Hearing for the First Time... Sort of


You've probably seen one of those cute videos of a little kid seeing his parents for the first time after eye surgery or hearing his mom's voice for the first time after being fitted for hearing aids. I wish I could say I had a digital copy of little Ashley hearing for the first time, but I don't, and coverage of me hearing for the 'second' time is not something you want to see, as I was 20 and not so cute! I'm sure you're thinking, "Wait, second time, what? How does that even work?" I was fitted for hearing aids for the first time when I was two years old, and I wore the exact same type of hearing aids until I was 20 years old (meaning I was used to things being a certain way).

I'm sure many of you have heard of a cochlear implant. I, unfortunately, was never a candidate for that, but luckily, another piece of technology came around called Esteem. Esteem by Envoy is a technological device that is surgically implanted and stimulates the middle ear (cochlear is an inner ear implant). Unlike a hearing aid that amplifies noise, Esteem delivers more natural hearing, similar to that of hearing people. It was only FDA approved in the states in 2010, so in 2011, when I was 20, I found out that I was a candidate for this new piece of technology. I almost too quickly agreed that I was most definitely going to have the surgery. 

To say I was nervous about this potentially life changing surgery is an understatement. I had been warned that the sound would be very different and that I likely would not like it at first. The doctors were NOT wrong. After six weeks of recovering, I went to the audiologist to have it activated. This is where I reiterate that you don't want any physical coverage of my hearing for the 'second' time. Upon activation, I almost immediately started crying, and not a happy cry, but more of a what the s*** did I just do kind of cry?! I was hearing so many things I had never heard before, and I thought there was something wrong with the device. I suppressed the tears and tried to hear the doctors out since they had given me a warning and all prior to the surgery. 

I was hearing what I call 'internal noises' for the first time. Noises that hearing people don't even think about like hearing yourself swallow or chew. I was experiencing all of that for the first time at 20 years old, and it freaked me the eff out. All this time, I didn't know if I had been chewing obnoxiously loud (according to my parents, I wasn't). I remember going to the movies for the first time after being activated and nearly drowning out all other noise with my popcorn chewing and fearing that my neighbor was staring at me. 

Oh, and don't even get me started on the shower! Since the device is completely invisible (no outside attachment like cochlear), it's fully waterproof. I had to ask my parents if the shower sounded like a freight train to them. It was never something they thought about until I asked. I needed to make sure all of these 'new' noises were real and not the device having some sort of glitch. I was adapting to a whole new way of hearing, aka changing my brain's way of processing information.

Not only was it giving me a new way of hearing, it was giving me a newfound confidence. I still wear/wore my hearing aid in the other ear for bilateral hearing purposes, but I now had the option to wear my hair up without my hearing aids and people staring at me. And remember in a previous post when I talked about having to make adjustments to communication when I was in the pool? I no longer have to do that as I can now hear in the water. 

So yes, I absolutely hated it at first. It is a completely different way of hearing from what I was used to, but now I can't imagine not having it. I certainly hope to one day have the surgery done in the other ear, but due to the unfortunate situations with insurance, insurance will not cover the cost. Most companies consider it cosmetic, a notion that I'm still trying to comprehend, but maybe I can have an Ellen moment like this lady did?!

Whether I do or not, I'm grateful that technology is only getting better and only allowing for people like me to live better, more fulfilling lives!