Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm Now A Bionic Woman

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am now a Bionic Woman. Unlike Jaime Summers, I’m neither a former professional tennis star, a teacher of middle school students nor am I an agent who periodically works for the Office of Strategic Intelligence. I do, however, have a cybernetic implant in my left ear that allows me to hear at levels that have been impossible for my ear to process for at least the past eight years.

Cochlear Implants have been available for over three decades. The technology is constantly improving and I am fortunate to be alive at time when my hearing can be restored. I had my cochlear implant surgery in December and three weeks later the implant was activated. The joy I felt at being able to hear people again is indescribable. My implant has only been activated for a little over two months now and I am amazed at how much I am able to hear. Turn off the processor however, and I am immediately almost completely deaf.

My loss of hearing and my now successful return to the hearing world have given me an interesting vantage point from which to view the world of conversation. I feel like I am in the hearing world but no longer completely of it. Perhaps because my return is so new to me, I’m still able to appreciate what a gift conversation is to me. For months after I finally realized that I had survived my cancer, I lived in an altered state. I remember one incident in particular. I was driving into San Francisco and I became stuck in traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge. Previously, I would have been angry and impatient. However, that day, all I could think of was how great it was to be stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge. The sun was shining, the view was wonderful and most importantly I was alive! Unfortunately, when the situation repeated itself earlier this year, I wasn’t as appreciative of the moment. Now that I’m remembering the sweetness of my earlier experience, I will remind myself of it while sitting in my next traffic jam. It is possible that several years from now, I will yet again lose my heightened consciousness and appreciation for the gift of listening and being able to participate in conversations. I hope not and I will do everything I can to prevent my awareness from waning.

Because I have had some amount of hearing loss since I was a child, I learned early on to listen via facial expressions, tone of voice, energy shifts and other nonverbal cues. When I could hear, I was frequently impatient with people’s words when they contradicted their nonverbal communications to me. Now that I am so entranced by actually hearing the words that people are saying, I have slowed down and I’m not the impatient listener that I used to be in the past. I’m fascinated by both the congruence and incongruence of people’s words and nonverbal communication.

In slowing down, I’m able to ask about my perceived incongruence so that I can better understand the speaker. Even when messages are congruent, I’m learning to question whether I am projecting my own meaning upon what someone else is saying or whether I truly do understand the meaning they intend me to receive. My curiosity has allowed me to validate my perceptions or deepen my understanding when I am receiving what appear to be conflicting messages. This has created more depth and richer conversations. It feels like a risk at times but the intimacy gained from the discussion is well worth the price of stepping into my fear and coming out the other side.

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