Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Cochlear Implant Birthday- PLAY BALL!

One year ago today, I took a chance.   On April 18, 2012, I invited a surgeon to cut into my skull, wire a mini computer through my cochlea, and turn me into a bionic woman.

The famous jock strap picture: April 18, 2012

So here we are: ONE WHOLE YEAR LATER after my cochlear implant surgery.

No doubt this has been a challenging twelve months.  My expectations have battled with reality, and often, I find myself grumpily focusing on what I can't do versus what I can.

Fortunately, with the new mapping in March, I have to acknowledge that my "I can hear these sounds" list is getting longer. 

Just yesterday, in my office, I heard a phone ringing softly.  I listened wondering where the sound was coming from, and sat marveled as I heard a colleague across the room answer.  All of this without looking too!   A month ago, I couldn't even identify the phone ringing on the desk NEXT to me, so to recognize a phone from ACROSS THE ROOM, and then to identify the person speaking as the correct coworker-- well, it's really quite amazing.  It's worth a celebration.

Through the internet, I see many cochlear implant recipients acknowledge their "CI birthdays," often  creating cakes designed to look like processors. 

Me?  I'm not that into cake, but I am marking the occasion with an activity quite a stretch from my normal routines.

You ready? 

I'm coaching Little League.

I'll pause now so you can finish laughing.  Okay, let's continue. 

Since telling people of my new role, I've received a wide range of reaction.  Even Colin was like, "MOMMY is going to COACH?!"  The most common response is some surprised chuckling and then comments like, "Are you going to coach in your leopard print heels?"  

I get it.   I'm not the sportiest of people, but I did play softball- sometimes- as a kid.

In eighth grade, I remember signing up to play, my biggest motivating factor being that boys would often watch the games, and I might be able to flirt with them between innings.  This was also the same year I posed for my team picture, my glove on my hip, while holding the bat like a vaudeville performer's cane.  What can I say?  I was more theatrical at heart.

Then freshman year I decided to play again, mostly because I thought it was the cool thing to do. Still, I had no athletic confidence.  When the coach started me at second base our very first game, I quickly realized I was WAY over my head with high school athletics.  This was no little league, and I was scared. 

And so, I often hid behind the bleachers so I wouldn't have to play.  PATHETIC. 

To compensate, I'd write amusing songs about the team, and perform them on the bus.   Regardless of how I played, I was happy to accept the "Most Team Spirit" award at the end-of-the-year banquet. 

As an adult- I was probably about 26 years old- a friend recruited me to an adult softball league, the team consisting mostly of our coworkers.  I hesitated to play, but my friend assured me it was not a competitive league and many participants were first-time players.  So reluctantly I said okay, with the understanding I would play catcher as to not have to worry about risking line drives to my head. 

Before one of our games, an obnoxious know-it-all husband decided he would authorize himself as "the coach."  I found him SO annoying.  In hindsight, I realize there might have been more as to why he grated on my nerves.

I couldn't hear him.  In fact, I couldn't hear anybody.  During warm ups, I didn't know what people were telling me to do, and I was always anxious I wasn't following the instructions.  Not only that, but I had a constant fear someone would yell to me if a ball was speeding toward my head, and I would miss the warning and be knocked out.

You're Killing Me, Smalls!
You know that scene in The Sandlot?  Where Smalls gets invited to play with the neighborhood kids, gets the ball in the outfield, pauses, and then runs the ball in and hands it to Benny?  Well, that's what I've always wanted to do-- not because I couldn't throw the ball, but because it would place me face to face with a teammate and then I could hear the person. 

My whole life, my hearing loss has held me back.  It might not seem that way, but I know it has.  If I did something on my own, and I failed... well, that's one thing.  But from childhood on, I couldn't bear the fact of somehow missing something and screwing up a play for a team eager to win.  And so, I either coped in my own unique Pam way (by say, writing songs behind the bleachers) or in most cases, avoiding a TEAM activity altogether. 

So back to today, and my decision to coach.

The truth is that the little league program is highly important to my son, now on his fifth year playing.  It also has tremendous worth to my husband, who spent countless hours as a kid doing anything baseball-related, eventually pitching for his high school team.  Thoughts of our small town's little league is often paired with heartwarming nostalgia as townspeople recall memories of goodhearted families coming together every spring so their kids could discover the magic of baseball. 

But times have changed. 

Over the past five years, I've often sat frustrated on the bleachers watching overweight kids stuff their faces with junk food in the dugout, while their coaches curse in the faces of teenage umpires, while the spectators vehemently SCREAM at kids and coaches from the sidelines, while many players in need of someone believing in them were excused time and again for disrespecting their coaches, their opponents, and the game.

I could remain on those bleachers this year, OR I could find the confidence within myself- hearing impaired or not-  to get out there and do whatever I can to make a difference. 

And so I'm coaching Claire's team (and yes, it's t-ball, and yes, Jeff is doing it with me).

Before this year, I would have NEVER done this.  But again, times have changed, and from my surgery until now, I feel more equipped to take a step or two out of my comfort zone.

As the new t-ball coach, I may not hear or understand everything.  I won't be perfect, but I'll try my best.  My hope is I inspire my kids to do the same.

Today, on my CI birthday, I'm taking a chance and trying something new.   And if this year has taught me anything, I know: I'll be okay.


  1. You continue to amaze and inspire me, my friend!

  2. I'm so happy to find your blog. It has been a wealth of information as I prepare for my CI surgery in May. Thank you for being so raw and honest in your experience. I have really enjoyed reading the whole blog!!