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Cochlear Implants, hearing loss and more! I carry an interesting perspective: someone who had normal hearing growing up, lost it all slowly as an adult, then regained it with cochlear implants. So I'm deaf, but I can hear - a true miracle. If you'd like to know more about me and my bilateral cochlear implant experiences right away, my two books have a wealth of information - see the links below. Check out the list of upcoming events too - perhaps one day we'll get to meet!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cochlear Implant Miracles: Hearing While Wet

The manufacturer of my cochlear implant, Advanced Bionics, has just announced a new processor that is waterproof.  Called the Neptune, it has an industry rating of IP68, which means that it can be immersed in water, so is suitable for swimming.  There has been a lot of discussion about how this is wonderful for children, so they can listen and speak during bathtime and water play - and how the processor is also easy to use for water sports. But this all got me thinking about my own  experiences with hearing and water over the past 40 years (26 years with hearing aids, 14 with cochlear implants) - and the impact of having to remove hearing aids and cochlear implant processors when in and around water.

The experience that my family remembered instantly when I mentioned this subject was the time we were at a beach on the Gulf coast of Florida.  I was wading in the water, no hearing aids on - and suddenly my daughter, who was about 5 years old at the time, yanked me out of the water.  My husband saw a fin that he thought was a shark, but I couldn't hear him calling me - but my daughter saw and heard it all, and was close enough to act.  It turned out that the fin belonged to a dolphin, but the vulnerability of being deaf when wet was graphically demonstrated that day.

I used to swim laps at the Y, but always had to tell the lifeguard that I wouldn't hear his whistle because I couldn't hear without my hearing aids.  I pretty much gave up swimming because I just wasn't comfortable swimming while deaf.  Then, of course, there was the time that I jumped into a pool with my hearing aid on.  I only made that mistake once in my life.

I also shied away from swimming when family and friends were around.  It just wasn't worth it to me to be cut off from conversation and communication just to be wet, watching others frolicking and laughing together.  So swimming with others ended as well.

There were other water activities I did participate in - as I loved whitewater rafting (only up to level 2, with a teeny bit of level 3, maybe).  I had to leave my hearing aids on shore, of course - and on a wonderful trip down the river rapids in North Carolina, we had a guide in the back of the raft, who was shouting out paddling instructions. We knew I wouldn't hear him, so we arranged to have me sit behind the front paddler, so I could imitate the paddling motions.  I was happy to be able to participate, but I still remember feeling "disabled."

We did the same thing down the Colorado River (sounds adventuresome, but in July, it's totally tame.) We had a guide again, and this time I could swim off the raft - silent splashing again.

Another variation was tubing down a river - a wonderful thing to do in the heat of the summer.  But again, with the hearing aids left on shore, another silent activity - cut off from the banter of the others in our group. 

We even did a wonderful river pool at one of the resort hotels we visited years ago in Puerto Rico - Cerromar Beach Resort River Pool (see the middle photo).  I had to do that one deaf too - in a tube that followed a snaking man-made river, going under waterfalls, and ending up in a swim-up bar, with a fabulous view overlooking the beachfront!  It was amazing - except done in isolating silence.  And someone else had to order my Coco-Loco for me.  [I just did a Google search for SWIM-UP BARS  - and - oh my goodness, there are so many now!] 

Same situation with water parks - all done deaf - even though I was the parent, and needed to supervise my children.  The roles were reversed as my family members kept an eye out for me, knowing I wouldn't be able to hear safety alerts, instructions, or anyone talking to me.

We did river rafting in Israel as well - down the Jordan River.  I watched the scenery, but couldn't hear anything our guide was telling us.  I think they filled me in later, but that wasn't quite the same.  On a return trip to Israel, I opted out of that Jordan River rafting activity, and chose instead to go to what looked like an oasis - or the Garden of Eden, for sure.  Natural pools that had been enhanced with waterfalls, for a unique water experience, along with picnic facilities.  I put my feet in the water, but kept my CI processor on.  I was the one who held everyone's belongings, and watched as they enjoyed this incredible experience. 

We once had an opportunity to go wading under waterfalls in Pennsylvania, but skipped it.  We just didn't want to do another "deaf while wet" activity. 

And hot tubs also didn't beckon enough for me to remove my CIs.  Water aerobics classes were out too - not worth bothering with.  The more I heard with my CIs, the less I wanted to trade hearing for wetness, no matter how much fun it might seem to be - it wasn't fun if I couldn't hear.  So even if I was by a pool, I didn't even bother putting on a swimsuit anymore - less vulnerable to being tossed in the water - so I felt safer that way as well.

We took some cruises - with the obligatory safety drills. I was delighted to be able to hear most of the instructions with my CIs on, something I couldn't do when I only had hearing aids.  But in the back of my mind was the reality of my situation if the ship actually did have to be evacuated.  This week's tragic news about the Italian cruise ship sinking made me think of this again.

So now, I'm reflecting on all these experiences - 40 years of not hearing when I was wet - and the decisions on whether to do an activity anyway, even if it meant experiencing that isolating silence.  I don't think people with normal hearing understand fully the impact of this breakthrough - a device that will allow a deaf person to hear in the water.  Like everything else having to do with hearing loss, the silence is invisible - and no one thinks about it until they've confronted it themselves.

Now, with this new Neptune processor available, it's beginning to dawn on me - I can do all this wet stuff and hear too?   Yes.


  1. Thank you Arlene for once again having a very informative blog posting!

  2. Arlene, I sort of convinced myself that I only spend a small portion of my life in the water. But those times are supposed to be the fun ones that you mention - at the beach, rafting, water parks, etc. Thinking back, I did the same as you. Either my hardware was off and I splashed around while everybody else had lots of fun, or I kept my gear on, and was able to hear, but only watch others enjoy the day.

    Darn. Now I want not one, but two Neptunes!

  3. My daughter has the N5 which is water resistant. We do allow her to bathe with it and go into the swimming pool, but she just can’t submerge it. The day will come (real soon) though when she will be old enough to swim under water and I think about all of that stuff pretty often, especially during the summer months. I’m very happy that they are coming out with waterproof implants!!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love swimming and going to water parks too much to ever be deterred from participating in spite of the silence. But I'm glad this long awaited breakthrough means banishing the silence while wet forever! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. I just love the idea that we (Advanced Bionics users) can literally do whatever on earth we want to do and still hear! I spent over 30 years in silence and also passed up on many water related activities. I went water skiing once and was deaf, they "called out to me" to watch for a wave kicked up by another boat. Of course I didn't hear it and ended up 6 feet in the air with the skis crashing on top of me. Never again!

    Great article Arlene!