by Nancy E. Hall
My brother, seven years my senior, has been about 65 percent deaf and night blind since he was 3 years old.
I grew up knowing I must speak clearly and in the lower registers so that with his hearing aids, he could understand me. One night, our family sitting on the front step listening to extremely loud crickets, my father asked Bill if he could hear them. Sadly, no, not even with his hearing aids. I finally understood what his deafness meant.
My brother learned to speak clearly and effectively and his first degree was a BA in Speech Pathology. He followed with a Masters in Audiology. He worked as an Audiologist for years, and then obtained a Masters of Business Administration. His deafness became worse but the understanding his education provided kept him speaking clearly and still understanding speech.
We didn’t know until his late twenties, that he has a condition known as Usher’s Syndrome. He discovered on a routine eye exam that he was starting to develop Retinitis Pigmentosa; in short, he was going blind. His vision has since narrowed down to a ‘tunnel’.
Through this all, my brother has struggled to overcome his problems. His work in Audiology brought the Cochlear Implant to his attention, but a series of medical insurance problems meant he could not qualify for the operation.
Recently Bill qualified, and got the implant that places a very small set of electrodes deep into the Cochlea that is the brain’s interface with the ear. I was thrilled to hear his implant went well. After a healing process, they ‘turned on’ his implant — mere days after his 55th birthday.
So far he has astounded the doctors with his amazingly quick adjustment to the implant that for some people takes six months to a year to understand. Bill said everyone sounded like Mickey Mouse at first, but he started to understand speech within a few days.
He has progressed through “Donald Duck” and “Elmer Fudd” stages, which describe the way the processor has been set to allow the stimulation of different portions of the vocal spectrum.
My brother’s biggest wonder and delight is being able to hear the simple sounds of nature he never heard before, the sounds of crickets and birds. He told me he never realized how noisy birds could be.
He has never let his disabilities stop him. My brother went further in his education than I, and overcome or learned to live with more problems than I’ve ever had to deal with. I don’t know if he would have seemed so smart or adaptable had he been born ‘normal’, but he determined very early on to keep trying.
My brother speaks clearly and can still read what is directly in front of him. He is even following research into an optical implant that may keep him from going completely blind. He has not given up, and he inspires me to keep trying too.