Well, this is a tough question for me since I've lived far more years with a cochlear implant (CI) than without.
In 1991, I was one of the first 500 children to get a CI after FDA approval of pediatric CIs. I was 6 years old.
A few months prior, my mother had asked me if I wanted to hear. I said yes at once since I wanted to know what the fuss was all about. As my mom explained the operation to me, I got this sense that it'd be magic. (OK, I wasn't a bright 6-year-old.)
Well, the magic consisted of me being wheeled into an overbright operating room, chilly from only wearing a thin gown. A few moments later, someone put a mask up to my face. The sour, musky gas put me to sleep almost immediately.
I woke up a few hours later with a huge bandage around my head. I stayed in a hospital in New York City (my family was in upstate New York) having a great time with other patients. I stayed home for more than a month, since back then, the incisions were rather large and kept bleeding.
When I turned on the implant about a month and half after surgery, I ran down the hall, screaming. I expected that I would be able to hear instantaneously. That proved not to be the case.
You see, if you never heard before, any unfamiliar sensation feels like pain. I stood at the end of the hallway, half-aghast, half-sobbing since all I felt was pain, and I didn't hear anything.
A few hours later, I heard my first sound—at least what I thought was sound—a motorcycle starting on the street outside of the hospital. I was not impressed.
It took me two years of speech therapy to follow a simple spoken sentence. It took me another two or three years to speak intelligibly. Another few years passed before I was confident enough to speak in public. Altogether, I underwent 10 years of speech therapy (daily sessions for the first few years, and then it petered out to weekly sessions once I was 13). If a child gets an implant quite young, such as at age 1, the process is far easier than it was for me.
I remember the first thing I ordered just using my voice. It was a soft-serve ice cream cone at Wendy's at a mall near my house. I was so proud of myself, seeing my hard work pay off (an added bonus was that I paid for the ice cream with my own money). I was around 9 and that, to this day, was the best ice cream cone that I've ever had.
Today, 22 years later, I use spoken English as my primary mode of communication in everyday things. I still use ASL whenever I chance upon a deaf person. I have, however, stayed mostly within the hearing world in the last few years.
Sometimes, I think back to one of the questions that I asked my mom before I got my CI. I asked her if I would be deaf or hearing. She told me that I'd be both. I don't think that's true. I'm neither deaf nor hearing. I don't sign as often anymore, but I don't speak or hear well enough to be like hearing people.
Getting a CI changed the course of my life. Before I had the CI, I was well on my way on becoming an integral, perhaps a little isolationist, member of the deaf community. I used only ASL and didn't speak a word. Left to my own devices, I probably would've gone to a deaf college, not a hearing college. Who knows where I would be today?
Not much changed immediately after my CI surgery. I still went to the deaf program in my district. I still used ASL every day. Over the years, things changed. my deaf friends, who were my closest friends, started to make fun of me and my CI, calling me a "robot" and "freak." All of this took place during the height of deaf opposition to CIs in children. Even though today, I get very few comments, I still remember how lonely these taunts made me feel. From the age of 8, I felt very much alone. Fortunately, this doesn't happen as often within the deaf community anymore, but I got some of the worst of the backlash.
Sometimes, despite myself, I miss these silent years. I'll spend a day (a day when I don't really need to interact with anyone hearing) with my CI off and luxuriate in the silence. After a while, the real world intervenes and I turn my CI back on.
So, to answer your question, getting a CI changed my life for the better and for the worse. Worlds of opportunities opened up for me, but I lost an identity.
More questions on deafness:
TODAY IN SLATE
The Democrats’ War at Home
How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best
Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke
A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking
Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10
Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.
How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.
You Deserve a Pre-cation
The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.