Friday, February 8, 2013

Time Out

Sometimes I need to stop wherever I am...and just rest.

Today I find myself aboard a plane bound for San Diego. Leaving 30 degree weather behind for 65 and sunny. Quite the problem to have, I realize that.

One of my best buds from Purdue did me the favor of relocating to America's Finest City, and I've done myself the favor of visiting him and his family frequently the past few years, including the honor of being his best man in 2009. Another mutual Boilermaker friend lives nearby and will be joining us this weekend as well.

What do you get when you put three bass drummers on a golf course?

Triple Bogies.

This week will be twofold for me. Next weekend I'll have the pleasure of attending a three day conference put on by Cochlear, the manufacturer of my implants. The time will consist of informational sessions and a chance to interact with hundreds of other CI users, which I'm very much looking forward to. I'll also have an opportunity to do some market research, a video interview about how CIs have changed my life, and even a private dinner at the Marine Base where Top Gun was filmed.

Truth is, I need some time off. The repetitious cycle of life has worn on me lately, and if I'm not careful (and sometimes I'm not) I can start to believe that's all my life is about.

And it's not.

This week I'll have a chance to play some golf, relax with good friends, interact with deaf people who speak and hear, encourage others (and myself) with the strides I'm making playing guitar, and most importantly I'll be able to remind myself of the many, many blessings I have in my life.

Just over two years ago I was completely deaf. I couldn't hear anything in either ear with the most powerful hearing aids on the market. I was quickly slipping into an isolated box of hopeless depression. Today I feel like I hear virtually as well as any normal hearing person, and I have countless avenues of connecting with community around me. Sometimes I get so consumed in the ruts of life I forget what an incredible gift I have.

This week will serve as a well overdue reminder.

You may not find yourself in San Diego this week, but wherever you are I hope life treats you well, and you too can be reminded of what's truly significant in your life.

San Diego, I'm coming for you...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Shot at Public Speaking

This past Friday I was honored to have the opportunity to speak about my hearing journey at the 30th annual Listening and Spoken Language Conference in Indianapolis. I'd like to thank Naomi Horton with Hear Indiana and Marty Krug with St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf for asking me to speak, and I'd like to share with you the "short version" of what went on that day.

I had about 40 minutes to convey "An Adult's Perspective" to an audience comprised mostly of parents, educators and hearing professionals. I decided the three most important things to discuss from my 18 years of hearing loss were the Physical, Mental and Emotional effects that living with hearing loss has had on me, and then to contrast how those 3 effects are different in my life now with Cochlear Implants. I swallowed my anxiety and fears of entering into something I had absolutely NO experience with, and here's what came out:

Physically, obviously I couldn't hear well, but there were many limitations in conversation and listening environments I had to always be aware of. Two years before I got my first CI, I went completely deaf in my Right ear, so I was constantly working on positioning my Left ear as well as I could. Any time I walked into a restaurant I had to quickly survey the available seats and think about where I would actually be able to hear best. It was tiresome.

Mentally, I grew up through high school and college feeling "less than" others and that I would always be limited by having special needs and a hearing experience that seemed to get worse and worse every year. I also had to do so much "guess work" while listening and piecing together sentences and concepts from the few words I could make out, that I ended up completely drained and exhausted at the end of the day while feeling like I hadn't really connected with anyone.

Emotionally, I felt like my life was a clock ticking to zero, and I would eventually lose all ability to hear further limiting my ability to succeed in life. I had many experiences near the end of my hearing aid life where I felt as if I were in a glass case watching my life go by as a movie, without the ability to interact with it. The holidays were especially difficult with my lack of communication ability.


Within a six month time span, I went from this dark, dreary picture I've created here to a life in which I feel UNLIMITED in my physical ability. A life in which I see myself on an equal plane with those around me. A life in which I can communicate in many situations effortlessly, feeling connected to those I'm talking to on a deeper level than I've ever experienced.

All this, because of two miracle devices sitting beneath my scalp and deep inside my inner ears.

I can't stress enough how cochlear implants have affected and altered my life for the better. Not only do I have countless opportunities and ability now that I didn't before, but I've also finally come to accept myself for who I am, just the way that I am, and I no longer believe I am different than anyone else. This has truly been a life altering experience.

The best part is, the journey has only started.

Life's heating up

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bringing Family Closer

Christmas season 2010 is a time I sometimes would like to forget, yet never will. I had just gone through my first CI surgery, but the device was not yet activated. I had no hearing at all in my right ear, and about 5-10% in my left with the most powerful hearing aid on the market.

I remember being at my grandparent's house for the holidays that year. I remember the faces, the outfits, the smiles, the food, the gifts. But I couldn't tell you a thing that was said. It was like being in a glass case watching the world of interaction around me wondering what all the smiles, laughs, and giggles were really about.

This was hard on everyone around me to watch, particularly my grandparents. They knew that I would soon be hearing something and were anxious and hopeful to see what that would bring. Throughout my journey into the world of CI hearing my grandparents were always interested, amazed, and thrilled to see how well I was doing. It means the world to me that I was once again able to converse freely and openly with them.

This past June I called my grandma to wish her well in an upcoming operation to take place while I was in Honduras for the week. We probably chatted about 15 minutes, and because I know her voice so well I didn't struggle at all to understand her over the phone. I didn't know it then, but it was the last time I would speak with her.

Over the past two years, thanks to my CIs, I have a handful of experiences and conversations with her that are forever engrained into my memory. She was always cheerful, welcoming, and compassionate. The way she said, "Well, how are you? So good to see you! Oh bless your heart!", phrases that will always echo through my head when I think of her. Not too long ago I wondered if I would forget what those closest to me sounded like. Now I know their voices will be with me always.

My grandma was 84 years old. She had been married to my grandpa for 66 years. We'll gather this weekend to celebrate her life, but that won't be the end of her memory with me. Cochlear implants have blessed my life and experiences immeasurably. When I started blogging last year about this journey I'm on, my grandma would print out every one of my posts and keep them in a folder. That's how special my hearing was to her. It meant so much to know her grandchild was able to interact in a personal and emotional way once again. I write this blog post in honor of amazing life.

Doris-Jean (Stoker) Wiseman  -  12/29/1927 - 9/4/2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Healthy Life --> Sustained Hearing

During a midwest summer, concerts are as frequent as changes of underpants. Or as frequent as they should be changed, anyway. Knowing I never have to worry about hearing loss going forward is comforting, but I can't be around blaring music without feeling for all those around me, who in the midst of their infinite joy are sustaining long term loss to their hearing.

Today I step aside and let a new face give you some insight on this topic, as well as some things you can do to help prevent hearing loss.

Ladies and Gentlemen...John O'Connor:

Preventing Hearing Loss

Classical music, the laughter of a child, and roar of the ocean are just a few of the reasons to keep your ears healthy and prevent hearing loss.

Loud noises cause the hair cells of the inner ear to become damaged as you are continually exposed to it. Ten million people suffer from this nerve deafness, and it lasts forever. Hearing loss can affect relationships and your quality of life. The best way to prevent this hearing loss is to stay away from extended exposure to loud noises such as chain saws or rock concerts that are 110-120 decibels. Even personal disc players and snow mobiles are both 100 decibels.

Hearing loss occurs slowly and is painless. After a rock concert or exposure to loud noise, your ears may have a "ringing" sound. You may have trouble hearing when someone speaks to you. These symptoms should subside in a few days, but if you keep exposing yourself to loud noises the hearing loss is permanent. When you need to turn up the volume on the TV, have to ask people to repeat themselves in conversation particularly in a crowded room, are unable to hear a phone ringing in another room or a baby crying, you may have early hearing loss.

How can you keep your ears healthy? You can turn the volume down on your mp3 player or television and buy power tools with sound controls. Earplugs or earmuffs that feel comfortable when you wear them help protect your hearing from loud noises at work or in the environment. You can teach your family to stay away from loud noises and use earplugs or earmuffs.

If you think your hearing is impaired and need hearing aids, you can have it tested by a trained professional. Even if you have some hearing loss, you can protect yourself from further damage by limiting your exposure to loud noises. A hearing aid will help you to hear better.

Smoking litters the air around you with irritants that congest the ear's eustachian tube so avoid second hand smoke and smoking. You can protect your ears by not sticking a finger, cotton swab or other object in them to remove earwax since it rams the earwax deeper plugging your eardrum. Hardened earwax needs to be removed by a professional.

When you need to blow your nose, you should always blow it gently through both of your nostrils. If you have a cold or sinus infection and are traveling by air, you can take a decongestant spray before landing or a decongestant a few hours before landing. When landing, yawn and swallow frequently to help your ears adjust to the change in cabin pressure. Frequent ear infections, especially in children, increases the risk of hearing loss. Breast feeding infants limits ear problems, and you can use decongestants at night to dry up excess fluid in the ears. Following these tips and making healthy lifestyle changes can increase your chance of sustained hearing in the future.

You can catch John on Facebook here,
or on Twitter here,
or follow his blog here.

As always, thanks for stopping by...and you stay classy. But mostly, thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Connecting Me to You

Communication is an incredible tool. Language being one such means. A way to take what begins as a thought or a feeling and then convey it in a meaningful way to another person. I can spend hours thinking about how to vocally express my thoughts...and still get it wrong.  

So think for a second what life would be like without spoken language. Language brings so many possibilities. Knowledge. Relation. Connection.

Just 2 weeks ago I was in the country of Honduras with a group from my church. Much of this time consisted of interaction with the (mostly) mothers and their kids in their communities, which many of us would call poverty stricken. We had a handful of translators on hand, which is always helpful, but there was still this lingering disconnect in me, desperately wishing I could have a (more) meaningful conversation with them. It was later that week when a guy from our group who is native to Guatemala and fluent in Spanish told us about a connection he made with a boy through just a few simple words in his familiar language. And that really got me thinking about the power of communication. I want that too. Must. Lean. More. Espanol.

Ahem. (subject change)

Now think for a second what life would be like if you could speak any language...but you couldn't hear.

I am deaf.

I can easily remind myself of this fact by pulling the cochlear implant connectors off the back of my head. Dead silence. No bone conduction. Not even the sound of my own voice.
 Yes, Jordan and I were watching mortal combat the movie

I should point out that I'm not complaining here. There's many times I feel gifted in being able to completely shut off any and all noise around me. I've definitely used this a time or two on a child-filled airplane. Can you imagine being at a concert with blaring music, twenty-thousand screaming fans, lasers lighting up the place, and....complete silence? It's like watching a movie in 1st person. All you feel is the bass pumping through your body. In a way, peaceful.

I've even had friends jokingly say, "Hey, someday when you're married you can make your wife stop talking any time you want!". The funny thing is, these guys are married. Seriously?

When I started losing my hearing at age 11, my family and friends started praying. I always believed healing would come one day, I just didn't know it would be surgical. I'm grateful to God, and indebted to the doctors and professionals who've given of themselves so that I can enjoy music, and stick my foot in my mouth repeatedly. If they could develop a surgical word-filter, that'd be great.

Hopefully this will inspire you to stop and think about what an amazing opportunity communication presents, and to choose your words wisely. I'm not supposed to hear anything. I'd love to chat with you about that sometime...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

That Was a Good Drum Break

This past Memorial Day weekend will be memorable with me for quite some time. For the first time in 7 years I played bass drum in the Purdue All-American Marching Band with the drumline. I was just beginning to notice significant hearing loss with my hearing aids 7 years ago. I was also 15 lbs lighter and a little crazy at times:

It was a delicious burger. Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark ruined our day in Iowa City.

Thanks to some connections and a pressing need for bass drummers, I was asked to participate in the Indianapolis 500 Festival parade and pre-race ceremonies at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

I was looking forward to this opportunity for quite some time once I realized the last time I played with the band I was on a downward slope with hearing aids. Now a little over a year in with cochlear implants, drumming is one of the most realistic sounds to me since it's not overly complex with pitch variation and such.

The 95 degree weekend did it's best to keep us drenched despite a drought. I consumed more water in 2 days than the previous month I think. There were a few times during the parade on Saturday I was really second guessing my 29 year old body. Never have I heard my drum instructor yell at everyone to stop playing, take their hats off and sit in the shade. It was odd.

One thing that never goes away is the feeling of forgetting something. Driving to meet the band at 5:30am on Sunday to head to the track, I couldn't shake the nagging sense that I was wearing the wrong shirt, or forgot something important, like what time the buses left. To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is to be left behind. I was on time.

The sound was definitely incredible. The size of the drumline was about 2/3 of what we normally had in the fall (as the 500 is voluntary), but still I was in love with the sound. The band, however, sounded similar to my first 6th grade concert. A little pitchy at times, but recognizable. One thing I've noticed with CIs is they really limit background noise very well. But with the setting this weekend, it made it very hard to hear the band while playing. Not necessarily bad, but absolutely different from what I was used to. Nevertheless, I heard the cadences amazingly well. Never in my college experience with hearing aids could I distinguish the different snare, tenor, bass and even cymbal parts so clearly. It was like playing the same old stuff again for the first time

We even played one cadence that I've never played before, yet heard many times since graduation while back at football games. Chunky Munky. In one section of 8-second-bass-drumming-bliss, we had a bass solo comprised of split sextuplets, which are basically fast. And I nailed it. I nailed it like Veronica Corningstone in Anchorman.  

The biggest difference between bass drums and the rest of the line is that each bass drummer plays a different part which all come together as a whole to sound like one part with different pitches (since each drum is a slightly different size). Counting is a necessity, and when it comes together the way it did this weekend, and so many times while I played at Purdue, it's magical.

Very thankful for experiences like this past weekend, to the people who made that possible, and for the continued "new life" I'm experiencing with CIs. Thankful as always for the freedom I enjoy thanks to the service of both my grandfathers, and the many men and women who serve our country every day. This was my 13th straight year at the Indy500, and truly an experience like no other.

Not finished. I'm just getting started.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cat Calls

Sometimes vulnerability is a good thing to embrace. Today I'm coming clean: I'm a cat lover.

WHOA Whoa whoa...don't get me wrong. I don't love YOUR cats. I love mine. I've mostly always considered myself tolerable of cats, but ever since these two guys showed up on the scene 7 years ago, I've had to re-think my feline-allegiance:
 Yes, I had hair. Sonny is the gold one, Rex is the cow.

Sure there are ups and downs. Nobody wants to come home and find Sonny's newfound addiction to licking and chewing photographs. But maybe that's just his way of expressing his appreciation for all the food I buy. Hard to tell.

I've met my share of witchy cats over the years, but these guys have given me hope. They follow me around the house, not just for food, but so they can lay on me wherever I come to rest. I absolutely feel appreciated by them, as much as one could from a cat.

(Ahem)...Some people try to give me slack for owning cats and openly professing my love for them...but then I go and find out those people own purse yorkies. I'll leave it at that.

How's this tie into hearing? Well, one of the functions I have on my CIs is called "microphone sensitivity" and is best visualized as a radius of sound around me. I can change the setting from 0 to 20 and it controls how big the circle goes out looking for sound. It can be QUITE helpful especially in loud and noisy environments. It has also helped me hear things I never knew existed when it's quiet and I crank the sensitivity up. I like to wear one of my CIs at night, and unless you like to sleep with earplugs in I would assume you can understand why. So last night as I was about to doze off, I realized there was a strange sound I didn't recognize. Sonny was sleeping a little closer than normal and his nose must have lined up perfectly with my mircophone.

Now you have to understand, Sonny boy is a special child. He never really developed a's always just been a semi-pathetic-squeakish-hiss. For the first time ever, I could hear him purr. It was SO distinct I knew what it was instantly, and so faint that it's no wonder I've never noticed. The sound coupled with the blissful look on his sleeping face gave me a renewed, peaceful appreciation for these two guys. And it is in their honor, and cats with a bad name everywhere, that I present to you:

The Top Ten Reasons My Cats Are Awesome

10. They Are Purdue Colors.

9.  They love a quiet evening by the fire.

8.  They work hard at their craft.

7. They help clean the toilets.

6. They embrace their weight issues, open and honestly.

5. They appreciate holiday cheer.

4. They never give up.

3. They eagerly await the cleansing hour of bathtime.

2. They dance like nobody's business.

And the #1 reason my cats are awesome,
They exercise complete discretion in all situations, ever-aware of their surroundings, without shame.

Not so funny meow, is it?