Cochlear implant leads to new sounds — and book

Longtime Rapp resident Bruce Sloane writes about his hearing loss in his new book

By Roxie Beebe-Center
Special to the Rappahannock News

So much of the country experience is auditory; the mechanical hum of spring peepers, the soft chewing of grazing cows, the tinny whistle of autumn wind. We take for granted the quiet flutter of a robin’s wings and the sound of silence that often clouds the obscured hollows of Rappahannock.

Could you imagine hearing only muffled, incomprehensible snippets of sound?

Such was the experience of Bruce Sloane, a Rappahannock resident, who writes about his hearing loss in his new book, “An Octogenarian’s Cochlear Implant Journey.”

Bruce Sloane relaxes with his cat at his Rappahannock home, where he’s able to hear much more these days. By Roxie Beebe-Center

It started over 30 years ago when Sloane reported to an ENT a constant ringing in his ears. A few years later, he received his first pair of hearing aids. Then, three years ago, his audiologist approached him with the idea of getting a cochlear implant. After some indecision, he went through the tedious process of applying, and, a few months later, underwent surgery.

A cochlear implant imitates the function of the inner ear, known as the cochlea. The implant does the job of the damaged sensory ear hairs inside the cochlea that convert sound waves into neurological impulses.

With an implant, the sound is picked up by microphones on the sound processor. The sound processor converts the sound into digital information, which then travels through the coil to the implant sitting just under the skin. The transmitter and receiver change the information into electric impulses. The implant transfers these to the cochlea, which sends signals to the brain, so the sound can be heard. In a sense, the cochlear implant is a mechanical bypass around the damaged ear.

Sloane is not alone in his hearing struggles. A staggering 50 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. 1 in 3 seniors, typically men, experience some form of hearing loss.

Less than 10 percent of those eligible for a cochlear implant get one. But 89 percent of patients who receive the implants are satisfied. That’s why Sloane put pen to paper and wrote this book.

Sloane is not new to the writing scene. He studied geology at Montana State University, where he met his wife Joy, then a transfer student from the University of Virginia. He published several books on geology, such as “Cavers, Caves, and Caving.” He also wrote multiple guidebooks. Sloane and Joy spent much time driving down scenic roads in Virginia, West Virginia, and New Hampshire with maps and pens doing research. For a short time, Sloane was also the editor of this county’s own Rappahannock News.

A published author, Bruce Sloane has written both about old Rappahannock County and now his cochlear implant journey. By Roxie Beebe-Center

He was a technical writer for Digital Equipment Corporation, writing assembly guides and directions for computers. Not the compact laptops of today, but the colossal, room-sized computers that hulked over the technicians of the past.

A few years ago, he published “Tales of Shirt Tail Hollow,” based loosely on the days of Joy’s childhood, although aspects of other stories and newer characters have been incorporated. Both the tales and cochlear implant story were self-published on Amazon, but are now available in paperback.

Although Shirt Tail Hollow is predominantly McMansions and large farms nowadays, “Tales of Shirt Tail Hollow” harkens back to the days when the water didn’t come from a tap, but from a creek on the land of Shenandoah National Park, which sent Joy and her mother a bill each year for the water collected. When laundry was washed in the stream, and practically no one had cars. Since cars weren’t common, in order to get groceries, a neighbor would collect the orders of friends and make the trek to The Corner Store.

As Sloane puts it, Joy and her mother were the original weekenders.

“She’s been telling me all kinds of stories about what it was like to grow up here in Rappahannock County in the 1950s and 1960s. And I started writing them down. . . . Joy’s mother was a teacher in Alexandria and she bought this place in the 50s and they started coming out here on weekends and summers. They were really the first tourists that came out to Shirt Tail Hollow.”

Now, with the help of the implant, Sloane can hear the birds, the crickets, and the gentle sounds of nature. But most important, he can hear the lovely voice of his wife, Joy as she tells him stories of her childhood.

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