This is a repost from Dr. Henry Adler’s blog, The Eagle Ear, where he chronicles his career and deafness. ‘Cochlear implants are not my thing… yet‘ was originally posted at The Eagle Ear on November 29, 2020.
I was a graduate student at Dr. James Saunders’ laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, the laboratory focused on both the structural and functional aspects of hearing loss and recovery in chickens. The laboratory had other research interests such as the structural aspects of middle ear bone development in small mammals, but that’s beside the point.
I was the first deaf graduate student at UPenn’s own Biomedical Graduate Group – I entered there with an undeclared major in the fall of 1989. My initial plan was to major in pathology but I eventually got my doctorate in Neuroscience. That’s been already explained in an earlier blog (Why I chose Neuroscience over Marine Biology – August 17, 2020).
It was an unusual time for me and anyone involved in inner ear research for different reasons.
As for me, I was probably one of very few scientists with a congenital hearing loss, perhaps the first deaf scientist who attended any meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO). Yes, there had been a few others with hearing loss who had attended such a meeting, but none of them was born with a hearing loss or had hearing loss at an early age.
As for other ARO members, well, many, if not all, of them had originally focused on helping ameliorate the effects of hearing loss on everyday life. Such focus had involved learning how to treat or even cure hearing loss. When they either met or heard about me, they’d say, “Whoa!” They must’ve been struck by the possibility that maybe a deaf individual might want not only to learn about the functional and structural aspects of hearing loss in all animals including human beings but also to consider treatment for his own hearing loss so that he could fit better into the Hearing Research community.
Well, as I described in an early blog (‘You have a bad attitude’ – August 17, 2022), the answer is no.
For several years when I was at Jim’s laboratory, I had worked with him, fellow graduate students, medical students doing rotations, residents in otolaryngology and other visiting scientists. Some, if not all, had tried to pressure me into having a cochlear implant, either seriously or in a fun way. I always brushed them off.
Nearing the end of my graduate studies, I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation. Naturally, I was under immense pressure to finish it off before my dissertation defense, but I also was able to relax a bit when I could take a few moments to do so. One of them took place at the laboratory when I believe we all had a lunch break, maybe for a pizza or dessert break. Jim and all his graduate students were chatting back and forth, and of course I couldn’t grasp all of what they were talking about. Somehow, Jim commented something about cochlear implants, and I finally blew up on him. Jim realized how serious I was about not having a cochlear implant, even though the point he was making was not about my decision not to have a cochlear implant but was made in general. But at that time, I thought he was talking about me. Hence the loss of my temper.
A few weeks later when it was time to orally present and defend my dissertation, my parents and my fiancée Denise came to watch me. I was nervous as hell – I was rather confident with my approach to present my work but had little, if any, preparation to answer audience questions for several reasons.
One reason is I didn’t participate much in group discussions about hearing research in general – participants would talk back and forth, and sign language interpreters would try to capture what they were discussing. Unfortunately they weren’t always successful because they themselves weren’t scientifically proficient. Another reason is that Jim and/or my fellow graduate students either didn’t have time and/or didn’t know how to prepare me for any question-and-answer sessions. Even though one of my fellow graduate students had deaf parents, he himself was a very quiet individual. Most of the time, no sign language interpreters or any other accommodations were available at the laboratory. So, it was OK for me to sit back and let them talk without my having to participate. No wonder that at least one of my fellow graduate students had felt (and even expressed) that I had been a lazy student.
Let’s go back to my lack of cochlear implantation during my graduate studies. When I barely passed my dissertation defense (I thought I didn’t pass it, but I wasn’t the only graduate student who had felt that way), we had a lab party. During the party, Jim had told my parents that I would not be a good candidate for cochlear implantation. He might have based his conclusion on his interactions with me, including my blow-up a few weeks back then.
Several days, months or years later (I don’t remember exactly when), my parents told me about Jim’s mention of my not being a good candidate for cochlear implantation. At first, I said OK. Later on, when my parents read my blog (that is, You have a bad attitude), they reminded me of Jim’s assessment of my candidacy.
Now, only after I had kept (and still keep) hearing from my peers with hearing loss who now wear cochlear implants and are doing well, career-wise, as well as had seen how well my wife Denise is doing with her own cochlear implant, I realize that the lack of candidacy was based on my attitude on cochlear implantation. It’s not because I’m against cochlear implantation, but because comments from people with whom I’m friendly or in a close relationship have stiffened my resistance against having my own cochlear implant. Plus, I just have had too many things on my mind, and I don’t want cochlear implants, followed by therapy, to take time away from things I want or need to do.
Biography of Henry J. Adler: I am a Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Hearing and Deafness at the University at Buffalo. I do research on several fields of Hearing Science — they include (but are not limited to) hearing loss, hyperacusis, and tinnitus, as well as inner ear injury, protection, and repair. I have been involved in Hearing Research since the early 1990s when I was a graduate student at the Biomedical Graduate Group at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). I have been profoundly deaf since birth and started wearing hearing aids AND speech therapy when I was 15 months old. I went to the Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights, NY and then was mainstreamed into the NYC Public School System, which culminated with my entrance into Bronx High School of Science. Afterwards, I matriculated at Harvard University, majoring in biology, and worked as a research technician at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for two years before entering UPenn. Within a year after my college graduation, I began to interact with Deaf people and eventually became adept in American Sign Language. So, I’m not limiting myself to just spoken and sign languages but I aim to maximize my efforts to obtain as much information as I can at both personal and professional levels. You can learn about my perspectives on the effects of hearing loss on both personal and professional lives of mine via the-eagle-ear.com.