What It’s Like To Go Bilateral: Yelena’s Big Decision
A new year can bring new beginnings. For CI user Yelena, she has entered 2017 in the bilateral world of hearing. After six months of using a cochlear implant on one ear, Yelena made the decision to go bilateral and received her second CI at the end of 2016. In this guest blog post, Yelena reflects on her experience of what it’s like to go bilateral, including the decision making process, concerns, benefits, and outcomes.
The Decision-Making Process
“TO BE, OR NOT TO BE; THAT IS THE QUESTION”
I started thinking about getting bilateral implants even before my first cochlear implant surgery which was in February 2016. I understood that my progressive hearing loss didn’t leave me much choice, as my hearing in my second ear would continue to deteriorate.
When thinking about going bilateral, I researched the benefits that could be achieved by hearing with two cochlear implants.
Although all the benefits of bilateral implantation sounded great, I still had a lot of hesitation. I was also not sure when would be the right time to start the process. That uncertainty surprised me. I had nothing like that when I was deciding to get my first implant. However, the rationale that we were born binaural, and thus two CIs are better than one, was easy for me to accept. I absolutely trusted other bilateral CI users that I came across, who reported that two CIs provided outstanding results compared to the unilateral experience. Despite my very positive experience with my first implant, and all the facts I read about bilateral implantation, there was still something that kept me from going forward with making the decision.
Why is that? Perhaps it is hard to think of all those reasons towards advantages of bilateral implantation as real until you’ve experienced it yourself. But then, how can you get ready to move ahead? This decision about getting a CI is hard as you cannot have the personal experience yourself before you jump into it! Using solely advice from others to make a leap of faith is not always a good thing to do when it comes to a life-changing decision.
Sometimes just the knowledge of benefits is not enough to make the first step. So, perhaps the understanding of drawbacks that are personally important to you can help to overcome the doubts and give you enough confidence to make a decision.
My Hesitations And Concerns
What held me back at the beginning was a fear of becoming totally deaf. A life without sound—even for a limited time when the processors would be off—scared me. I had no residual hearing in my first implanted ear. And there was no total guarantee that I would keep some residual hearing in my second ear after implantation. After realizing this, I started looking for how to be comfortable with the possibility of being completely deaf. I started to play with earplugs to get an idea of what it would be like to live in the silent world.
I found out, that the world without sounds is not actually so silent. It is hard to explain, but my brain, along with the tactile and visual information, created a colorful picture around me. It was not emptiness, as I was afraid of. That understanding settled my concerns about having no sense of hearing.
Then, I realized that there was another small and, perhaps, silly thing I worried about as it was important for me. I was wondering how I was going to wake up in the morning without being able to hear an alarm clock. So, I decided to get a tracker with a vibrating alarm clock in advance. That relieved my tension for how to be on time with my morning routine.
The next thing that helped me to gain more confidence about getting the second CI was the fact that my natural hearing had declined to the point where I could not understand speech. I felt it was just a matter of very short time before becoming completely deaf. My fears of being deaf made no sense anymore, because it would happen anyway, but being deaf with two CIs was much better than with only one.
Soon after this realization, I had some issues with my only processor. I got the replacement for the malfunctioning parts from MED-EL very fast. But it was long enough for me to understand how unbearable it is to get back to the struggles and isolation that a lack of speech recognition brings. This helped me see from the new perspective why two CIs are better than one.
Seeking The Support of my Family
That was the point when I started talking to my family and audiologist about going bilateral. My audiologist was positive about starting that process. But, it was not easy for my husband to agree that it was time for me to advance in that direction. During those six months with my first CI he saw big improvements in my speech recognition. But, he still believed that my natural hearing played a significant role in that. Like me, he was scared with the idea of complete deafness and all inspiring facts about bilateral CIs didn’t prevail above his concerns about the possibility of losing what was left of my hearing.
I managed to convince my husband to meet with my surgeon to discuss all “pluses and minuses” of the second implant. That worked for us. All three of us had a very open and honest conversation where we discussed my situation, emphasizing on hearing preservation techniques available for me. That did the trick, and my husband agreed to support my decision of being bilateral.
My second CI surgery and recovery period were easy. I was able to understand speech with my new CI from the very moment of activation. After the first mapping, both my ears were balanced enough to give me a stereo effect and good noise directionality. The tests and my subjective perception of changes in my hearing abilities proved that I made the right decision. Now, I feel more confident and proactive in my daily life, which includes a lot of interactions with different people. But the greatest news is that after surgery, I had enough residual hearing left for good sound awareness!
There are so many benefits of bilateral CIs that I cannot talk about them all in just one blog post! However, if you are thinking about going bilateral, it’s important that you find your true intrinsic reason(s) for whatever decision you make.
Here are just some of the benefits I have experienced from having bilateral cochlear implants versus unilateral:
- My hearing sounds more natural with better clarity and richer sounds. This has improved my speech recognition and music appreciation, particularly due to having the “stereo effect” from two CIs.
- I am no longer exhausted from listening for a whole day with limited hearing ability.
- I have become very good at multi-party conversations, even in noisy environments.
For me, these points below were important reasons why I decided to get bilateral cochlear implants:
- Maintain auditory capability in the second ear that can be lost because of a lack of acoustic stimulation;
- Prevent bone ossification due to some medical conditions;
- Be able to still hear with one implant if my batteries died or if one of my CIs would fail;
- No longer being in a “hearing impaired” mindset or behavior.
Overall, in my experience of bilateral hearing with a CI, it has led to improved hearing abilities, enhanced the quality of my personal, professional, and social life, and increased my personal safety.
Good luck in making your decision and enjoying the world of sound!
Want to ask Yelena questions yourself? Head to the HearPeers Forum to talk Yelena, who goes under the username of Cara Mia.
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