A Little Bit of Background

Ahh…College, the days of experimenting and exploring yourself and others. Most students probably use the phrase “find yourself” frequently in their college days. I was no different.

As a student at Gallaudet University, I was constantly questioning my identity. For those who don’t know, Gallaudet University is the premier college for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Gallaudet has been described as the mecca of deaf culture. I think I’m getting ahead of myself here…I’d like to share with you my first experience of getting a cochlear implant and then I can tell you all about how my life has changed at Gallaudet.

When I was fourteen, I got my very first cochlear implant (Nucleus Freedom for you curious fellows out there). I remember two very specific events from my first surgery. I remember the day I was activated, when they turned the cochlear implant on for the first time. Now there are youtube videos of people’s reactions to hearing their child’s voice or the sound of their name for the first time and weeping with joy. My experience was VERY different and it’s important that readers understand there is a wide variety of reactions to the activation of one’s cochlear implant.

The day I was activated, my parents were REALLY excited. For two weeks prior to activation I was rendered completely deaf and it was a struggle for my non-signing family to get their message across to me not to mention I was recovering from head surgery. They were anxious to get me back into the hearing world and to be normal again. The doctors warned us that it may not be a pleasant experience but nothing could prepare me for the absolute pain I had gone through upon activation. The doctor turned on my cochlear implant and immediately hated it. I heard, EVERYTHING. I was in a sound proof booth and I remember feeling like the sound of my doctor’s key chain was pounding into my skull. Everyone’s voices sounded like Marvin the Martian…what had happened to my mother’s beautiful soft voice or my father’s strong military tone? I immediately got into fetal position in my chair and had the absolute WORST headache I have ever experienced.

My parents had fear in their eyes. Had they made the wrong decision to get my cochlear implant? Would it ever get better? When we got home, I worked hard to wear my cochlear implant on a day to day basis. I tried my hardest to find sounds that I liked in my home. I knew that I HATED the sound of electricity running through the lights and how absolutely LOUD it was…don’t believe me? Sit in a silent room and just listen…it’ll take a while but for me, my brain was still trying to piece sounds together…what was important? what wasn’t?

It took a relatively good period of time for me to get used to the cochlear implant. Weekly visits to adjust the maps and constantly find the words to describe sound…how do you expect a deaf person to describe a sound? Is it good or bad? I don’t know I’ve never heard it before!

This brings me to my second experience … I remember it clearly. I was watching television with the volume so low that not even my hearing mother could hear it. I stood up to get a drink from the kitchen and mom was making spaghetti. “What’s that SOUND?!” My mom had been accustomed to me asking this and immediately had a worried look on her face…It’s fine, I’ll turn it down don’t worry about it, she responded. “No mom…I like it…what is it?” My mom’s face lit up with a look of pure relief. It was the water boiling in the pot and it was beautiful. From that day, I felt so much better about my cochlear implant and I was ready to take on the hard task of re-learning how to hear again.

I was ready to take on the world with my new Cochlear implant. Wow…what a long post. I wasn’t expecting this. Well I guess next week I can tell you all about how I ended up here at Gallaudet.

So I posted this blog on facebook and got really positive reviews however nothing caused me to react quite as strongly as this:  Lisa Stone Gleason: I think I’ll comment on these blogs…mostly because while you tell the story so well, I’m not sure it is in your nature to highlight just how strong you are Alyssa. When you say you were “recovering from head surgery”…I see you watching a similar surgery on the internet, the night before your own so you’d know what to expect! I see you in the front seat of the car, choosing to leave the hospital ON THE SAME DAY after a 6 hour grueling operation. I see your car seat laid back and your sister holding your head in her hands so you wouldn’t feel any of the bumps we drove over. I see you lying on the couch, head fully wrapped in bandages enjoying the time off to catch up on LOST … understanding the show only with the miracle of Closed Captioning. I see you with short hair you cut off your waist length hair to donate a week before surgery, because they were going to shave yours anyway. I see you SILENTLY sobbing two weeks later when they activated you … but then nodding quietly when the doctor told you that if you left in on, it WOULD get better, and you did… and it did. I see you cringing at dishes clinking together (still today) .. but standing over ANY boiling pot of water, because it sounds so beautiful to you (still today). I want everyone to see how deep your strength runs!!

Putting tears on my face at 7:30 in the morning. GO MOM!