10 Oct Susanna Dussling
Resilience is an understatement when describing Susanna Dussling.
Suffering from a severe hearing loss, possibly from birth, once diagnosed, her parents took every measure to be sure she was mainstreamed in school.
The setbacks and triumphs of her hearing loss made Susanna develop a strong, independent personality. She needed it to survive in her personal life and in the world of business.
Her hearing declined and eventually she received a cochlear implant. She tells of how it changed her life.
An expert horse woman with a passion for show, her cochlear implant allows her to compete seamlessly and with aplomb.
Susanna as a child struggled with “deaf speech” but today thrives on presenting inspirational public speaking and training to organizations. Her theme is Bouncing Back with Susanna. Get ready for the ride of your life when Susanna tells of her hearing journey.
Susanna can be reached at http://www.susannamdussling.com/
Cochlear Implant Basics is a site for candidates and their families and friends. If you have been told you qualify for a cochlear implant, these podcast interviews tell how receiving a cochlear implant can be a life-changing experience. You will meet with recipients who face a hearing loss and that hearing aids could no longer provide comprehension of speech or music. They face growing isolation, inability to socialize or compete in the world of business. The joy of music disappeared. They explain how receiving a cochlear implant changed their lives. Welcome to Cochlear Implant Basics. A reminder, Cochlear Implant Basics is not sponsored by anyone, nor is it offering medical advice. Please consult your own healthcare provider.
Okay. Good morning. We have an interview this morning with a very unusual cochlear implant recipient. Would you please state your name, where you are and what today’s date is?
Good morning, everyone. My name is Susanna Dussling, and today’s date is the October the 8th, and I’m here in Tomball, Texas, a community Northwest of Houston.
Susanna, tell me a little bit about your hearing loss, how young were you, was it progressive? Was it sudden?
Certainly, Richard. My hearing loss was diagnosed at the age of three, and this was many, many, many, many years ago before the advent of the internet and information to the highway. My mom and dad were wondering why I was a slow learner as in I was not talking very well. My mom became very, very concerned and they took me to a doctor. Ironically, that doctor’s daughter was deaf and he was like, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just a slow learner.” And my mom was like, “No, no, no, there is something. No, there is something wrong here, because Susanna is very outgoing and she’s very lively, but she’s just having a hard time communicating and talking.” Thank goodness my mother believed in second opinion. Sure enough, they got a second opinion, and there was discovered that I had progressive profound sensorineural hearing loss.
If you are not familiar with progressive profound sensorineural hearing loss, it means that your hearing is going to get worse over time. I was born with it. We’re not sure was a birth effect or was just one of those things that just happened. It was about 65% in my left ear and about 70% by right ear. I began to start wearing hearing aids at the age of three. I have to say this, Richard, my mother will tell you I hated them at first. I used to take them out all the time, but eventually, I soon realized that I heard okay with my hearing aids. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing.
Well, let me ask you, how did you get along in school? You were going to school then. How did the hearing loss affect you?
I was mainstream. My parent did not believe in me being given special considerations or special treatment. Therefore, I was mainstreamed. I started in traditional public schools. The only special condition that my parents made was that I had to sit in the first row of class, so I would not miss anything from the teacher. I’m not going to lie, Richard, I used to hate that first day of school. The only reason why the teachers typically like to seat an alphabetical order, and if my name did not automatically come to the front, then that was that first awkward moment of, why does Susanna have to sit in the front? I was not the type of person to be ashamed or embarrassed about my hearing loss. But yes, it was awkward on that first day. I did well in school, scholastically. I did not feel like I had any challenges as far as missing out in school as long as I sat in a fun row.
I got to tell you an interesting story about school, but I went off to college. I had that one professor that seated as an alphabetical order, and I ended up in the back of the class and I was like, “Oh, I’ll be okay with this.” Well, that was a big bad mistake. I’d never ever received Cs, Ds or Fs in a class and I ended up with a big D in that class. To me, that was a testament, too. I knew I missed out on a lot that I was sitting in the back. Ironically, that’s something that I do in my professional life, is selling.
That’s very interesting, because I’ve interviewed or mentored a lot of people and college is always one of the questions I ask, how you cope with it. Yes, your prime example when you seated in the back, you’re absolutely got a very big disadvantage. You graduated college and then you went off and get your career. What did you do?
Well, when I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I got a degree in merchandising with a minor in marketing, and I don’t know if any of you all ever remember this show. Like I shared, I’m a little bit older and there was a popular TV show called The Love Boat. I always thought that was the coolest TV show. Julie McCoy had the most awesome job. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to go work on cruise ship.” I did that for about three years. I worked in the casino, and I also had to do some cruise ship duty. I remember when I applied for the job, I did not disclose my hearing loss. I just prayed to God that I was never going to have any hearing aid issues when I traveled, because here you are out in sea and you are going to foreign countries.
I have to admit, I am now a cochlear implant wearer back as a hearing aid user, I had much more of a deaf speech or deaf accent, as in it was very flat and monotonous and it was more of a deaf speech. But anyway, I did that and I had job , but then it was time to come back to the real world. I have to be honest with you, Richard, I’ve always dreamed of being a sales rep. However, this was back in the days when we did not have texting, we did not have cell phones, we did not have computers, we did not have laptops. To help put you all in perspective, I graduated in college in 1989, computers were just starting to come out, smartphones were not around. I thought, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to work?” I’m not going to lie, Richard, you know what the hardest part was about being a hearing aid user, for me anyway, was the telephone.
I could interview fine. I could interview face-to-face perfectly fine, because I could hear the people. Typically, the room was quiet, it was just one on one. But back in those days, you had to set up all your interviews via the telephone. To me, that was the absolute worst part. I talk about listening and speaking, that’s a skill that many of us struggle with, even those of us with amazing hearing, because what happens is we spend too much time thinking about what we’re going to say and respond to the other person. But when you’re a hearing aid user, oh my gosh, you are magnifying that like 100%. I remember, I used to be scared to death to set up that interview, because I could not hear that well on the phone as a hearing aid user. It was awful. I was that person that was interrupting or trying to guess what that person was saying, but somehow I guess I got through and eventually I started a career in retail management. What did that mean? That meant I worked at department store as assistant store manager.
Speaking of work, the hardest part was like, when I was in a job interview, I know people have different perspectives on this. I’m not here to argue or disagree. Let me just share my thought process. I never ever disclosed my hearing loss in a job interview. I’m sure they figured out there was something amiss, figured I had more of a deaf speech back then. But anyway, it wasn’t until I started working and I was at work for a few days or maybe a week or so, because I’m sure most of you all have been in department stores. There’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of chaos.
What would happen was I may have missed something somebody said. Then when I started getting more comfortable with people, then I said, “I do wear hearing aids, I do pretty okay with them, but when it’s noisy like this, you may have to tap me on the shoulder or at least say my name first.” That was the biggest challenge when I was working at hearing aid and talking on the phone was difficult, but I muddled through it. Then sometimes I was lucky that my associates or other people were able to answer the phone.
This is exactly one of the points that I really want to talk to you about, because you and I co-founded this group of deaf and hard of hearing in business, and I understand now why you were so passionate on that particular subject, because we haven’t really spoken about your background before. But again, you’re correct that almost every person on all the websites or Facebook sites I’m on, the job interview question, do I reveal my hearing loss or not? pops up time after time after time, and you’ve given your perspective on it, which I’m sure is going to be very, very helpful to listeners. The telephone, obviously, what we call telephone terror works for almost all of us. I could not make a telephone call for 35 years. Everybody had to make calls for me. But fortunately I was my own boss, so I didn’t have to worry about it. Did you ever belong to the Hearing Loss Association, whether groups like that ?
Like I mentioned, I graduated from college in 1989, and there is a Houston Hearing Loss Association in Houston. I’m going to be honest with you and everyone else, I used to be that type of person, I was like, “Oh, I’m not like those people.” I mean, I’m being honest. Okay. I’m being brutally honest. Because I’ve always been in the hearing role, my parents raised me hard of hearing with the use of hearing aids and now cochlear implant. I did okay. I’m not going to say it’s easy. There were moments where it was hell. There was one time when I initially joined, I wasn’t really that active. It was a different demographic then. It was much, much more older people. I’m talking way older people. I was very young back then and I didn’t feel like it was a right fit then. But then about 15 years ago, I did get involved for a bit.
I went to the convention and I had a chance to speak and promote my book and I got to share, because the nice thing was the younger people were coming in, and people that worked in the World of Work. Yes, there are wonderful groups, but I’m so glad though. But really, in reality, there are no hearing loss groups, just HLA, and the other one for mostly parent deaf children. I don’t remember what one that is, but AG Bell. But anyway, I don’t know how my mom did this, but the thing I’m trying to make is thank goodness we have Facebook, and thank goodness we have people like Richard that started all these groups, and I started this group.
I look back, out of all the people I met my lifetime, I never met anyone with hearing loss when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I went to college, Richard, that ironically the girl that lived next door to me in my room also wore hearing aids. That was my first person ever in my whole life that I met that had hearing loss, and now hearing loss is coming a little bit more to the forefront. Now, we see more people wearing hearing aids and cochlear implant and we have all the information on the information super highway. But for that matter, to answer your question, in reality, there really is not that many groups for people with hearing loss that work in a hearing world.
That’s very, very true, because people always said to me, “How come you never learn sign language?” I said, “Who am I going to talk to? Myself in the mirror? I don’t know anybody who does sign.” Yes, we’re still a very, very small group. You got cochlear implants at some point or? Can you tell me about that?
I wore hearing aids my whole life. Now, at this point, my right ear… Let me just say this. My right ear was never truly my listening ear with the hearing aids, because if you were to ask me to talk on the phone with my right ear, is it to help set us up to the question you just asked? I could not talk on the phone with the right ear. I only wore a right hearing aid to help me create a little bit of what I call that surround sound. This left ear was my telephone ear, it was my listening ear. If I was only going to wear one hearing aid, it was my left ear. At this point in my life, in about 2005, my hearing obviously has gotten worse over the years. I probably progressed down to, I don’t know, 75, 80% and I had super strong hearing aids.
Then my right ear, like I mentioned, it was down like to 90%, but I still wore that hearing aid that I was just used to the balance of having two, the surround sounds. There I was. I never really explored. I thought about cochlear implant at one time, but then I had a day in my life that changed my life forever. It was 2005, and I was working at work. I was an assistant store manager at a very large department store at one of the top five high volume stores. Therefore, there was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. We were always in the spotlight. It was a nice day, just like any other day. But then about halfway through that day, I couldn’t hear anything and I was momentarily freaked out. But I was like, “Okay, I’m a manager. This is my new hearing aids acting up,” because I just had received digital hearing aids about the week before. I thought, “Okay, is my new digital hearing aids acting up?”
I made it through that day. Then my parents lived close by, so I stopped by on the way home to their house and I told them what happened. My dad is always so practical. He’s like, “It’s just your new digital hearing aids.” But something told me deep in my heart that I went deaf, little d-e-a-f, 100% deaf. We went to the audiologist the next day, and I knew when I came out of that sound booth that I was deaf, nothing. It became very evident when I went to the checkout and pay the receptionist and she’s trying to tell me my total and I couldn’t hear anything. As we were driving home, all kinds of thoughts were going through my head. I was like, “How am I going to support myself?”
I was single, I’m independent, and I truly supported myself. It was just strictly me at that time. I also had show horses. I mean, I had a pretty nice lifestyle. I worked very hard for my lifestyle and I liked what I did. I mean, retail was not for everybody, but I’m that person that loves to move around. It just worked for me. I thought to myself, “How am I going to support myself? I can work in the store if I can hear people.” But fortunately, I’m not going to say I was depressed, because depressed is a very strong word and I respect that word tremendously, but let’s just say I was mildly depressed for about a week or two, because I didn’t know what I was going to do next, and I was fearful for my job, because we all know how jobs are these days.
I went back into work and I told them what happened. The good news was they cut back on my duty. Obviously, I could not be the manager on duty, that person that walks around, being the face of the store to talk to customers and whatnot, because I couldn’t hear. They cut back my duties and then they moved me to a just much smaller department. But fortunately, at this point, I had been in leadership for about 15 years and I did earn the respect of my team members and all the associates and other members, managers in the store, because I was a good leader. At this time, my voice got very, very hard and loud and mean. It sounded like I was mad at the world all the time. It was very, very stressful, and I continued to work, I remember, and I’ll get to the cochlear implant in just a second bit, because like I said, I was fearful of losing my job, and I continued to work. Then we explored cochlear implant.
Well, I decided to receive cochlear implant, but it was not a decision to be taken lightly. That happened in June of 2005. But because of all the paperwork and everything and I still continued to work at the store, I made it through fourth quarter, which is hell for all retail managers, including hearing people. Then January, I’ve had the surgery for my first one, and then in February I got hooked up when they turned you on. Woo. But the biggest thing that I’m going to tell you about when I first received it, it was not a lot of turning on and on and off switch. It was just a bunch of noise, just random noise. It was just the hot mess. I could tell people were talking, but don’t ask me what the hell they were saying.
I remember hearing my parents’ dog bark. It was a challenge at first and I was like, “Oh my gosh. I went through surgery and everything to get this and it doesn’t work.” But there’s that part of me, I’ll tell you about my person. I’m a type A person. I needed to get back to my life in the hearing world, and I had to make these devices work while I started out with the one. I did not take short-term disability. I did not take any government programs or any of that stuff. I went straight back to work, literally. You all have been in stores. I mean, the first couple of weeks, like I mentioned, it was rough, because imagine all the noise in the store. My ears, it was just a lot. I suffered tinnitus, it was just awful. Have you ever heard like a stuck doorbell? Yeah, I had that stuck doorbell 24/7.
Then I did not discover this word until later. But another thing about the tinnitus, I literally had a symphony going off in my head. Ding, ding, dinging, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. What did I use to do? I’m a social people person, I usually ate with my peers at work. But when I went back to work with the first cochlear implant, I used to sit in my car at my lunch hour and take off that ear. I had to decompress for an hour. I don’t care it was really hot out. I had to take that ear off, because the tinnitus was so bad. Then eventually when I was driving home, I know we shouldn’t drive without our ear on or ears. I had to take it off, because the tinnitus was excruciating. Eventually it subsided.
How did I improve my hearing? Thank goodness my parents lived close by, and we came up with these games. It was like, I put my hand over… Well, they put their hand over their mouth and held up a sheet of paper and it was like, name things in the room. Often, we were in the kitchen, like microwave, lamp, telephone. I guessed a lot at first. Then we moved on to different exercises. It’s like I remember my dad reading the newspaper next to me and I followed along with the words. Then we did another one, like we had subjects, name a sport that ends in ball. Baseball, basketball. We created our own therapy. I never ever went online. I never went to an audiologist. I never went to any kind of rehab did. We just created our own therapies. I’ll never ever forget that day when I knew things were going to be okay. When I walked into my parents’ house and I heard the distinctive tick tock of the mantel clock for the first time ever in my whole life.
You have described activation that almost everybody has told me the same. I had the same thing, but I actually, I lost by hearing, coming back from a customer’s appointment while I was taking the bus up town, because I had a progressive loss. By the time I got from the end of the ride, my left ear was gone. Then a month later, my right ear disappeared when we were in the movies. I do understand exactly what you’re talking about. I know your description is going to help a lot of people, but they have to understand, tinnitus does not necessarily happen when you get activated with a cochlear implant. It does happen on time to time. Then you obviously got the worst of it. But one day when everything starts to come together it was fantastic. You know what I really would like to get to, is about your involvement with horses, because you are unique. How did you use your cochlear implant when you were riding, when you were… Tell me a little bit more about that.
Yes, I would definitely tell you about that. I got to tell you a story. I don’t want you all to be embarrassed about using assistive listing devices. I started riding as a kid for a short while, then I had to stop. My parents were regular middle class folks, but my mom always encouraged me to pick it up back in my later in my life, and I did after I came off the cruise ship, I had a part-time job with horses, even while working a full-time job. That was my stress factor. It was my way of getting away from it all and just being that. I worked with Arabian horses, I absolutely love it. I learned how to train and ride and show, and then eventually I bought a horse. It’s been the most incredible experience.
But the thing I want to share with you, though, that has to do with hearing loss, occasionally, I would have a lesson or a trainer would put me on a horse that they were working, but they needed to see somebody else ride it, but they had to see what it looked like. I had the worst time understanding what they were saying, because what happened was if I did not use a device, I was turning my head to look at them and then now it’s getting me distracted when I was riding the horse. Then the horse would [inaudible break gait or we would just lose concentration. Eventually, back in those days, [inaudible this was before, they had the cell phone I explored an assisted listening device. It was a Compact. The nice thing about it, it goes up to 300 feet. I started using that, and the trainers absolutely loved it, and I liked it. But I’m going to be honest with you before I expand on that real quickly, I was always embarrassed that first time giving it to the horse trainer.
But like I said, I’m not saying I’m ashamed of my hearing loss, but it just made me feel like I’m not quite like everybody else. But often what happened was the trainers were like, “Oh, Susanna. This is the best thing, but they don’t have to yell or scream.” I’ll never forget, I was at a horse show one time and my trainer was at the warm-up pen and he was like, “Susanna, where’s your assistant listening device?” I was like, “Oh, it’s back at the stalls.” He was like, “Go get it.” He loved it. It was just the best thing ever.
Then as far as showing, I used to miscue when I did not use it, but I do have a letter from the United States Equestrian Foundation, the Para Olympic division that gives me permission to use an assistant listening device for the trainer or whoever’s on the other end to actually relay the calls of the command that are being called in the class. It has been a tremendous lifesaver. Horses in a nutshell, it is my passion outside of work. It is my stress factor from being a hard of hearing person and everything that life throws at us.
You’re real inspiration, because so many people talk about the fact they can’t participate in a sport, because they can’t hear, whether it’s weight training, whether it’s karate. But you found a way to be able to participate fully, even though you need a small exception of being able to have the commands go to your head. You’ve just been a great interview. Do you have anything you’d like to tell the audience before we sign off?
Yes, I do. I want you to all understand that every single one of us has challenges in life. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical, mental, whatever it is, personal, but the best way to get through all these challenges, you need to have a healthy dose of a positive attitude, that can-do attitude. You have to persevere when the going gets tough and you have to persist, a little patience goes a long way, and all of us can be successful and live a purposeful and meaningful life.
Thank you so much for your time. I’m sure our listeners are going to get so much from this interview.