It sounds dramatic: your deaf child has a cochlear implant. It will be switched on on day X.
So you go along. In other peoples’ imagination, it’ll be like taking out earplugs: suddenly they’ll hear everything, respond to voices, wave at birds, all that stuff.
The reality: more prosaic. You’re all in a little soundproofed room with a table strewn with toys where people struggle to keep him entertained, while the audiologists tweak the levels of excitation of the implant. You find out the loudest sound he responds to, and then you step back from that a long way, and start with something muuuuuch quieter.
Result: you leave the centre with a child and an activated implant. You’re all exhausted – it’ll have taken about two hours – and everyone thinks you’re all now in the Land of the Hearing.
Not so. All that’s happened is that baby3 now receives sound, but he doesn’t know how to distinguish it from noise. You’d not want it turned up too loud if it were your first day with a new sensation; imagine how you dislike it when your skin becomes more sensitive (say, when you’re ill). Now imagine that your whole body had previously been insensate, and you’ve suddenly got sensation. You’d not want it turned up too loud, no matter if some of it is nice. It would just be overwhelming.
Still, he wears it happily enough (we opted in the end for a body-worn processor, because the implant under his skin is so close to his ear that the two rub, unhappily). The microphone is on the magnetic attachment above his ear: sound goes from there to the processor pack on his special Mission Impossible harness, gets put through a spin cycle and gets passed up to the magnetic attachment to go through the skin to the internal processor and from there to the cochlea. Phew.
And what does he do? Much the same as before. He might be more interested in sound-making objects, but it’s really hard to tell. Probably the sound is no more than a loud whisper, relatively speaking. We have louder settings – we’re meant to progress up the sale through the week, when we go back for another “tuning” session. (It makes him sound like an errant piano.)
One thing he did do a couple of times, though we couldn’t tell if he was just playing: he closed his eyes at the supper table, not through tiredness. We weren’t sure if it was his way of trying to block out the experience, or of trying to separate what he was seeing from what he was hearing.
Maybe one day he’ll tell us. Meantime, he sleeps.