’ll get there.”


  1. Beautiful. Can't wait to read more, but I will, until the words come in a way that you are ready to put them down.

    1. Thank you, Amanda. That means a lot coming from you. And that reminds me to finish reading your latest piece of brilliance!

  2. I came to your blog because my daughter just received a cochlear implant on Monday! I appreciate all of your honesty, it gives me a little insight to what kind of challenges she may face some day.

    1. It made my day receiving your comment. Thank you for reading the blog! I hope your daughter is experiencing a relaxing recovery and minimal swelling. I looked a bit like a pumpkin following surgery.

      From what I can tell, each CI recipient has a different experience. I know a woman who was completely deaf prior to surgery and was easily talking on the phone within a month following activation. INSANE. I haven't been so lucky. I still struggle to trust my implant, and to make sense of all the new sounds coming in. For me, it's been tough to re-train my brain, but I try to remember the small victories during challenging times.

      Best of luck!

  3. Hi, Pam! I think you might just be the only one of my CI friends that tells it like it is! And, if misery loves company, my progress closely resembles yours. I am about to get a CaptionCall. Have you checked into that? The phones are free and they come to you to install them. Jen Thorpe works for them! It can't could talk to your bestie with the CaptionCall! And I know, I really do know, one day you and I both will hear things much more clearly. On a kind of funny side note, they are doing some testing on deaf gerbils. It sounds crazy but that when you get a chance.

    1. Hi Teresa! Thanks for reading. I've been thinking of you, and wondering about your journey. I don't have a CaptionCall phone, but I have a Cap-Tel phone, which is similar. Sometimes it works great and other times, not so much. Going into surgery, I assumed I'd no longer need these devices, but six months later I'm STILL using the phone on my natural side. Otherwise, phone voices would sound like computerized chipmunks, and I still wouldn't know what they're saying! I'll have to research the gerbils. Thanks!