Sound and Silence
"Of all people," he writes, "I should have had the least difficulty believing that these kids could hear, because I had the same circuitry buzzing in my head as they did. And yet I found it almost impossibly hard to accept. I spoke to them, their processors pumped a megabit of data per second into their heads, and they said something reasonable back. It staggered me. I kept testing them in little ways, verifying over and over again that they really were hearing me. For me, learning to hear again was an intensely conscious act. But they were just doing it. I knew, in theory, what was going on inside their little heads: vast spidery afferentiations and differentiations of dendrites as their brains developed explosively in adaptation to the input. The technology was molding them in its own image. . . .
"To me the implant was an alien imposition made in adult life, grafted onto an underdeveloped auditory cortex formed in response to 1960s-era hearing aids. But the implant was all they had ever known, and their brains, still young, still hyperplastic, would make more use of its data stream than mine ever would."
Chorost's descriptions were at once comforting and disturbing. I took comfort from knowing that Geneva's brain was still young and could thus make maximum use of the technology. I couldn't help but feel uneasy, however, with the device "molding [her] in its own image." I couldn't help but feel disturbed by her becoming part machine.
As the date of Geneva's surgery drew closer, I also felt that something very special was coming to an end. Geneva would not remember a time when she didn't know what sound was. (Even today, six months postsurgery, that still makes me sad.) On the night before the operation, I jotted down my thoughts:
In some ways, I want to get the surgery over and done with. But mostly, I'm just weary that the point of no return has come. Tomorrow I will surrender my perfect child to the kind folks at CHaD [the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth]. I'll hand her over like I'm presenting her for some tribal ritual. I'll voluntarily allow her
I took comfort from knowing that Geneva's brain was still young and could thus make maximum use of the technology. I couldn't help but feel uneasy, however, with the device "molding [her] in its own image." I couldn't help but feel disturbed by her becoming part machine.
head to be cut into, drilled into, and allow a foreign device to be threaded into her tiny inner ear. What a strange feeling that is.
She will not remember a time when she didn't know what sound is. She will still be deaf. Yes, I know this. This is what I have been told, and this is what I tell others. "She can just take off the external parts if she doesn't want to hear," I say. All that is true, but deep inside I know that tomorrow she will be transformed. We'll leave a piece of her deafness behind.
My husband, a scientist through and
through (he teaches middle-school science), saw the cochlear implant in more pragmatic terms. Geneva can't hear; she has a disability, like poor eyesight or a missing limb; and there is a technology that can fix the problem, he reasoned. Don't get me wrong—Christian was nervous about the surgery, too, but not