(Tone) Deaf?

What?! A Double Feature?! Do your eyes deceive you?!!!

That’s right people. A two-poster, brought to you by the guilt that has been piling up since my last-last post.

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So, if you’ve read Gap Year Musings you might have the not-so-vague idea that I am on a gap year. In that post, I was sort of boring, all business, med school applications and my job yadda yadda yadda. Well folks, hold on to your hats, because it is February and the gap year is picking up some steam! Before you get too excited, this is not the post where I update you about my medical school admissions process (coughcoughperhapsnextmonth coughcough wait, did you hear something? I didn’t). What I left out of my post were the fun “extracurricular” activities I have been doing this year.

I enrolled in a wheel throwing ceramics class, where I learned that Patrick Swayze makes ceramics look a lot easier in the movie Ghost. I made about 6 lopsided bowls that I’m honestly not sure what to do with. I will say, though, that the bowls gradually became more symmetrical by the end of the class, so I’m pretty proud of that.

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Another thing I have indulged in are singing lessons! I’m already a deaf dancer, so why not really drive the oxymoron home and make myself a deaf singer, too? I have actually been wanting to take singing lessons for a long time but a) I’m shy and b) I felt bad about subjecting some poor music teacher to my singing. But then, I realized, we don’t sign up for lessons in things we are already good at, right? We take lessons in things we completely suck at so we can get somewhat better at it and so we can do karaoke without any added courage. Well, that’s the way it should be, anyway.

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I started the lessons in October/November-ish (guys, time doesn’t exist on the gap year, I barely know what day of the week it is). I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, my teacher, Mary, is a star and she was totally unfazed when I told her I was deaf. Neither she nor I had any experience with being deaf and having singing lessons, so we have worked together to figure out how to make it work. Each lesson is supposed to consist of three different types of scales to warm up and then working on a song. In the beginning, I had to use the whole lesson to get one type of scale right. Then as I got used to it and practiced, we gradually added two more scales. Now, I can get through the three scales relatively quickly and I have graduated onto singing songs!

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So exactly how did I do it? Mary will play the scale on the piano and I will listen very closely. Then, quite frankly, I give my best guess, because sometimes you just gotta go for it.  Mary and I have found that when I get a note or scale wrong, we will stop. She’ll play the note, then I’ll sing what I think it is. She’ll say, “no, higher” or “no that was definitely not it” and then we’ll repeat the process until one of the wailing noises I make is supposedly the right note. Some notes give me more trouble than others (here’s looking at you, appropriately lettered “F” scale). Some days I sound better because I hear better that day. Most days, I just do my best.

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It’s fun to be starting something brand new — to be on the bottom again and work my way toward a basic skill set (probably going to eat these words next year in med school). It’s even more fun to do something that I’m not naturally good at and eek out a decent ability. Ultimately, for me, being able to sing has only a little to do with the sound my vocal chords naturally make. It has a lot more to do with the same skills I have used throughout my life: persistence, adaptation, and patience (because girl, you are going to have to repeat that F scale about 5 times).

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A Step Back

I think at this point, we all know what an impact my cochlear implant has had on my life. Not to sound like a broken record, but I perceive my 22 years of existence in two parts: the time BEFORE (the implant) and the time AFTER. Of course,  I am grateful for this little machine on a daily basis. But nothing makes me feel more grateful for the implant than when I cannot use it.

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It was bound to happen. I’ve had an implant for a little over 7 years now. Not once have I experienced a malfunction that required me to use my back-up cochlear implant. A quick word on back-ups: I have been a cochlear implant wear-er for three generations of implants from Cochlear Americas. Since 2010, I have seen the Nucleus 5, the Nucleus 6 and now the Nucleus 7 come out, not to mention the Nucleus Hybrid System and the futuristic looking Kanso. Technology has moved at a lightning fast pace! When I first got the implant (a Nucleus 5) I received two external processors — one for daily use and one for back-up. When I upgraded to the Nucleus 6, I returned one Nucleus 5 to receive a discount on the 6, so I had a Nucleus 6 for daily wear and my old Nucleus 5 for back-up. In my opinion, the hearing technology on the 6 is remarkable. It did require an adjustment on my part, but it is a more dynamic and crowd-friendly implant. I never quite realized this until I had to use my Nucleus 5 again.

So how did it happen? Truth be told, I do not know. I had recently returned from a Birthright trip to Israel during which my Nucleus 6 held up very well. The constant traveling from city to city was a mind-bending rush of making sure my equipment worked, that the Israeli outlet adapters were adequately powering my devices, and that I didn’t leave anything behind, for the love of Moses. When I finally landed stateside, 12 days later, I felt a sense of relief. But of course, that’s when the trouble began. I can’t for the life of me remember what exactly I was doing, but the external magnet component of my implant detached from the processor and would not fit back in. F#!@.

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I felt a sense of panic as I realized how much I relied on the dumb machine. It looked so helpless in my hand — two brown pieces of plastic — but it was my world. My conversations in restaurants, my music appreciation, my personality.

I dug out my Nucleus 5 and after 2 soul crushing minutes where I thought it was too old and wasn’t going to turn on, I eagerly put it on. Yikes. The sounds that were once so beautiful to me –remember, the Nucleus 5 was the implant that first introduced me to the world of sound I had previously been missing out on with two hearing aids — paled in comparison to the sound delivered by the Nucleus 6. It was such a weird realization and a testament to the plasticity of the brain. With each implant, my brain had adapted and oriented itself to the sounds and the quality of sounds delivered by each implant. As technology improved, my brain would build on the connections it made from the previous implant, and I would all but forget what it felt like to wear the old one. It’s like cars, right? You have a car for a few years, then you get a new one and you adapt to that one. But you get back in the old car one day and you’re like whoa, what happened to my Bluetooth seat-warming GPS dream machine?

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I felt downright grumpy for the few days it took for me to get a new Nucleus 6 processor (another side note: Cochlear Americas has fantastic customer service). I felt really bad about being grumpy. I wanted to feel grateful. I didn’t want to taint the wonderful memories and experience and exposure the Nucleus 5 had given me. But alas, here I was. Ironically, I felt lucky at the same time. I felt lucky that my circumstances would allow me to  have access to newer machines that made the older machines I once found truly magical to feel just run of the mill and even slightly subpar. I felt grateful to even be aware of the differences between the implants and the sound they could deliver.

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I received the new Nucleus 6 processor shortly and I was immediately relieved when I put it on. I never really wanted to take A Step Back, but I gained a newfound appreciation (even though I thought I was already appreciative) for the gifts I do have.

Gap Year Musings

While looking for inspiration for today’s blog post, I decided to spend a little time rummaging through the archives of Earplug8. I realized two things: I definitely talk too much, and you probably have no idea what I’m up to these days.

To address the first issue, I will try to keep things brief. I will inevitably end up failing.

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As for the second issue, let’s dive right in. I made a brief mention in my last post (read it here: 1,658 Sheep and I’m Still Not Asleep) that I have since graduated from the Best College Ever™ — aka the University of Southern California. Okay cool, now what? Well, if you are an OG Earplug8 reader, you will know that at the end of my sophomore year, I decided to pursue medicine as a career (wanna read about it? No? Here’s the link anyway: Denny From Grey’s Anatomy). Good news, guys! I didn’t give up! I graduated with a degree in Health and Humanity and an imaginary degree in how to navigate the jungle that is medical school applications. Most of May 2017 and the first day of June 2017 consisted of trying to boil down four years of experience into a concise resume and personal statement to send to more medical schools than I wish to count. Sounds like a lot of work right? Aren’t I so glad I got that over with? False. It’s not over. After I sent the first application to all those medical schools (called the “primary application”), I was sent individual “secondary” applications from each of the schools I listed on the primary application. Secondary apps are akin to supplemental apps — they have essay questions that are more targeted to each medical school’s interests. July 2017 was a blur of emails from schools, each with their own set of prompts and character/word counts. My Macbook and I put in some double overtime hours working through those. Done, right?! NO. Next (and this is the part I am currently in the midst of) comes the INTERVIEWS. After your interview, you will finally receive a decision about the status of your admission from the school.

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What a process, right? There has been a lot of soul searching and even more character count cutting than I have ever done in my life. On top of the host of issues an applicant must consider in presenting him or herself as a viable medical school candidate, I also had to consider When to Say When. When do I tell medical schools I am hearing impaired? How do I tell medical schools I am hearing impaired? DO I tell medical schools I’m hearing impaired? I know I am not the only applicant with a story to tell, so the series of questions I just presented above is a universal dilemma. Basically, how does one condense his or her story into a neatly packaged essay or interview that proves to admissions committees that the challenges he or she has experienced has molded him or her into a person that will become a successful physician? I honestly don’t know if I did it right, but I do know that I am proud of how I have presented myself thus far. I hope that the adversity, challenges, failures, and successes I have chosen to share are a realistic and accurate portrayal of the person I have become and a predictor for the person I will soon be.

I can’t have gone too wrong with my choices thus far, because I have begun to receive a few interview invitations (holy guacamole folks, this is happening) from schools. As I prepare for interviews, I realize this is the step I am most excited about. I can’t wait to “meet the schools” and to have the schools truly meet me — not the 2-D paper version of me (or technically, electronic version of me? It’s a paperless world and we are all just living in it). Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

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I would say that applying to med school is a full time job. Actually, no, it definitely is a full time job. But I also have an actual job too! I have been employed as a scribe in a dermatology office nearby. You guys, I get to wear scrubs! Feels very official. My scribe job has been intellectually fascinating, but it is also an illuminating glimpse into the world of outpatient care. How a clinic is run, how the medical assistants (MAs), front desk employees, doctors, scribes, and office managers interact — I am gaining an education about healthcare that I never truly considered before, which is crazy because health care management is the grease on the wheels of efficient healthcare delivery.

Another aspect of my scribe job (one that is personally satisfying) is my ability to be successful as a scribe. Hearing well and hearing accurately is a large part of being a good scribe. There is a lot of background chatter and many conversations are held in hushed voices so as not to violate patient confidentiality. I have to have my ears on everyone, all at once: the doctor, the MA, and the patient. At first, this job was so unbelievably overwhelming. For a crazy moment, I wondered if my hearing might actually hold me back. But then I remembered who the #%$! I was and figured it out. Now, the job feels natural.  I am becoming familiar with the medical terminology and the names of the endless drugs, creams, serums and ointments. I have become accustomed to always being “on” and aware of the conversations going on around me. I have learned to stand in an optimal position to hear, but also ensure that I am not in the way. I have also learned when to ask for clarification, and when to make a note and come back to it. I realized I need to get comfortable with making notes and moving on — the most important task is keeping up with the provider. Most importantly, I have learned how to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed because ultimately, it is not about me. It is about making sure the patients’ experience in our clinic is smooth because their electronic medical records are up-to-date and accurate.

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(me, getting the job done)

Long story short, my experience working as a scribe has been truly invaluable. The education I am getting about dermatology is fascinating, the education I am getting about how an office works is insightful, and the education I am getting about myself, my capabilities and my ability to navigate a difficult situation is comforting.

Well folks, there is a lot going on these days, and my gap year is only beginning! This summer has been a memorable one — definitely one of the hardest, but also the most rewarding so far. But you know what? I hate to be that girl, buttttt I am pumped for fall. I am feeling very autumnal and ready for the next chapter. Don’t worry though, I haven’t worn leggings in months and I strongly despise coffee, so a pumpkin spice latte is out of the question.

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