What difference has your cochlear implant made to your life?
Well, in a nutshell, I am no longer dependent on others. Since I was implanted, I have traveled all over the world, frequently on my own. I became so confident that I even went to Australia for nine months. I tried my best at learning the Finnish language, completed my accounting and marketing studies and then went on to do a Master’s degree. None of these would have been possible without my cochlear implant. In truth, I am incredibly dependent on my implant.
What inspired you to write He Is Not Me?
I actually started writing He Is Not Me more than ten years ago. Back then, there were very little – if any – accounts of cochlear implantation out there for people to read, and my original aim was to be among the first to write an account. The more I wrote, however, the more I remembered about what I call ‘the bad times’. These bad times were so harrowing that reliving what I thought I had forgotten made me put down the manuscript, sometimes for months at a time. What inspired me to carry on was the hope that, one day, my book would make just one person start the amazing journey I have been on since 2001.
Tell us more about where the name of the book came from.
The name of the book only came to light very recently, as I was nearing the end of my writing. My cochlear implantation has had such a profound effect on me that I no longer relate to the ‘old me’, and that is where the name of the book came from – he is not me. It’s really that simple.
Why is your story different?
Whilst I like to think that we are all different, many of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and those with cochlear implants will relate to different phases of the book, whether it be the bullying, being discriminated against, being in the care of an audiologist etc. As the book started to take shape, the common theme that emerged was that, without my family, I would not be where I am today. Without my parents fighting a system that tried to stick a label on me and confine me to the deaf world, I really would not be where I am today.
What do you hope readers gain from your story?
Different people will relate to the book at different stages. For example, I talk about the many healthcare professionals who ‘put me back together again’ – they will get a really in-depth account of what a cochlear implant recipient was thinking and feeling, things that rarely get spoken about during a thirty minute medical consultation. My biggest hope is that parents out there will learn that this technology exists, and realise that there are options for their child. Whilst it is their choice to decide what is best for their child, to be forewarned is to be forearmed, is it not? My parents are really my heroes, and this is apparent throughout the story. In fact, my own mother has written a foreword for He Is Not Me, and I think many mothers out there will relate to what she writes in her own words.
What do you think your parents’ advice would be to the parents of deaf children today?
I am laughing at this very question. In fact, I just called my parents and my mother answered the phone. I posed this question to her, and this is what she said: get lots of advice, do the research, but don’t delay. I guess this kind of ties in with the Author’s Message on the He Is Not Me website, in which I state that I honestly didn’t start living until I was twenty-three, the day I got my cochlear implant.
Are you considering bilateral implantation and, if so, what do you hope to gain?
I have considered bilateral implantation for a long time. It can be frustrating not knowing exactly where sound is coming from, but more importantly: I have nearly been run over twice as I have been unable to hear oncoming traffic. Indeed, I was run over once – and pushed – to the floor by a speed biker in London. I think he thought he was Lance Armstrong!
What technology or advancement would be a ‘dream come true’ for you in cochlear implants or the hearing industry?
I have had my cochlear implant for more than twelve years, and I am absolutely astounded by how durable it is. You would not expect a flat screen television, or a mobile telephone to function for that long, would you? To ask for more would sound ungrateful, almost disrespectful to the many people who work tirelessly on cochlear implant development. There has been talk about fully implantable systems, but to be honest, I like the idea of returning to the deaf world each night. But the minute I wake up, the sound processor is back on. For me, a life without sound isn’t a life at all.
Stuart McNaughton is a Manager of the Bionic Ear Association, sponsored by Advanced Bionics, and author of ‘He Is Not Me’. For more information, visit www.HeIsNotMe.com.