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.

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