Cochlear implants wiring for sound
Box 4 | Breaking the silence
Rob Kilgore, an American, received his cochlear implant in the early 1980s. Here is the story he told in 1993 to a gathering in honour of Australian scientist Professor Graeme Clark.
I was 24 years old when I suddenly lost my hearing. I was basically deaf for the next nine years. During those years I knew a part of me was gone and I thought that part was gone for good. I had a good job, a family, and was satisfied with my life. But, there was that part of me that wanted more, and that more was to hear my daughter, talk to my family, enjoy my surroundings again. I am sure I withdrew somewhat because you all know what silence does to your daily activity. Silence is a restriction that keeps you from being a whole person. I hated that silence but had come to accept the fact I was not going to hear again. Then it happened.
I had been going to a university hospital and they told me about the implant process. I accepted some material from them and read it, but I did nothing about it. Why? Because I was afraid. Why was I afraid? Because you are always afraid of the unknown. It's the boogie man under the bed, or the eyes that follow you in the dark. I was afraid and had accepted my silent world. I did not want things to change.
The doctors were telling me the implant was a good option for me. But I waited, I did not want them to give me something that would be half hearing. I wanted to be whole again and this was not for me. It took months of pushing, for my family to talk me into having this surgery. When I agreed the doctors told me of another device they planned to insert in my head. I was basically prepared for this, then two weeks before the surgery they changed their minds. They told me of a doctor in Australia and his research. They told me about a new implant called a 22-channel cochlear implant. When asked if I could talk to someone that had this device, they told me there was no one in this country that had this implant. I was terrified and the doubt instantly returned. I asked why I would be the first. They said I was the best local candidate for this implant and I finally consented.
A doctor from Australia and a doctor from New Zealand, plus their support team were at the hospital when I went in for this surgery. They were very reassuring and I went into that room full of hope, full of fear and full of the understanding that if it was not to be, so be it. Three weeks later I was hooked up to the processor for the first time. The team from Australia was there to help and to show the university staff how to do the programming. Dr McCabe, the doctor that I had spent so many years with and had never heard his voice before, was to be the first to speak to me.
He asked, 'Can you hear me?'
I said, 'Yes!!'
My mother was there in the room and started to cry. The doctor asked her to speak to me. Choking back tears, she said, 'I can't.'
I looked at her and said, 'I have waited nine years to hear you again and you can't talk!'
The whole room was crying but me, I wanted it all and I wanted to be sure this was not going to be snatched away, as some cruel joke.
Then the audiologist from Australia said, 'So mate, tell me everything you know about Australia.'
I said, 'You do funny things with kangaroos don't you?'
The doctors erupted with laughter, it was working.
Those nine years were so terribly hard for me and I tried so hard to make my life whole but it was not until that day I felt like me again. I got back something that I had lost. It was not perfect but it was more than half a loaf. I reflect on those years and I look at the last ten years and I am amazed at my life. My daughter and I can talk whenever we want, I can enjoy my family, I can be a part of my work team and take part in most all activities. I still have restrictions but I am a resolute person and know that as time goes by it will only get better.
I am here tonight because of Dr Graeme Clark, as are many of you. I want to take this moment to say to Dr Clark, I am so terribly in debt to you sir, for giving me back so much of my life. I applaud you for your perseverance and years of hard work. To us in this room tonight it is a miracle and you can be satisfied with having achieved so much. To the staff that helped make your work a reality, we don't know their names, but they are just as important.
Personal stories (Cochlear Limited)
Page updated July 2007.