Three years ago today, I stepped into the audiologist's office at the Stanford otolaryngology clinic and heard with my cochlear implant for the first time. If "hearing" is the right word for that jarring, abrupt, disembodied sensation of nerve pulses and electrical signals, that is. I had no idea what to expect from that first experience of sound, and I remember walking around campus later that day, texting friends in a flurry of exhilaration, trying to express what this felt like. Stopping by the Stanford shopping center, going out for dinner with a few friends to take advantage of being near campus, trying to function amidst my buzzing brain and growing headache and disorientation. And I also remember going to bed that night, my head throbbing as it returned to silence. I stared at the ceiling for a while, unable to sleep, and tried to process what had just happened to me. Then a thought, searing and brief and rapidly suppressed, surfaced in my mind: what had I gotten myself into?
Three years later, today, I arrived home in the evening and told my sister, "Hey, let's sit down. Talk to me."
"Whatever you want. Just keep talking. Speak clearly. Speak up. I'll listen."
A tad bit dubious, she started, and I looked out the window and listened to her voice. Her words spilled out, a regular stream, telling me some stories she and a friend had swapped earlier that day. I hardly need to say: completely open set. I sat there and did what I've learned to do: let the words wash over me. Didn't worry when I missed a few, gathered tidbits about whatever information I could. She talked and she talked. Each story was a few minutes apiece. And each time, she stopped and I looked back at her and blinked when I saw her face. Those words, the ones I had heard, had been hers. After giving myself a bit of time to appreciate the moment, I repeated back to her what she had said. Not verbatim, but gathering enough details, understanding the story arc and its purpose, stringing together what I had heard. And then:
"Yep, that's right," she said. "That's what I said."
I've thought, said, and written this a thousand times in the past three years, but before this entire crazy experience, never would I have anticipated, never would I have imagined, never would I have expected...
Here's to the rest of 2013 and to 2014, too.