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To Hear the Birds Chirp in Spring

                        Kathleen Kearns

                        AWWC Board Member, Technology

                        Career Planner, EMPOWERS Employment Options, LLC

In 1983, when I was in grad school, I started hearing ringing in my ears. This ringing was tinnitus. It is a symptom of high frequency hearing loss. Often tinnitus and hearing loss are treatable. My hearing loss was due to a hereditary condition affecting the inner ear and specifically the cochlea. The process of transferring sound vibrations into electrochemical signals sent to the brain was slowly disintegrating. My hearing loss was subtle at first. Hearing aids helped for a while; however, for this kind of hearing loss, the solution is cochlear implant surgery.
Owning a small art business, I purchased private health insurance. My diagnosed hearing loss was a pre-exiting condition. While I could buy health insurance, cochlear implant surgery was excluded from the policy.
It became challenging to hear conversations in noisy environments. I had difficulty hearing on the phone. I stopped hearing the teakettle. I no longer heard the turn signal in the car. By the time I was in my late 40’s, I could not hear at the dinner table or at most meetings. Adapting, I learned new skills developing websites that did not rely much on being able to hear. I contracted at MIT Sloan in Massachusetts working on email marketing.
Thankfully, health insurance reform was taking place in Massachusetts. Pre-existing conditions, like mine, could no longer be excluded from coverage. At my next visit to the audiologist, I learned that not only were my hearing aids no longer beneficial, but I was a candidate for cochlear implant surgery. My next appointment was with a Lahey Clinic otolaryngologist, Elizabeth Toh. When she asked if I would consider surgery for a cochlear implant, I answered, “Sign me up!”
A month after the surgery the processor was attached and activated. At first all I heard were electronic beeps. Within an hour my brain was interpreting the beeps. I was hearing strange sounding, robotic speech. A little while later, as I left the hospital, I realized I could hear all the notes from the grand piano being played in the lobby.
Over time the quality of the sound I heard improved. Six months after the first implant, I had a second implant for my other ear. My hearing got even better. Being able to have conversations with my children, my friends, and my colleagues, hearing music, hearing the birds in spring—all these things seem miraculous.

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