March 23, 2017

On Deafness

On Deafness

On growing up with hearing aids:

On the cacophonies
On auditory hallucinations of ringing sounds
On being one of two deaf brothers borne to completely hearing parents
On knowing that you might pass deafness to your children
On letting deafness define you
On actually being “hearing-impaired”
On being shunned by the deaf community while growing up because you wanted to be part of the “hearing world”
On growing up in and out of Deaf culture: you are deaf to the hearing and hearing to the Deaf
On people smacking their lips, patronizing their words, repeating their statements, touching you to get your attention, giving you unwarranted sympathy, and asking “did you hear me?” consistently while communicating with you
On desperately staring at someone’s lips to try to understand them
On people acting as if you are flirting with them because you stare at their lips
On always feeling as though you are in a foreign land trying to communicate in a foreign language
On embracing being deaf to benefit on college applications
On feeling like you haven’t overcome that much because you are a white male borne with privilege to a highly educated family in Denver
On overstating the challenges you face to gain advantages in classes, work and in friendships
On understating the challenges you face to fit in
On dancing without hearing the music
On saying the wrong thing at the wrong time
On being excluded by friends when you struggle to fit in
On excluding yourself, in loud situations, because you embarrass yourself
On anxiety from not understanding what your friends are laughing about
On feeling as though you are only partially there
On your friends treating you like you don’t have a disability
On relying on text messages and Facebook to build friendships
On giving up on friendships based off of the clarity of their voice
On struggling to flirt with the tall, auburn-haired, freckled, neuroscience-majoring, hippie babe, because her voice is sultry and seductive and you can’t even begin to comprehend it
On going to classes, understanding little to nothing, and teaching the course material to yourself
On going to classes and turning off your hearing to sleep
On your hearing aids being stolen and the $8000 payments to replace them
On your mother taking out home mortgages to pay for your ability to hear
On sleeping like a baby through fire alarms or roommates hooking up
On auditory hallucinations that sound like aria
On singing and being tone deaf

On getting cochlear implants:

On knowing how a cochlear implant works: An outer ear processor uses algorithms to interpret sound waves at different frequencies to send voltage through a magnet in your skull (completely bypassing defunct sensorineural hearing loss ears), where it travels through an electrode with 24 outlets (each one programmed to match your hearing loss) in the cochlea to electrically stimulate the auditory nerve to transduce sound to the brain
On knowing how they really work: they give hope
On being told that you could never afford the surgeries
On spending 20 years of your life trying to get insurance to cover the surgeries
On the right audiologist helping you get the insurance
On politicians talking about government assistance as benefiting the “welfare state”
On being inspired to get cochlear implants because the struggle to communicate with your girlfriend’s friends is a detriment to your relationship
On breaking up with her and getting your cochlear implant surgery two days after
On being able to communicate with those friends after the cochlear implants
On having to tell your doctor to take a drill to your head for a chance to fit in
On feeling the scars on your skull after the surgery, in the shower, crying because you know that you wanted this
On the soreness your head feels, every day
On your partner running her hands through the side of your head over those scars
On fentanyl and opiates
On going to the ER because of vertigo and gastroenteritis-induced vomiting from the implants
On being a “bionic person”
On how relearning to hear sounds like space invaders beeps
On the philosophy of David Hume and neural plasticity leading to the magical moments where the beeps turn into “sound”
On hearing new sounds that you never heard before in your 20 years of life
On hearing a truck driving down the street as though it was a turbine engine in your room
On hearing hummingbirds fly outside your window
On hearing your dog snore
On hearing your favorite songs as if you’d never heard them before
On going to classes and how hearing almost everything feels like cheating
On talking with friends and connecting on a level you did not think was possible
On knowing that your hearing can get better and better every few years
On still struggling to hear in social situations and classes
On being told that people “don’t think of you” as hearing-impaired
On singing and still being tone deaf
On reality taking new meanings every day

Josh Davidoff is a student in Duke’s physician’s assistant program who was born deaf and grew up with hearing-aids. After his sophomore year of college, he was able to get health insurance to afford cochlear implant surgeries. Now he is pursuing his goal of improving the health of others.