Where Hope Floats / by Chel Wolverton

...it's the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too... - Hope Floats, 1998

I seem to have reached the middle of a new beginning. A middle that includes something remarkably able to change my life.

Last week I was sitting on a train to Providence and reading the Boston Herald. I can't even remember what the cover headline was, but it was Friday, March 7, 2008. I usually skim over advertisements, eyes glazing over them quickly before moving on to the meat of the paper. There was one that caught my eye.

The ad was from Envoy and mentioned said, in bold letters, clinical trial of hearing implants. Not remarkable, eh? Except to someone who was born to a life of not being able to hear normally, it was remarkable. It struck me breathless. I realized while on the train at 6 pm on Friday they wouldn't be open. I'd have to wait.

But I sat staring out the window with that paper in my lap and open to that ad, shaking with the thought that my life could change with me hearing normally. I could wake up in the morning and hear the wind blow through the trees and hug one of my three best friends without squealing from a microphone and swim while hearing everything when I emerged from the water. Trembling, wanting to call one of said best friends or email them and knowing it'd have to wait until I was home. Trembling, knowing I shouldn't get my hopes up but damned if I would be able to stop that.

You get the point, right? Trembling.

It was this morning before I heard back from the company after leaving a message. The company who listed the ad is Envoy. They are a small company in Minnesota sponsoring a clinical trial in several parts of the country, including Boston. Their *entire* focus is improving hearing for those with a specific type of hearing loss called sensorineural.

I don't want to bore you with the details but I need to explain. I was born with sensorineural hearing loss. As a child, I read lips remarkably well. When I didn't hear my teachers, I asked for more details after class after all the other kids were gone.

Sensorineural hearing loss via Wikipedia:

The great majority of human sensorineural hearing loss is caused by abnormalities in the hair cells of the organ of Corti in the cochlea. There are also very unusual sensorineural hearing impairments that involve the VIIIth cranial nerve (the Vestibulocochlear nerve) or the auditory portions of the brain. In the rarest of these sorts of hearing loss, only the auditory centers of the brain are affected. In this situation, central hearing loss, sounds may be heard at normal thresholds, but the quality of the sound perceived is so poor that speech can not be understood.

This = me.

I didn't wear hearing aids until I turned 22. At that time I was fitted with bi-neural which connected by a wire enabled the sound to be filtered from my left ear via microphone to my right. It was the opinion of my then-audiologist that this was best. It was horrible. It threw me off balance. If I were talking on the phone, I couldn't hear any sound on my left side.

When I turned 28, I was re-tested and fitted with new hearing aids that weren't bi-neural. The audiologist seemed to think that the bi-neural was causing more confusion than helping. These digitally programmed aids were meant to help with the feedback *and* control sound. A silly little bonus, I could choose a color for them and I chose pink.

Long story short.

As you probably know, one must qualify for clinical trials. You have to meet their qualifications for testing purposes. I didn't know what those qualifications were until this morning. The Envoy implants are fully hidden. They are implanted under the skin. Here are a couple of drawings (click to enlarge) of the implants.



The requirements for the clinical trial include having sensorineural hearing loss with mild to severe loss. Or in layman terms, between 30-100 decibels of loss. Envoy needed me to get a copy of my audiogram faxed to them showing the type of loss and the levels. When I called my audiologist I couldn't help but ask. Wouldn't you?

I already knew sensorineural. The levels of my loss were 40 for my left ear and 70 for the right ear. She faxed the results to a friend who forwarded them on to Envoy.

I'm waiting for a call back from Envoy to tell me what the next steps are. I qualify medically thus far. I need to get healthy (over this cold) and prepare myself for some traveling and hearing about the risks to decide if the risks are worth the procedure on not ONE but both ears.

Waiting sucks. I've come this far with tempered hope, some amount of fear, and good thoughts from friends. While I'm waiting to see what's on the other side, I thought I'd share my hopes. A friend reminded me, hope is a very powerful emotion. Sometimes, you just need to let it float.