After waking up to sudden hearing loss, Noel H. searched for a cure, until finding cochlear implants as the solution to help him be a part of the hearing world. Going through an entire bionic journey, Noel decided to write a book, Life After Deaf, where he told his hearing loss journey in his own words:
“Early in my three-decade career as a newspaper columnist and feature writer, I learned not to let experience go to waste. My unofficial motto became ‘That which does not kill me not only makes me stronger, it also makes a good story.’ It came in really handy after my hearing deserted me overnight.
Writing what turned out to be Life After Deaf, which published on November 5, 2019 by Skyhorse, did not cross my mind the morning in 2010 that I awoke to discover that I could not hear the water running in the bathroom sink or the sound of my own voice in my head. I was thinking cure, not memoir.
The book idea materialized as my quest to regain some functional hearing became a wildly circuitous, three-year path and doctors and audiologists I dealt with repeatedly told me that, given my facility with words, ‘You have to write a book.’
Learning about cochlear implants
If I had seen a specialist immediately after my hearing failed, I might not have had a story to tell. The Atlanta otolaryngologist I had consulted the previous fall about tinnitus was on vacation, and the ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) I did get in to see in my hometown, Athens, Georgia, only advised me to rest and be patient. I missed what I later learned was the window, no more than two weeks, that was considered essential to treating sudden, catastrophic hearing loss.
The Atlanta specialist, when I finally saw him, put me on an oral steroid regimen. The prednisone not only revived my ears, it gave me something approaching Superman hearing, but only for a couple days. He subsequently speculated my problem was auto-immune and sent me to a rheumatologist who prescribed methotrexate, a drug used to treat Lupus and Crohn’s disease.
When that failed to help, the otologist suggested a cochlear implant. My wife, Marty, and I were game, but there was a hitch. The doctor was not in my insurance network. Out-of-pocket office visits were one thing, but cochlear implant surgery on my own dime? No way. We picked a different Atlanta surgeon, who first chose to put a tiny stent in my right eardrum and have me apply steroid drops directly. The fallen hair cells in my cochlea still did not appear at roll call.
The early-morning operation went well, though the surgeon reported meeting ‘resistance’ when threading the filament into my cochlea. Marty and I were on the road back to Athens later the same day. I have had dental procedures that sidelined me longer. And aside from experiencing alarming, symphonic tinnitus while I was awaiting activation, the next few weeks were uneventful.
On activation day, a Cochlear audiologist prepared me for white noise and people sounding like Mickey Mouse. What I heard was more the former than the latter, but I did not sweat it. As instructed, I got busy relearning to hear with my Cochlear™ Nucleus® 5 Sound Processor, matching sounds to sound-makers like a newborn baby slowly making sense of a cacophonous world. I got better at recognizing a dog’s bark or a coffee grinder’s whine, but word recognition did not come easily, even with multiple daily sessions with Cochlear’s ingenious Sound and Way Beyond training program.
The continued bionic-hearing cycle
Professionals I consulted, including my brother who is an audiology professor, had predicted a brilliant outcome for me. It was not happening. I began to think that I was the problem, that perhaps something was still wrong with me systemically. I went gluten-free. I had allergy tests. I did sessions with a speech therapist. No go. About the same time that, in frustration, I signed up for speech-reading training, x-rays determined that the filament of my cochlear implant was crimped on the inner end, turned back on itself and it was recommended to get replacement surgery.
My insurance wound up authorizing me to go to Los Angeles, to a world-famous institute where a great surgeon performed the revision. My bionic-hearing cycle began again, but this time the learning curve was faster and better. I do well conversationally as long as the room’s not too noisy. And I can hear birds, bees and breezes through trees. I am no longer cut off from the world of sound.
Getting my book to market
Getting my book to market took longer than my recovery odyssey. The writing itself went fairly quickly. It helped that I had blogged recyclable articles for several websites as I was living my saga. But landing an agent, without which a publishing deal is all but impossible, was anything but easy. I sent out almost 70 agent ‘queries,’ and though I got requests for sample chapters and a lot of compliments on the writing, no agent signed me. The common explanation: there is not enough market for a book about hearing loss.
Which struck me as strange indeed given that millions of Americans have some level of hearing impairment and that each of them has relatives, friends and work colleagues.
I took a short break. I did some rewrites and started pitching again, another 40 or 50 agents. And then one morning, I got an email from an agent in New York named Eric Myers. He signed me, helped me tweak my proposal and subsequently found a publishing deal for Life After Deaf at Skyhorse.
Eric loved that I had told my story with humor and no self-pity and because he could relate. He had hearing concerns of his own.”
Are you struggling with sudden hearing loss? Learn about cochlear implants as a solution today.