By Paula Walter
Doctor Joe Ray has struggled with hearing issues for many years. In fact, he failed the hearing test three times when he joined the Air Force. He wasn’t sure what caused the hearing loss, but he did recall running a jackhammer one summer in his youth.
“I didn’t realize I had a hearing problem until I started square dancing at 58,” Ray stated. “Now at 66, I noticed I had trouble understanding the calls. I would ask them to turn down the music and to repeat calls.” According to Ray, his hearing issues were one of the reasons he retired from dental practice at 61. “I didn’t want my hearing loss to impact my profession,” he stated.
According to Ray, he decided to go a different route when he considered hearing aids. He needed a device that could help him understand speech more clearly.
Ray’s hearing tests showed he only had hearing of eight percent in his left year and seven percent in his right year. “Hearing becomes a problem after hearing loss gets to 60 percent,” Ray stated.
After consulting with his doctors, Ray decided to go the route of a cochlear implant. It is a small electronic device that offers a different option when hearing aids do not offer the accuracy needed to understand speech.
According to Ray, Medicare does not pay for a cochlear implant until the hearing loss registers at less than 30 percent. In Ray’s case, he needed assistance for speech interpretation. “I could hear low frequencies,” he stated. “A woman’s voice is harder to understand than a man’s.”
After doing some research online on different hearing aids and what they offered, Ray decided to take it one step further and he made the trip from Mountain City to Asheville, North Carolina, to see doctors that specialized in cochlear implants. On August 28th, he received an implant in one ear. Ray explained the implant as a wire wrapped around the auditory nerve.
“You lose your natural hearing,” Ray stated. “It replaces your natural hearing. It takes about three months before you can notice a difference. I can hear better already. Basically, I had to learn how to listen again.”
Typical side effects from the procedure include some dizziness for up to two days, but basically patients should feel fairly normal and recover quickly. During Ray’s surgery, there were some complications with the wire. Ray had a slower than expected recovery and had to lay completely still, with his eyes shut to regain his balance. According to Ray, it takes time for the brain to adjust if there is dizziness.
“It takes awhile,” he continued. “It’s not for the faint of heart. You need to be a determined sort of individual.” According to Ray, he is currently hearing sounds he hadn’t heard in a long time. ”I can hear the sound of leaves rustling,” he said.
Ray explained that Medicare would cover the surgery if your speech were impacted. According to Ray, if you have Plan F as supplemental insurance, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $50 to $100 out of pocket. The cost for the equipment, testing and operation is approximately $100,000.
According to Ray, overall he is glad he had the surgery. “I am hearing sound I haven’t heard before, he said. I had to quit doing things because I couldn’t hear.” In just a few weeks, the processor should be turned on, and within three months, Ray expects he should be hearing pretty well.
According to Ray, if you are considering surgery, read about cochlear implants and any side effects. “It’s a process to learn to hear again,” he stated. “The closest way to explain how I hear right now is to compare the people’s voices to a tracheotomy patient.” The brain has to adjust to where his hearing becomes the new normal. “It’s a whole lot better to where I was before the operation,” he said.
“Do your due diligence,” Ray advised. “It can be a life changing event.”