The Perfume of Sound
Jonathan Carroll

Beautifully written. You’ve reminded me of a very tragic, yet special time in my life … in my family’s life. You’ve stirred up the miracle of sound.

My daughter is deaf. Actually, the politically correct term is hearing impaired. She wasn’t born deaf. She lost her hearing when she was about sixteen months old and she had already started talking a little before she lost it. I was the first to notice that something was clearly wrong, but everyone dismissed my concerns. I would pick her up from day care and call out her name, but she would not turn when she heard my voice.

“Oh, she’s just so busy playing and having such a good time.” The teacher said.

But, if she saw me when I entered the room and called her name, her face lit up and she toppled across the room, arms outstretched as wide as her beaming smile. She leaped the last few steps and lunged into my arms.

My husband would say, “Blake come into the kitchen.”

Oh she padded into the kitchen, but that’s not what she heard. You see, we spoil our dogs and for treats we feed them that processed chicken that comes in singles packaged for like fifty cents. So she headed to the refrigerator, opened it and yanked out a package of dog treats. She crouched, her little booty sagging on the tiled floor and with one hand she slapped her knees while calling out for the doggies to come get their treats.

My husband’s confused look baffled her. Surely daddy had just told her to get “The chicken.” Hadn’t he?

“Kitchen.” “Chicken.” Easily confused for a kid whose hearing is on its way out.

There were many more episodes like this, but we finally convinced enough doctors that our child who once spoke articulately for a toddler, and who could still speak pretty damn well, that she could not hear. Months later, we learned the sad truth that she had bilateral, sloping, progressive hearing loss. We were given a list of the “Whispy sounds … letters and sounds she would lose next.

Sure enough. The dog’s name Maggie, went to Maddie. Aunt Teal became Aunt Keel. It broke my heart each time a new letter or sound evaporated from her vocabulary.

Six months later we took the plunge and my daughter had surgery for a cochlear implant to be implanted inside her brain. There were absolutely no guarantees. In order for the implant to even work, the ear must have at least one working nerve cell. We already knew her hearing loss was nerve cell damage and there is no test to determine beforehand if there is a working nerve cell. The down side to the implant surgery is that the patient will lose all residual hearing in order to be implanted. If it works, you are among the lucky who may one day be blessed with the miracle of sound. The sound is not like how you and I here, but it’s sound. It allows a non hearing person to hear. That’s a miracle in my book.

So, we had the surgery. I suited up in my space suit — I kid you not, with the headgear helmet and all. They don’t fool around when operating on the brain. I guess I knew so much about the amount of phentanyl she needed and other meds to calm her in the pre-op room that the surgical team (we were out of state) mistakenly assumed I was a doctor. I never claimed to be one. So they offered to allow me to sit in on my kid’s brain surgery. I almost made it. But the little brat dimed me out. The anesthesiologist even asked me if I wanted to administer the gas over her mouth and nose that would knock her out before they began the heavy duty sedation and intubated her.

“Bubble gum or Cherry flavor?” I asked as I approached my dopey kid, already high on Michael Jackson Juice.

“Mama, your not a Docta.” That’s how she talked. Like a little Cajun, but her hearing impairment really stressed some words like “Doctah” and she giggled.

“Mam. Are you a physician?”

“I’m not licensed in the state.” I answered which was not a lie. Of course I wasn’t licensed in any state.

They hauled me out of that O.R. So fast my space suit was spinning. Probably best I didn’t see my daughter have brain surgery.

The operation lasted a few hours. Recovery room was the worst. She refused to keep her head bandage on. Calm. Uh, no. Jumping on the bed that night. So they can’t turn the implant on right away. They have to wait several weeks for the brain swelling to go down. We had to go home and wait, and pray and wait.

Finally, our return trip to Dallas to turn it on and see it the operation worked. It did. But my little girl was so tired all she wanted to do was sleep on the car ride home. It was the 4th of July and we were headed straight to the country club for the Big Bang fireworks show.

On the ride home, Blake woke up screaming. Demanding we turn it down. It was too loud and hurting her ears. What the hell was she talking about. We didn’t have the radio on. She finally pointed to the air escaping from the vent.

“Dat daddy it’s doo loud.” Little sounds we take for granted everyday.

We arrived at the country club at dusk. You know the sound of the crickets and locusts and cicadas? Well Blake got out of the car, with her head on her daddy’s shoulder and then full of amazement, she heard those sounds and her head shot up toward the sky. She pointed at the moon the cupped her hand over her mouth like she’d discovered life on another planet.

“Dad. Look. Is dat whad da moon sound like?”

OMG, to this day I still cry thinking about that moment.

The following day it rained and she refused to come inside. She ran up and down the street.

“Here dat? Dat whad rain sound like?” Then she got such a kick out of splashing her rain boots in every rain puddle. “Here dat. Here dat”

It was like I was hearing for the first time.

Every single sound took on a new meaning and I began to appreciate sound like never before.

That night, I popped open a can of coke and she giggled and squirmed like I had done something so incredible. Then when she heard the bubbles fizz she went nuts.

“Why day do dat? What’s dat? Did day always make dat sound.” She began experimenting with coke cans and wondering why flat coke doesn’t fizz. She is in love with the sound of fizz and I’m in love with her.

I’m also in love with sound. We take it for granted everyday. I’m in my car right now with the window down, listening. I just heard the sound of a shopping buggy’s wheel grinding against the pebbled parking lot. I bet no one else in the entire lot paid attention to it.

My daughter’s hearing loss taught me to appreciate every sound and I’m always on the alert for sound. Eavesdropping. I guess you could call it that. I prefer to think I’m vigilant.

I enjoyed your post and loved all of the sounds you so obviously take the time to cherish and savor.