Sarah Churman Book Excerpt: Deaf Woman Describes Hearing for First Time

PHOTO: Sarah Churmans Powered On details her lifes journey and offers unique insights from the perspective of a woman who has experienced both sides of a disability.PlayIndigo River Publishing
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Sarah Churman, 29, was born with a tiny fraction of her hearing. Last year she had surgery to implant a new device, The Esteem, into each ear. Her mother-in-law cashed in her retirement to part of the $60,000 bill.

Before Sarah and her husband, Sloan, left for the hospital to have the surgery, Churman's mother-in-law made one request of her son: film Churman's reaction to hearing for the first time. The 90-second clip has gone viral, having been viewed more than 14 million times (click on image above).

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Churman tells her story in a memoir titled "Powered On," which will be released soon by Indigo River Publishing. Here is an excerpt.

Sitting there in that chair, my mind was running a million miles a minute. A big part of me was absolutely terrified that for some odd reason, I'd be the first person that this device didn't work for. I have always stated, I believe that nothing in life is 100% guaranteed, so even though there was no reason for it to malfunction, I was worried.

I was also terrified that I would hate the way it sounded. As odd as that sounds, there was a certain sense of comfort in my daily life. I woke up each day knowing what to expect, and I had developed a routine and knew what work the day would entail. The fear of the unknown, even though the 'unknown' was what I had dreamed about since I was a child, was scary for me.

In the years I had worn hearing aids, every time I got a new pair, I hated them. I hated the adjustment and I missed the familiarity of the old pair every time. So here I was, nervous that they'd turn it on, I'd hate it, and then I'd feel awful at the fact that my widowed mother-in-law had cashed out her savings for this device.

Another huge part of me was just mostly incredibly excited and curious. I wanted to hurry up and experience it. I was dying to know what it was like to have 'normal' ears. I wanted to experience all the things I had missed out on. I wanted to be able to function in society normally and without the stress, fear, embarrassment and anxiety that came with having a hearing loss. I was dying to know what everyone else got to be like.

And so it was a beep. The nicest, loudest, clearest beep ever. And it signaled a new life and opened a wellspring of emotions in me that had been building up for 29 years. The beep occurred, and then I heard the remote being set down on the counter and I was absolutely amazed and relieved all at the same time.

It's hard for me to explain, but in that moment of activation I experienced a complete sense of clarity. In those seconds before a noise happened, I knew it was on and I knew the moment a noise was made that I'd hear it. To me, it was an absolute miracle. In that moment, I had experienced a miracle I had waited for all my life. Melinda began speaking and I was registering it and hearing it!

Part of me was immediately relieved that it worked and that Lari's money had been well spent. The other part of me was so excited because I liked it. I liked hearing! Right away I could tell that it was a good thing, and that I would not regret the surgery and all the tears shed over the last few weeks.

As these thoughts and emotions are running through my mind, I hear Melinda say, "How does it sound?" I start to answer her, and I realize I can hear the noises in my mouth. Then I realize how I sound. Then I get choked up. Then I laugh. Then that sends me into a fit of tears and choking up.

Sarah Churman "Powered On" Book Excerpt

All these things only intensify because I'm hearing all this from inside myself for the first time, and I'm completely and utterly overwhelmed like you cannot imagine. I fear my heart is going to explode and I just cannot put into words what I'm thinking. Then I start thinking, I don't want to hear myself cry…this is weird -- which I say out loud -- which makes me giggle even more. I was a huge mess…but a good mess.

The doctors and specialists continue to do their testing and mapping program to tweak my device to suit my needs, all while I sit there still in amazement and grinning from ear to ear. Sloan [Churman's husband] only snapped 91 seconds of film simply so that his mother can see the moment of activation and my response.

After he puts the camera down he goes to asking me questions as the techs are working on me. At one point, they ask him to ask me a question. He covers his mouth with his hand, and he says, "Do you want a cucumber sandwich?"

Twelve years I've been with this man, 10 years I've been married to him, two children I've given him -- and that's what he chooses to say to me for his first sentence I get to hear with a good ear. Didn't matter to me. In that moment, it was the sweetest thing I had ever heard. I repeated his sentence back, to which the whole room cracked up laughing.

One person said "What the heck?!? Why'd you say that?" Sloan's defense is that he didn't want to say something cliché, and he knew me well enough to know that even though he covered his mouth, I would recognize his facial expression and muscles saying the words "I love you" or something common like that. Plus, those who know Sloan like I do will understand, I wouldn't have expected anything less from him than a silly comment to make me smile and make the moment memorable.