At just 8 years old, Cai had a profound hearing loss from meningitis. His family rallied around him and learned to make it work, so much so that he truly felt unimpeded by his hearing loss. It wasn’t until he discovered that being on a stage and in front of an audience made him feel emotions that were unmatched in any other aspect of his life. Little did he know that cochlear implants would amplify these feelings even further and lead him into a whole new world:
“When I was 8 years old, I had a profound hearing loss from meningitis. I remember as a young boy that it only took a few days before I was confirmed as having a profound hearing loss. At such a young age, I confess that I wasn’t bothered by my lack of hearing and didn’t ultimately feel any sense of loss because of it. I have a twin brother that I could constantly play with, uninterrupted and unfettered by hearing loss. I also have two sisters who would keep me in the loop pertaining to bits of information that would run amok in family dinners and hang outs; my normal habits and way of life carried on in a way that felt unimpeded by my hearing. I would find new ways to adapt to new diﬃculties, and my family would find new ways to accommodate this new me.
Surprisingly, I didn’t start dancing until after I had lost my hearing. My parents never questioned if I would be impeded in the activities and pursuits of my life as a hard of hearing person, so then neither did I. I discovered that when I got to be on stage, dancing in front of an audience, I felt an immense release of emotion that was unmatched in any other aspect of my life.
I wondered about the impact of being unable to fully partake in all elements of the social spheres of life, when we are identifying towards and away from people we know and meet by engaging and interacting. This phenomenon that unavoidably hinges on how well one can hear. A phenomenon that unavoidably impacts who you are, who you become. That was when I discovered that being on stage meant, for me, being heard. Being heard as the hard of hearing person, I was not lacking, not wanting, but communicating my emotions with my body and creating a language of art.
Discovering cochlear implants
My success as a hard of hearing person seemed good enough that I never really considered anything different. However, when my parents discovered the cochlear implant, a whole new world opened up in front of me. As we did research on Cochlear’s website, we learned about the surgery, potential results and life with a cochlear implant. My parents made it clear to me that I was to be a part of the decision making in either continuing my life without hearing or opting for a new technology of sound.
My mother took me to meet people who were a part of the local Deaf community, and I got to see people who were like me, with lives and preoccupations that weren’t lacking because of their ulterior disposition to sound, but were only ever hindered by the architectural lack of support that was limiting access to people who are diﬀerently abled. Life was still good and felt normal, with or without hearing. But eventually, I felt a pull towards the potential of increased sound possibilities oﬀered by Cochlear and their cochlear implant. Without ever being fully certain of what exactly those potentialities would be, I had heard enough positive reinforcement from audiologists and other users to be confident in the powers of the cochlear implant, so I went for it.
My activation appointment
The day that my sound processor was activated, I remember being overwhelmed, and not in a good way. I was hearing sounds that I had lost, but they sounded diﬀerent and unlike the memories that I had been certain I would retrieve because it was many years since I heard last. Noticing my consternation and silent disappointment, my sister took me outside and bought me a can of pop to give me space and a place to inhabit this new beginning.
I instantly forgot my disappointment when in taking a drink from my pop it crinkled in my hand and distracted me with the captivating sound of the tin. A simple, long-lost noise. What a remarkable event it was to be rediscovering a noise all the while balancing this new weight of meaning as it carved its initials of importance into my life. A sound that had been mundane in my past was suddenly beautiful and singular. Just like that, I was ready to embrace my cochlear implant.
Dancing through a new world of sound
For my first dance solo, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” hit home incredibly close because it felt like an acceptance of a part of me that I hadn’t let out prior to being seen on stage. There’s a saying in the dance world that is meant to comfort dancers that get stressed out about being on stage: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ For me, it is the opposite; I dance because people are watching me. Because with the gaze of another person, my existence becomes aﬃrmed and all diﬀerences aside, I am seen, and I am alive.
As a professional dancer now, I am bringing an uncommon approach to the art form. Since I don’t hear all the nuances of the music we are dancing to, our company seeks to find a rhythm amongst the movers that the music can accompany instead. In this sense, we set our own melody and it’s the music that follows suit. If I didn’t have a cochlear implant, some of the struggles of finding ways to fit into the conventions of my art form that rely so heavily on hearing may have proven to be too much for me. With my cochlear implant, I am able to straddle a hearing world that was uncertain about my diﬀerences and a hard of hearing world that, like me, was looking for access and space to be heard.”
Do you have hearing loss from meningitis like Cai? Learn more about cochlear implants to regain your world of sound here.