Surgery Prep: Reading Rebuilt by Michael Chorost

This is the last week I’ll be able to hear anything with my natural hearing.

The little sounds that I hear right now – loud noises, high pitched clangs, and distorted voices will no longer be here in a few days.

I’m going for a cochlear implant surgery. During this surgery, electrodes will be inserted into my cochlea like in the video in this post and will most likely kill all the nerves in there that allow me to hear.

If you’re just jumping onto the story, you might want to read about what happened to me this summer. In the middle of my birthday party, just after I spoke to some people on the phone, obtained clues by hearing numbers on a radio during an “escape room” game, and enjoying having my friends sing Happy Birthday to me, my most hearing vanished in a couple of minutes.

I freaked out, panicked, cried, under ate and under slept. In order to cope with his sudden hearing loss and understand what’s in store for me, I started to search for stories by others who have gone through the same thing. I met some people, joined a CI Facebook group, searched for articles and blogs, and read some books. I will definitely share some of these stories.

For those who are looking to read a book by someone who wrote about his CI experience, you can check out Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human by Michael Chorost.

Michael had just gotten off a plane and called a car rental place. While waiting for his car, he thought the hearing aid’s battery in his left ear was dying. So he changed it. Then he thought the her battery of the hearing aid he wore in his right ear was dying as well. So he changed that one too. But it didn’t help and was still hearing jibberish. That’s because his hearing aids weren’t broken – his ears were.

In Rebuilt, Michael talks about his journey to regaining his hearing by getting a cochlear implant, or as he refers to it, becoming a cyborg. He writes intellectually and at times scientifically and goes into vast details of how humans hear, how CIs work and what it means to him to become part computer. He ponders about the what it means to be human and to what extent machines can “improve” them.

He describes all his experiences in detail, from the surgery itself to what things sounded like after. He goes back to his childhood and describes living with a hearing loss at a young age. He talks about the difficulties he had while re-learning to hear in an interesting way – while observing how his brain is working. He even goes into the details of getting his life back on track after having gotten used to the CI, signing up for online dating sites and going on dates.*

Michael’s humorous storytelling skills compliments all the big intellectual questions. He got implanted in 2001, when the surgery procedure was much more invasive than it is now**, and when behind-the-ear processors were just starting to emerge.

His first processor looked something like this:

old CI
Older CIs were bulky – kind of like an old-school walkman

He wittingly describes the looks he got while wearing it, about the times when people would ask him if it was for music. He hilariously describes trying to put fridge magnets on his head*** and the time he gets intimate with a woman and had no clothes on to clip the processor to.****

This book highlights the power of neural plasticity and the brain’s ability to reconstruct a lost human sense. Reading about Michael’s experience from a “Cyborg” standpoint makes me wonder what kind of experience I’ll go through with the newer technologies.

Michael, if you are reading this – thank you for helping me prepare for my journey in living with an artificial sense, and hopefully, becoming more human!

* This is was in 2001 – these sites were probably much more decent then. No Tinder!
** I am so happy my scar will not be much bigger than two inches. They were at least twice as big back then.
*** OMG guess what I’m gonna try?!
**** I thought hearing aids were annoying. I will shut up.

Are there any cochlear implant-related books that you recommend? Drop me comment below or on my Facebook page.

You can learn more about Michael Chorost on his Website.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you so much for reading my book and writing about it, Kimberley. I enjoyed your blog entry and saw in an earlier posting that like me, you lost your hearing suddenly. Scary, huh? But it worked out very well for me in the end and you have all my best wishes. Certainly the technology has gotten better. My first processor actually looked like this: http://www.advancedbionics.com/us/en/products/processors/platinum_series_processor.html. The scar, thankfully, was only about an inch and a half long and healed up just like that. The surgeon barely even shaved any hair. And I’m happy to report that in the end, my online dating efforts worked out. I got married in 2010 and it’s been marvelous ever since. Thanks Kimberley and you have my very best wishes in your own upcoming adventure.

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  2. Hi Michael, thank you for reading and for your wishes! Yes, sudden hearing loss was very scary – when I read that that also happened to you I was so relieved! I had never heard (no pun intended) about this and wondered how often this happened to people. That first processor you had looks a little bit better than the one I posted. I’m happy to hear that you healed well and I wish you and your wife all the best! Hope to share more of my stories with you soon.

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