05 Aug Richard Pocker
Totally deaf for 35 years, Richard received bilateral cochlear implant surgery just prior to his 65th birthday. He went from zero speech comprehension to 85% with time and effort at rehabilitation. He was implanted with two Cochlear implants and activated with two Cochlear Nucleus 6 (which he later upgraded to Nucleus 7 external processors.
Only to prove that long term deafness does not necessarily result in poor results of getting a cochlear implant. Today he enjoys socializing, using the telephone (something he was unable to do for 35 years) and hanging out in the local vinyl record store, Daddy-O’s.
Voiceover: Cochlear Implant Basics is a site for candidates, recipients, and their families and friends.
If you or a loved one is profoundly hard of hearing, newly deaf, or have experienced sudden hearing loss, we are here to share our stories and tell how receiving a cochlear implant can be a life changing event. This site is not medical advice, nor is it brand specific.
Voiceover: Within these podcasts and videos, you will meet recipients who faced hearing loss situations and hearing aids could no longer provide comprehension of speech or music. They share the stories of how they loss their hearing, their struggles with growing isolation from their family and friends, their inability to compete in the world of business, their difficulties of navigating air travel without hearing, how the joy of music disappeared, and the panic of not being able to use a telephone to contact 911 to get aid for a loved one. They will talk about their fears and the reason they procrastinated to get a cochlear implant, and the reasons they moved forward. How receiving a cochlear implant changed their lives, and the lives of those who surround them. You will meet audiologists and surgeons, and those who support the deaf and hard of hearing communities.
Voiceover: Welcome to Cochlear Implant Basics. Reminder, Cochlear Implant Basics is not offering medical advice. Please consult your own healthcare provider.
Richard: When I was five years old, I had a bout of scarlet fever. Either the fever or the medication resulted in a progressive hearing loss. I was a hearing aid user from the age of seven. I went from a single-side hearing aid to bilateral, and then I experienced a total loss of both ears when I was 30. It was catastrophic and devastating. I spent the next 35 years in complete silence. I developed coping mechanisms, but it was exhausting. Just before my 65th birthday, I received bilateral cochlear implant surgery. Bilateral surgery is rare, but I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I progressed from zero speech comprehension, to 85% with listening practice.
Richard: Within this interview, I have to tell you that the terms of implant and the processor are used interchangeably. It’s a common error among people talking about their cochlear implants. The implant is surgically implanted, and the processor is what’s on the outside. It’s changed as technology changes. I talk about my hearing loss, why I waited so long to get a cochlear implant, and my experiences once I was activated. This is my story.
Richard: My name is Richard Pocker and we’re in Osprey, Florida at Daddy O’s Record store. One of my favorite places in Florida. And today is May 31st, 2019.
Chris: Let’s talk a little bit about your hearing loss. Richard: Sure.
Chris: Tell me, was it health issues?
Richard: Basically, I had scarlet fever when I was five, and they never knew if the loss was caused by the medication or whether it was caused by the scarlet fever itself. It’s never been
determined, but I had a loss for about two or three years. My parents noticed something was wrong by the time I was seven, so I went through a whole process and evaluation, and I was set up with a hearing aid. It was a big box with a wire running up to my head, and that’s how it started. I wore hearing aids for thirty years.
Chris: Had your family had any history of hearing loss?
Richard: There was absolutely none. There was no background, my sister’s fine, there’s no hearing loss on either side of the family. So it was probably the disease or the medication. We’ll never know.
Chris: So when you were a kid, did you start wearing hearing aids then?
Richard: Well I wore the box hearing aids, and I was uncomfortable. It’s a very difficult thing to be a kid with this big thing sticking out of your ear and a box. It was difficult, but what could you do?
Chris: Were they effective?
Richard: They must have been, I mean it gave me some hearing. I could function in school, and I guess I could play sports but I just had to take it out. You couldn’t play sports with hearing aids in those days.
Chris: As you went into high school and college, how did you cope in those environments?
Richard: High school was difficult because my high school had a requirement for language. You had to take a foreign language, and I took French because my father insisted on French. At midterm, I had a 16 out of 100, and I already developed ulcers and the teacher scared the hell out of me, so I dropped it and I managed to get the high school to agree that mathematics would be a language. That’s how I got through. And when I got to college, I was already bilateral and my coping mechanism there was to be the best note taker of the textbooks. I could outline the textbooks like crazy and I always found the best note taker in every classroom, and by exchanging those notes I managed to graduate Cum laude. So it was difficult, but I did it. I got through.
Chris: So then there was the transition into the workplace, can you talk a little about the jobs you held?
Richard: Sure. I’m a third generation picture framer and art gallery, my grandfather started the business. So, I started working when I was 12. I knew the business very, very well.
There’s no question that the hearing handicap made it harder because customers don’t want to work with someone who’s not functioning fully, and somehow I got through that but I had total hearing loss when I was 30. I was riding up town on the bus after seeing a client, and my hearing in my right ear went. By the time I got to the end of the ride, there was no hearing in the right ear. And about a month later, my wife and I were in the movies and my left ear went.
Richard: It was just gone, that was like total loss. You couldn’t wear a hearing aid anymore, I passed the threshold and it was it. Fini. And you go through depression, and your family goes nuts, and my son was only about four years old at the time and he was putting together all of his toys trying to make an invention to help daddy get his hearing back. There’s no question, the support from the family was tremendous. I probably couldn’t have made it without it. So eventually, guess what? You get some therapy and you get over it. You move on, you can’t dwell in that forever.
Chris: So you could not use the telephone?
Richard: I could not use the telephone, I had to have people make calls for me. And when I lost my hearing, this is back around 1980, the fax machines were pretty new, and I had to make my suppliers buy fax machines. Back then, they were about $1000 a piece and the roll paper would curl up, so everybody was resentful. My overseas suppliers used Telex, and I’m probably the last living operator of a Western Union telex machine left. I had my own telex address just like Have Gun Will Travel, where you, wire, Paladin San Francisco, I had a telex address, which was wire Pock Frames New York, so I knew how to do that.
Richard: The computer and email was coming along, and they were a godsend, no question. But telephones were impossible. I tried TTY’s, the conversations were just impossible to do, so people had to make phone calls for me. I had 25 employees, I was growing my business, eventually I had seven locations. I had manufacturing, and guess what? You have to run three times harder than anybody else just to stay in place, but I did it.
Chris: So hearing loss was probably exhausting, just getting up in the morning-
Richard: Incredibly exhausting, incredibly exhausting. I would go home and just fall asleep on the living room floor. Matter of fact, I like to tell people that I was growing the art publishing business at the time. I had to do five to seven trade shows a year, and I had to do all lip reading. And the hardest ones in the world would be Atlanta, because I had to read that southern accent honey all day long, and I’d go back to my room and I would just cry and fall on the floor asleep. It was very exhausting.
Chris: Did you teach yourself to read lips, or did you ever take a-
Richard: It was something that came to me naturally. My mom took me to a speech therapist when I was very young, and Dr. Penn would teach me lip reading and he would also teach me enunciation. I still remember, he had these little paper balls he used to blow up from the Japanese stores, and you had to blow the ball across the table. He had his techniques, it was very good. That’s why I could speak, I could learn to speak. The problem about when you lose your hearing completely, you can’t regulate your voice. It was a problem because I had to watch facial cues to see if I was talking too loudly, or if people were leaning towards me I knew I was speaking too softly. It was impossible to regulate your voice that way. So, that was the problem of business when you’re deaf.
Chris: So as the years went on, you developed all these coping mechanisms, kind of creatively actually, but then along came the concept of a cochlear implant.
Richard: That was there, but back in the 80s it was very primitive. My love was music, and I knew back then, or at least I had the conception back then, that the cochlear implants were not made for music whatsoever and I was kind of waiting for science to catch up and find a cure for my deafness. I waited close to 30 years. I did not have a cochlear implant till just before my 65th birthday. I have to tell you, this is why I love this shop, because music’s come back 100%. I wear bilateral Cochlear implants, so all the sound is coming through them, and the music is just as natural as I remember when I was young.
Chris: You go to music performances?
Richard: I go to concerts. One of the great things about the implants I’m wearing, by Cochlear, the Nucleus 7, I have so many ways to adjust the sound. Originally, I was implanted with the Nucleus 6. The Nucleus 7 came out about a year and a half after that, and I paid for the upgrade and it was so worth it. The sound is so robust and so natural, so I can go to a concert and I have a way to adjust the sensitivity, or the base and the treble, I can adjust the direction that my sound is coming from, and it’s just incredible.
Chris: So that’s an interesting point, that you can get a certain type of processor but there’s no reason you can’t upgrade to the next technology,
Richard: That was the whole point, the reason why I chose Cochlear, is what’s on the inside stays there. You have one operation I’ve been told is good for 74 years, so my next operation is 2100, and the surgeon hasn’t been born yet. But the internal processor always stays the same. It’s the external processor, this is the Nucleus 7, as they upgrade, technology advances. It will always work with what’s inside of my head. In fact, I have one friend I met who was implanted ages ago, he’s now on his 5th generation of a cochlear implant. It just keeps going on, he just puts a new one on the outside.
Chris: So tell us a little bit about the day of the surgery.
Richard: The surgery was scary. I put it off for five months after I agreed to do it. Now, originally when I came to Florida, I saw the hearing aids at Costco and said maybe something’s improved in 30 years, so I have an appointment with them and I go get a hearing test, the guy says to me “You’re deaf as a post, there’s nothing we can do for you.” And it was a couple days later I was in the gym and I ran into somebody wearing a cochlear implant, so I asked them for some information. I went to see the clinic here, and yes of course I was qualified, but I was so scared I went for a second opinion and the second doctor said to me “Why don’t you do two of them at the same time?” I go “What? Are you out of your mind?” But, I went home and I thought about it, and the next day I said “fine, let’s go ahead and do two at once.”
Richard: Bilateral surgery is rare, but I was lucky enough to find the surgeon that was willing to do two at the same time, and my insurance company was willing to cover it. One of the things I did was before my 65th birthday, before I went on Medicare, I still had private insurance. Medicare would cover one at a time, but my private insurance took two at the same time.
Chris: Good call. How many days or weeks was it after that until you were activated?
Richard: I waited five weeks, usually people can wait three. I decided to do five because one thing when you get a cochlear implant I’d like to remind people, you are in charge. Don’t have to take the doctor or the audiologist’s word for anything. I mean they are the authority figure, but if you’re not feeling up to it, just delay it. Do whatever you have to, make sure you’re in charge of the whole process.
Chris: That’s good advice. So how has the cochlear implant changed your life?
Richard: Without a cochlear implant … matter of fact I was at a party the other week. We’re at long tables with people and somebody asked me about them, and I said “Well I was deaf for 35 years, I only got my hearing back three years ago.” So they say “Wow, what would you have done before the coch-?” I said “I wouldn’t be sitting here.” Part of a hearing loss is the isolation you go through. Now, when I lost all my hearing yes, there were some friends fell by the wayside. They did not want to put up with hearing loss, they did not want to have to put up with talking to me in a special way or whatever. And that hurt, but you find out who your friends are.
Richard: Fortunately, as a guy, I thought about it for a long time, and men are pretty stupid. We just grunt at one another, we don’t really talk, so I figured out “Look, I’ll become a sportsman because there’s only two phrases that men really use, which is “nice shot”, “big fish”, and the rest is just grunting.” So I became a sportsman as a result of that.
That’s how I socialized for all those years. But now, I’ll talk to anybody. Any bum on the street, I’m yours, lets talk.
Chris: Do you regret that you waited that long to have one?
Richard: Absolutely. And you know what, it’s not uncommon because I’ve been to meetings where the leader of the meeting will have 100 people in the room and he’ll say “Who regrets getting a cochlear implant?” And not a single arm will go up. And then he’ll say “Well who regrets not having it done sooner?” And a hundred hands go up right away. So yes, waiting is not really a great option. Sometimes you have to wait for the technology to catch up with you, and right now the technology is spectacular. What the future brings, there’s no way to predict. But I’ve kind of thought our time on earth is limited, and take advantage of it because you don’t get a second chance. One around is all you get, and I finally woke up one day and said “Fine. This is great, this is what I’m doing.”
Chris: So what are the features you like best about the company that you chose and the model you chose?
Richard: Well, originally when I chose the N6, it was state of the art. The N7 pairs with an iPhone.
So I have my iPhone, if the phone rings, I click it, and the sound goes right to my processor. I listen to Intranet Radio on my iPhone. When you’re listening to Intranet Radio on the iPhone, it’s stereo. They have other accessories called the Mini Mic, the TV Streamer, those will come in mono], but it sends the sound right to your head. Now, all
the companies have some kind of accessory to help you do that. What I love about my Cochlear Mini Mic is if I go to a big dinner, there are 200 people in the room, I take the Mini Mic, put it on my table with 10 people sitting around, and the sound will come right to my processor. Which means I have the best hearing in the house. People are always turning to me saying “What did they say? What did they say?” I’m the deaf guy in the house, and they’re asking me what’s going on. So this is kind of cool.
Chris: What kind of features would you like to see in the future for cochlear implants?
Richard: I’ve thought about this a lot. Guess what? I can’t even foresee something better right now. I know that everybody gets a slightly different experience out of this because some people say the battery will them a day, the battery will last them nine hours. It’s based on what we call the MAP. It’s the programming, the individual programming. One thing I like to remind people, no two hearing losses are exactly the same. They’re all different, and no two solutions are exactly the same. The Cochlear is able to modify and adjust to the individual, and that’s what’s very important to me.
Chris: So, how about music now?
Richard: That’s why I’m here. I was afraid in the beginning that it would sound mechanical. No question, the cochlear implants were developed for speech first. Music takes a little more time. But the reason I like to come back to a vinyl, I can differentiate the difference between the clear sound of a CD, and the warm sound of a vinyl. And that’s just unbelievable to me. I started studying languages, I started studying Latin, and with my Cochlear I can differentiate the different sounds between a sound of b-u and p-u, I can hear the differences. What more could you ask for? So, I love coming here, I love collecting vinyl records again.
Chris: What are your favorite artists or groups?
Richard: Any jazz, I love jazz. Now, I have to tell you, when I first started listening to music my taste would change. Listening to the songs I remember from the 60s and 70s did not sound right. I had to develop a technique for rehabilitation, and I found that listening to YouTube videos, with the words, your brain and the music start to kick together. Some people take a year or more to hear music properly, I probably took six months. When you’re rehabilitating, you have to work at it. There’s no question, this is not a magic bullet, This is something that requires rehabilitation, but it’s pleasurable.
Chris: Can you do it at home?
Richard: Yeah, oh yes. Matter of fact, of all the people I’ve mentored, a lot of people live alone and I had to develop a rehabilitation system for them to work on their own, and it’s fine. They get their hearing back.
Chris: You mentioned insurance. Do most people find that they’ll be able to get coverage?
Richard: Most people do, even if you’re on Medicare, because I’ve mentored people up to the age of 86 and they’re on Medicare. Medicare will pay for one at a time, so even if you qualify for two you might have to go for your second one in six months or a year later, but that’s part of it. Insurance companies cover by and large. Even if the insurance company says no, no does not mean no. One thing the Cochlear will do, they have a department that will fight for you, so it’s fine.
Chris: So what goals do you now have since you’re able to hear? Richard: I want to become a rock ‘n’ roll star.
Chris: Any advice for other people?
Richard: Don’t wait. I’m telling you, if you’re on the fence there are so many people who are out there to talk to about their experience, and yes I understand the fear. I understand the fear very, very well. But, keep your eye on the prize of restored hearing, get out of isolation. I know you’re in isolation from your family, from your friends, if you have problems with business, there’s a solution for you. So, that’s what I’d tell them.
Chris: Thank you very much.