My Cochlear Implant Story: Part Two

Why a Cochlear Implant? Well, why not?

But let me back up. I had a list of reasons that kept me from getting a cochlear implant sooner.
1. Too old.
2. Too invasive.
3. Doing alright with my existing set-up.
It’s a pretty short list, yeah but I guess the whole list was also shrouded in fear, even if I didn’t want to admit it.
My mother, an AuD, had been urging me for a few years to think about getting a cochlear implant. I usually mumbled something along the lines of “sure, sure, maybe, someday,” which meant…well, never, really.
Finally, I agreed to go for a consultation at NYU. I knew the technology had come a long way, and my hearing was rapidly deteriorating. I let my mother make the appointment for me because why not? Just because I’m in my late 30s, doesn’t mean I can’t let my mother do stuff for me, right?! Mom came down to the city and together, we went to talk to Dr. Shapiro. After that consultation, I was more on board with the idea, especially after I found out I didn’t have to shave my head to get the implant. (Don’t give me side-eye. I know what you’re thinking but I have enough problems without having to walk around with a half-shaved head.)

To determine candidacy for an implant, I was evaluated by another audiologist at NYU (hi, Laurel!). It was your standard hearing testing, just longer and more thorough. One of the tests determined speech discrimination.

What’s the opposite of passing with flying colors? Failing with drooping, sagging colors? I listened to an audio recording of a nice fellow saying “Ready?,” followed by a sentence I needed to process and repeat. Of the ten sentences, I understood one: “The train is leaving the station.” And something about a banana.
Yup, right ear: useless. With an aid, I did not do much better, as far as speech discrimination goes.

May 9th:

A month after the surgery, my implant was activated. In those YouTube videos with people getting their implants turned on, it always seems amazing! And it is!  But you know…it wasn’t like that for me. I’ve been wearing hearing aids for 34 years, so sound is not new for me, the way it is for people who have never heard anything. The activation appointment was exciting but not overwhelming. Laurel, my audiologist at NYU, tested my speech discrimination on activation day and I couldn’t really make out anything. What was REALLY exciting was the appointment where Laurel tested my speech discrimination again and I actually understood what she was saying–sounds, words, phrases, sentences. It wasn’t 100% but it was pretty good and a vast improvement over that first day.

There were also moments like this:

Screenshot of Facebook post about hearing crickets for the first time with cochlear implants
Yesterday, I heard a cicada for the first time, which my sister identified for me. It seems like such a small thing, hearing these sounds of nature but for someone who has never heard them, it’s a whole new world. These moments make me feel vindicated in my decision to get the cochlear implant.  A speech therapist I met with at Rusk Institute kept calling it a “baby brain,” and it really is, because so much is new for my brain.  The brain, you guys, is amazing and I never knew just HOW amazing the brain was until I got this implant. Just incredible.

Want to know more about how the cochlear implant work its’ magic? Check out this video from Cochlear America:

{Review}: The Girls

The Girls, out from Random House on June 14th, left me with the nagging feeling of familiarity. I’m only 36, so it’s not because I lived the heyday of the 60s and 70s. Set in Northern California, at the end of the 1960’s, Evie’s story hits all the hallmarks of teenage angst– friend drama, divorcing parents, sexual awareness, self-consciousness and endless navel-gazing.  But it has this particular heady sheen that seems gloss over anything set in the 60s and 70s.

We begin with two backstories: an introduction to the novel’s antagonists, a roaming band of gypsies that capture Evie’s bored imagination, and we get a glimpse into a sensational ending. From there, we go back to the beginning: Evie’s life fraying at the edges, her father out the door with a younger woman and her mother taking benign neglect to a whole new level.

After awhile, I began to realize where the familiarity came from. Last year, I read We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, and The Interestings. Both of these books are about angsty adolescents in the 60s and 70s, and they convey that same sort of dream-like quality, a looseness that comes from an age where things were just plain weird and everyone was high and figuring out how to be liberated, in mind and in body.

Not that I have a problem with that. It works for this book. Evie has a lost summer before being shipped off to boarding school, taking up with the members of a cult living in a run-down house in a remote place. Her mother is too busy finding herself a man, and her father…well, her father is doing his own thing too, so where does that leave Evie?

Left to her own devices, Evie learns a thing or two about herself through compare and contrast, and developing a low-level sense of self-loathing, ashamed of her privilege. Her vulnerability is ruthlessly exploited as she tries to convince herself that she belongs. The shocking events at the end of her lost summer disabuses her of that notion.

When we meet Evie, she is in her 60s, approaching 70, revisiting some hazy time when she was 14 and it was the 60s in California, and some crazy stuff was going down and how did she even get swept up in all of it? But now her life is sad, lonely, aimless. And I can see her so vividly, thanks to Emma Cline’s gift for drawing characters with words that evoke a forlorn, pathetic mood, a kind of grayness over everything, even in sunny, bright, optimistic California.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

My Cochlear Implant Story, Part One.

I have a pretty little clay bowl that my mom’s friend Sonny gave me last year. It took me a while to figure out how best to use it because it’s too precious to dirty up with food. It finally landed on top of my dresser, as a catch-all for my jewelry, which I take off nightly. I also keep my eyeglasses and hearing aids in it. 
On Sunday night, I dropped my right hearing aid in it for the final time. 
The following morning, I was up at 4am, waiting to be picked up by my dad and sister, ready to take me to NYU for what seemed to be the next logical step in this journey I’ve been on since I was born. 
A video posted by The Real Nani (@the_real_nani) on

A photo posted by The Real Nani (@the_real_nani) on

By 7:15, I was in the OR, with a mask over my face and counting down to sleep. 
I woke up some hours later with a huge bandage over my right ear, to a friendly nurse offering me water for my parched throat. 

A photo posted by The Real Nani (@the_real_nani) on

I guess I’ll call this Cochlear Implant: Part One. The surgery was a huge step but it’s not the most important step. That comes about a month from now, when the device is activated. As nerve-wracking as surgery is, it pales in comparison to the anxiety of waiting to find out what kind of effect, if any at all, the surgery will have.

Some things about how I’m feeling:

  1. When I burp, my ear pops. 
  2. I’m not supposed to blow my nose vigorously during the initial recovery period. Anyone who knows me knows this is impossible for me. But the stars have aligned this week, and I’ve suffered no allergy attacks since coming home, and therefore, have no need to blow my nose. 
  3. I wore no hearing aid at all for the first day or so of being home. I don’t know why. The silence was nice, though I’m sure it was annoying for everyone around me. 
  4. My bandage very quickly become a security blanket of sorts. I was hesitant to take it off and afraid of what would be underneath. 
  5. But I did take it off, on day 2, with Henry’s help. My ear is banged up, bruised and swollen but not nearly as monstrous as I thought it might look. When it looks prettier, I’ll show you a picture. 
  6. On Day 2, I was able to putter around a bit before feeling light-headed and going back to bed. Today, Day 3, I made lunch for the kids, and put together end-of-year gifts for the hebrew school teachers before I had to go back to bed. Progress. 
  7. Right now, the tip of my ear is numb and the inside of my ear feels stiff. But I don’t feel much pain, just soreness and discomfort. 
  8. I was sent home with Vicodin which is always fun. I’ve taken it twice so far, to help me sleep. 
  9. With or without the Vicodin, all this napping is giving me some funky dreams, and not really pleasantly funky either. 
  10. For the next few weeks, my brain will have no input from the right ear, not that it had much to begin with. Then, there’ll be lots of input. We’ll see how that goes. 
  11. Bonus: While I was writing this, I got an email from my audiologist with an order form attached, asking what kind of equipment I wanted and in what color.  I guess it’s time to countdown to activation day. 
PS I know some of you wanted to know why and how I made this decision, but that’s another blog post and I’ll do it, promise. xo

{Review}: The Age of Reinvention

What is the difference between a lie of omission and a lie, period? And is one worse than the other?

I would argue that both are no good, but that a lie of omission has technicality going for it. Technically, one did not utter a falsehood. One merely failed to correct an assumption, which places the responsibility on the other party to do due diligence.

Then, when happens when one has an attack of conscious and feels a desire to finally correct the assumption, but at the risk of losing everything, including the identity that was reinvented?

When Samir Tahar shortens his name to Sam, walks into a French law firm and is given the persona of a Sephardic Jew and a job, whatever hesitation he had is overshadowed by his new prestige as he is taken under the wing of his avuncular boss. And I did wonder, what kind of world is it when being a Jew is an advantage? As much as I embrace my own Jewish-ness, I have never once felt that it was an advantage or bestowed some kind of social privilege on me. I guess, better to be a Jew than a Muslim, which is the exact scenario that Sam enters into in this novel by Karine Tuil, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

Clocking in at just shy of 400 pages, The Age of Reinvention maintains a frenetic pace throughout that mirrors the runaway train that Sam finds himself on, after he cannot bring himself to correct an assumption, and he puts on his new life like the expensive suits he can now afford. It all comes to a head in the most ludicrous of ways but the scary part is that we readers can easily believe it might happen, in this age of Islamophobia and terrorism. Nothing seems surprising anymore; shocking, maybe but hardly surprising to find out the extremes to which our government might go in the fight against terrorism.

And what international thriller would be complete without a love triangle? Sam’s arrogance, his willingness to parade himself around becomes his downfall as he grows vulnerable to exposure and becomes visible to the other two-thirds of the love triangle. Hell hath no fury like a man scorned. The love triangle would be a subplot, but Karine Tuil masterfully draws a thin but substantial line between events that put the plot into overdrive, so that we fall headlong with our characters past a point of no return, especially when a third plot line is uncovered, that proves to be the loose nut that brings it all crashing down around Sam. 
In this book, the reader is treated to a richly painted world that offers an immersive literary experiece that won’t soon be forgotten as we turn over my original question: what’s worse, a lie of omission or an outright lie?

{I requested a copy of this book for review purposes from Atria Books/Simon and Schuster. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: Writing My Wrongs

We love redemption stories. We love the triumph of the will. We watch the fall from grace salaciously, with judgement but we cheer when grace is restored. Why? Because all of us have redemption stories. Some of them are big, like rags to riches or a life of crime to a life of honesty, but a lot are small, quiet moments in our everyday relationships. We build trust, break trust and restore it again. We disappoint each other, apologize, kiss and make up. In every redemption story, big or small, we see ourselves.

And in Writing My Wrongs, we see how a stubborn streak and parental neglect leads to a fatal mistake that brings the killer low, though it takes Shaka Senghor many years to accept that he has hit rock bottom. His stints in solitary confinement, his realization that he has made an avoidable mistake, his willingness to confront his demons and let go of his anger allows for a degree of introspection that is admirable and difficult. Senghor comes to realize that small, meaningful interventions early in his life would’ve made all the difference, something as simple as “Are you okay?” “Why are you so angry?” Indeed, the world would be a more peaceful place if we stopped reacting and started listening, looking, wondering, getting at the root of a conflict instead of hitting back.

Writing My Wrongs is a compelling, engaging read that doesn’t radically stand out from any other redemption story out there, but the voice carries the reader along. Redemption stories are, by their very nature, predictably full of plot lines that crest, dip then crest again. However, this is the first time that I’ve really understood how the prison system is designed to rob people of their humanity. The constant upheaval, the threat of violence from all corners, the social isolation– all of this serves to set inmates up to fail. Should someone be punished for committing a crime? Yes. Should someone be made to feel that there’s no hope for change? No. What good does it do to return angry, demoralized people to society? Not much, as far as I can tell, and neither can Senghor, who has made it his mission in life to help children find a way to express their anger, frustration and disappointment without succumbing to violence.

So read this book for the story itself, and for a reality check.

{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian is full of powerful and graphic imagery but nothing gory, nothing overly disturbing as alluded to in the many rave reviews of this book. I wondered if something was lost in translation.
The words that come to mind when I think of this book, post-read, are minimalist and sparse. Yet the imagery is vivid, and in sharp relief. Each word has been carefully selected, each phrase carefully turned. There is a distinct lack of superfluity.
At the core of this novel is a woman who we don’t really get to understand on her own terms. She is defined by her relationship with others. Her husband is quietly unsatisfied with her, though he cannot say she is a bad wife. Her sister pities her, and feels responsible for her. Her father cares little until he cares too much, refusing to understand her.  There are three voices in this book, and none of them belong to Yeong-hye, as central as she is to the book. 
Yeong-hye commits herself obsessively to being a vegetarian, as the result of a dream. The confusion,  wrath and indignation this elicits from her family is outsized. The more she is excoriated for not conforming, the deeper she digs her heels in, turning herself inside out and driving herself insane.
But is she really insane? Or is that an identity foisted on her by those around her as way of understanding her refusal to be like everyone else? It’s hard to tell in this novel. We get the sense that she has discovered something about herself and has become attuned to her own sexuality, in a way that was never revealed to her husband. An inverse relationship develops. As Yeong-hye begins to fall together,  those around her who were so sure of themselves begin to doubt themselves and fall apart.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links.}


Where do I even begin with this?

I’m only a little ashamed that I was  finally spurred into action when I saw that haunting photo of Alan Kurdi. I can’t look at it or think about it without welling up. What really hit home about that photograph is that the little boy, who looks like he is sleeping, was the same size as my Micah. The full enormity of what was happening hit me. Until then, the noise about conflict in the Middle East, or anywhere really, was just that–noise. It was nothing new, it had nothing to do with me. Things would go back to normal soon. 
But even if they did, I couldn’t go back to normal after seeing that photograph and imagining my own little boy in that baby’s place. 
Then, there was another photo. In this one, a woman, who looks strikingly like my sister–long brown hair, wearing that army green jacket that was ubiquitous this past season, slender legs in blue jeans–sleeping on the floor of the train station in Budapest, with her children asleep around her. It sent me over the edge.

I know now that I needed to begin with my moral imperative as a human, as a Jew, as a mother, as a sister. 
I reached deep into my Jewish history and saw that image of masses of refugees on a boat, this one from Europe during World War II. They sought safe harbor and were turned away, sent back to suffer and perish under a threat that no one took seriously until it was too late. 
Never forget, we say now. 
But what about “Learn”? Did we learn anything? Not soon enough. 
My sister and I began to talk about what we could do. We’d heard that the US was taking in refugees. We thought it would be as easy as saying, “I have two spare futons in my basement. Come stay, let me take some of your burden, and lift your spirit and help you feel whole again.” Should be easy, right? 
Not quite. Finally, we found a group in a nearby town that was organizing and raising funds to sponsor a family of refugees. We raised a whole bunch of money, then waited. And waited. And waited. We got the call about four weeks ago, and the family arrived two weeks ago. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, starting from securing a place for the family to live, then scrounging up donated furniture and just about everything else you need for a family that is setting up house with nothing. The actual logistics of this process pales in comparison to the enormity of the emotional implications of this whole thing. We can assume that refugees who enter our country have suffered some kind of trauma, though the extent of it may vary and may or may not match up to our imagination. My empathy engine has been kicked into overdrive. Outwardly, refugees may appear to be in a normal state–maybe very tired or nervous, but underneath, surely there is an churning pool of post-traumatic stress and unprocessed emotions. Another person in our area who has helped to settle numerous families told us that refugees are in survival mode. They are survivors and they continue to survive.  This is a highly stressful and volatile state of being.  I have no idea what life was like for our family before they arrived here; only that it must have been very, very difficult. They left their home country three years ago, and had been living in a capital city in a neighboring country before they were granted refugee status and admitted to the US. My empathy is rooted in my ability to imagine what it would be like to flee a war-torn country with my small children in tow. Just normal, day-to-day living with kids is stressful enough. Take away the stability of home, add in the terror of violence, the insecurity of precarious safety, the threat of an oppressive regime. Whatever you and I can imagine is probably only a fraction of the reality because that’s just the plot. The emotional stuff is intense, and cannot be fully felt through empathy.

I admit, that a lot of this is just as much about and it is about them. There’s some guilt assuaging going on here. How many times have I skipped over the international section of the newspaper? How many times I have scrolled past pleas for donations? Convinced myself it’s enough to know, and to share this post and that post, and donate $10 or $1. Said to myself, and out loud, too, “Oh, that’s too bad. I feel so sad. What a terrible thing. Those poor people,” then moved on. Shallow compassion. No action. So, to take this small action, this tangible act of compassion marks a turning point for me, having gone from talking to doing, something, anything, working this one small piece of the larger puzzle, okay with the knowledge that I can’t help everyone, but I can help these five people. I think that is what causes inertia–this feeling that we can’t help everyone and being overwhelmed by the knowledge of how many people need help, that doing one small thing can’t possibly be useful or valuable. But there are so many of us capable of opening our arms and our homes that we can each take a small piece, step back and see that together, we’ve taken on a whole.

(After I wrote this, I read a great quote from Cory Booker and I just had to add it here.)

I don’t want people to think, “It’s such a huge problem, what can I do about it?” We can’t allow our inability to do everything undermine our determination to do something. 

There’s no overstating how overwhelming it all is. The magnitude of what is happening here is overwhelming. Watching this refugee family gain new footing, and eager to get traction, eager to reclaim their independence, and get on with normalcy and knowing that these things take time, their frustration is palpable. Throw in the language barrier and it becomes difficult to fully help them shoulder the work they have cut out for them. It’s overwhelming for them, and overwhelming for us. We want things to happen fast, but they happen slow, subject to red tape and bureaucracy and scheduling, so much out of their control and ours. It’s hard to go with the flow. They’ve come so far, been through so much and now they are here, ready to hit the ground running so they can stop running. And the finish line is not even in sight. Who knows if there is even a finish line or where it is?

It’s easy to imagine the future, to have faith and to know that this is just a season, that someday, in the near future, they will be a family just like any other family. Going to work, going to school, buying groceries, entertaining friends, paying bills, signing report cards, driving to soccer games and school concerts, fighting, laughing, playing, loving. It’s harder to know what emotional fall-out lies ahead, and if they will ever stop surviving and start thriving instead.

For now, we can link our arms through theirs and keep them aloft as they step over the threshold, peering into a hazy future.

{Review}: Lust and Wonder

Augusten Burroughs has an enviable knack for introspection and self-awareness. He has also has a writing voice that made me wonder at first if I were reading fiction or a memoir--at some points, I actually was not 100% confident Lust & Wonder was a memoir! Burroughs manages to make himself a sympathetic character, though I have a feeling that if I knew him in real life, I probably would not stand him. And he knows it. A funny, self-deprecating story that had me rooting for a marginally unlikeable person, I was genuinely disappointed when I reached the end and there was nothing more to read. 

Lust & Wonder is out from St. Martin's Press on March 29th but can be pre-ordered on Amazon. 

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from NetGalley. There are affiliate links in this post.}

{Review}: The Best Place on Earth

Have you ever been to Israel? I went when I was 15, and even in my self-absorbed, navel-gazing teenage state, I knew that Israel was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. It was the first foreign country I’d ever travelled to (Canada notwithstanding) and I’ve been to many others since then. Still the most beautiful place I’ve seen.

Reading Ayelet Tsabari’s collection of short stories, The Best Place on Earth, I pulled heavily from my mental image bank to transport myself to the setting of her stories. While the stories were an enjoyable read, I found them to be somewhat shallow in imagery and flat in character development. There’s a layer of gloss over the text that makes it feel like a rom-com or chick flick. In fact, I think I would very much enjoy a screen version of these stories.

Though the stories lack the grittiness needed for more compelling storytelling, the 11 stories are connected by the common thread of main characters that represent groups that have been traditionally marginalized–women, immigrants, non-Israelis, and the poor. Unlike a rom-com, there are no neat endings in this collection. The reader is left to create an epilogue for the characters.  But that’s par for the course with marginalized people– they lose control over their stories, and their voices are co-opted by people (readers, in this case) who are not them.  Empowered characters get to tell readers how it ends, but in this book, the characters become muted.

I came to that conclusion after I finished reading the book, but during,  I was fully engrossed in the collection and finished the book in two days, so it’s worth a read, if only for the opportunity to consider what responsibility an author has to her disenfranchised characters.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from NetGalley. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Prime by Kulreet Chaudhary

What was it that possessed me to request this book for review? I don’t normally pick diet books, preferring to read actual literature and knowing that most of what it inside diet books is freely available on the Internet. Maybe it was the phrase “spontaneous weight loss.” Maybe it’s because I caught up in the “new year” frenzy to do something, anything differently than how I was doing it before. Who knows?
It’s not a secret that I struggle with my weight, and I know I’m not alone. More specifically, I struggle with cravings. Overall, my day to day diet is not terrible. It’s a mostly vegetarian diet with actual vegetables in it. I don’t eat a lot of processed food. Give me sugar and carbs, though and it feels like I’ve gone out of my mind. Even when I’m mindful of what is happening, I have to slap my own hand to come to my senses. If you remember, awhile back, I reviewed Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before. In that book, I learned that I am an Abstainer. As long as I don’t have even one piece, I’m not tempted. But give me a taste, and all is lost.
The sticking point is those cravings. If I could master control over those, I think I’d be golden. The Prime , written by a neurologist, is based on the premise that you need to first “prime” or cleanse your body of the things that cause cravings. The word “cleanse” always gives me pause– was this going to be another bit of quackery that required me to spend a shitload of money on mystery powders that make nasty shakes full of who knows what from who knows where?
That misperception died pretty quickly once Chaudhary explained that rather than changing or overhauling or eliminating things for your daily diet, you tap into Ayurvedic principles of eating, using ingredients commonly found in Indian households. She recommends using a combination of spices and herbs to clear out your gut and improve your gut health, drinking bone broth, and ingesting only warm foods and drinks. She also tethers physical well-being to mental well-being.
The first part of the book, when Chaudhary tells the story of how she came back to Ayurvedic principles after being derailed when she became a teenager, ditching her family’s traditional diet for a more American one, a habit that followed her to college and beyond, is compelling and engaging. After that, Chaudhary delves into the tradition behind Ayurvedic principles and how it applies in a weight loss context, which I found fascinating and useful. After that, it became hard to maintain focus and I found myself fast-forwarding to the sections where she describes implementation because it becomes repetitive at some points. Overall, the book was a good read, and because of Chaudhary’s credentials, it seems more creditable than other diet books out there. I suppose the true measure of the book’s worth comes from trying out The Prime, and seeing what happens. Here goes nothing.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.