Many deaf people won't get implants to restore their hearing, but Marcy Wagenberg is glad she did

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“I was adopted by a very nice couple. When I was a baby, they noticed I wasn’t responding to sounds, and they took me to Michael Reese Hospital. They fitted me with hearing aids in my left ear—my left ear was better than my right. My parents decided to send me to a regular school, and I grew up lip-reading. In February of ’97, I lost most of my residual hearing in my left ear. I was pretty much deaf for almost two years. I became very withdrawn. I wasn’t socially active. It was hard. Eight hours a day, I was trying to lip-read everybody at work, and then I’m gonna go out again at night and try to lip-read people?

“I looked into cochlear implants, and I thought, ‘I need to try this.’ I went to a doctor in Oak Brook. He talked to my parents instead of me, and I didn’t like that. So I asked for a second opinion. I went to the University of Iowa and talked to a doctor there. He was much more outgoing. He said, ‘I don’t need to see your parents; you’re the patient.’

“I had my surgery in November of ’98. A month later, I could hear. At first it was a little overwhelming, because I hadn’t heard anything for two years. It took a while for my brain to relearn all the sounds.

“Ten years later, I got a second implant. It was a hard decision, because I thought I was doing fine. My dad was like, ‘You’re young, you’re healthy, you have medical insurance, do it.’ I’m glad I did. Because I do get more sounds. When I walk my dog, I can tell where the birds are, I can tell whether there’s a bicycle on my left or my right. In conversations, I don’t have to tilt my head—I can just face them normally.

“There are some controversies about cochlear implants among people who grew up deaf. The deaf culture really believes that there’s nothing wrong with them, there’s nothing to fix. I respect their point of view, but I think they’re missing out on a lot of things. But you have to see it from their perspective too.

“I’m in between jobs. My last job, I was a manager at Crate & Barrel on Michigan Avenue. I never thought I would go into retail with my hearing loss, but I did very well. The only thing I had problems with was phones. For some people with implants, phones are easy. For me, it’s a little uncomfortable. I’m thinking more of an office job, but I’m afraid of telephones. It’s been difficult. There’s got to be something out there for me.