PARENTS FOR COCHLEAR IMPLANT - WWW.PUZNICA.HR

The American Dream

New York

In early autumn 1998, my wife came to New York for three months as a Fulbright scholar. During the first month, when she searched for accommodation for all of us, she was staying with her teacher Deborah Hecht, an actress and stage speech teacher at the New York University, Tisch School of the Art.

At the desk

After about a month, Ana and I joined my wife in New York. We planned to stay for two months and go back home with her, but we stayed for five months instead. After the transatlantic flight which was not at all a problem for Ana, entering the United States was an easy thing. The American passport officer only gave me a useful piece of advice: "Take care of your daughter". It did concern me, but only for a short while. After taking care of some customs formalities, we were in America.

My wife made all of the arrangements for our arrival and after a lengthy search she borrowed an apartment from some people who were to go on a theater tour for a few months. In order to gain approval for our stay in the apartment, she had to undergo a long interview with the tenants' representatives. They could have refused to let us stay there if we did not meet their standards. However, we proved to be suitable enough. The apartment was cozy and comfortable, located on the second floor of a well-maintained building, and was twice as big as our apartment in Zagreb. The short time we spent there was the most intense and most significant time in our lives.

106 Suffolk Street, New York 10002

Peaceful Suffolk Street on Manhattan, in the Lower East Side, is often used as the location for shooting movies because of its picturesque look of an early 20th century New York neighborhood. We spent many an evening and night awake, watching the movies, mainly thrillers, being shot right below our window. Everything was close and within reach: the NYU, the library, parks, interesting cafes, the market place, and Chinese and Italian restaurants. After all, our neighborhood was located between Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho, and the nearby Williamsburg Bridge connected us with Brooklyn.

On the subway

We felt safe and at ease in America and New York. It was a significant change compared to my experience of 25 years ago. Throughout our stay, New York seemed (and indeed was) a very safe city, Manhattan in particular. As far as we could tell from the Croatian newspapers, there were more murders and robberies in Zagreb and Croatia. If there was an armed robbery in a park on Manhattan, it was the breaking story on TV news for three days. We felt safe on the subway and even late-night strolls did not seem like a risky thing to do.

The New York subway, our frequent means of transport, was one of final proofs of Ana's deafness. We were surprised that the loud and disturbing noise, the screeching of brakes, the deafening banging and squeaking of carriages in curves, loud and sharp horns and sudden noisy passing by another train did not bother her at all. She did not pay attention or respond to these sounds even though she wore hearing aids. We have a touching memory from the subway: a young man, seeing her hearing aids, said "I love you" in sign language. Among other things, we had an opportunity to listen to some great music in the carriages and at the stations, performed by individual artists, many of who deserve a chance to play onstage, at least in Zagreb.

First Conversation with a Person with a Cochlear Implant

The first adult with the cochlear implant I ever met was Ken. The way we met was a coincidence like many other events connected to Ana's story.

While Suzana was staying at Debbie's (Professor Hecht's) place, Darby, a deaf actor who wanted to become a professional actor, paid a visit. By meeting Darby, whose mother was an eminent university professor and also deaf, Suzana was introduced to the circle of hearing-impaired intellectuals. Darby introduced Suzana to Ken, the cochlear implantation coordinator at the Lenox Hill Hospital. Ken is a person with a deep knowledge of the hearing-impaired community and thus gave us several addresses of parents of children with cochlear implants and made it easier for us to contact them.

Jim and Ken

Ken, an exceptionally kind and witty man, full of vitality, highly educated and cultivated, was operated on in his late forties. According to him, his speech did not improve significantly, but his hearing ability became much better. At first, I did not know what this meant. I only knew that he was deaf. My wife told me not to cover up my mouth with my hand when I speak, because he still had a habit of lip-reading.

Ken fascinated me although the performance of his speech processor and implant was not very impressive. In fact, I did not think it made any difference. It was a disappointment. I expected him to speak better and I expected the differences between his speaking and mine to be much less pronounced. However, I disregarded the fact that Ken was operated very late in life. In the end, he himself explained this.

Meeting Ken also lead to the discovery of Katz, a great Jewish snack bar which is one of New York's culinary legends. This simple and cheap restaurant was just around the corner at the end of our street. It had been visited by American presidents, as well as movie, music and sport celebrities, gourmands, tourists and people from the neighborhood. We also visited it with Ken.

We still exchange letters with Ken, who is sincerely thrilled by Ana's progress.

Dr. Noel Cohen

In America, all doors are open if you are willing to make the effort to find the way that leads to them. Everyone will make time to talk to you, unlike our experiences in Croatia, and the result depends on many things, but chiefly on you and your presentation.

Our acquaintance Victor, a Professor at New York University, recommended that we take Ana to a doctor who was a friend of a friend of his. He even sent him a short letter asking him to see the parents of a hearing-impaired Croatian child, whose mother was studying in America. To my surprise, the doctor turned out to be Dr. Noel Cohen, the dean of the School of Medicine, the head of the ORL Department at the New York University Medical Center and one of the most eminent experts in the field. We immediately received a call from his office and made an appointment. We did not know what we could expect and had no clear idea of what we actually wanted to hear. We prepared for the conversation, but we wondered if we would be able to ask the right questions. We decided to let the conversation take its own course. Suzana translated Ana's medical records into English and we went to Dr. Cohen to have him examine Ana and teach us about the cochlear implant, its perspectives and development.

Suzana, Ana and Dr. Cohen, 1998

Dr. Cohen saw us in early October. He is a kind of person who radiates kindness and confidence and gives you his sincere, undivided attention during conversation. His approach to patients reminded me of my father. After he and his assistants examined Ana and reviewed the medical records, he confirmed that Ana was a candidate for cochlear implantation. His recommendation was summarized in one line: "If you go ahead with the operation, there is nothing to lose, only so much to gain". He said he was willing to operate on Ana. We only came for a checkup and advice, but at that point, fascinating possibilities that we had not even dreamed of began to unfold. When he realized how little time in America we had and how little money was available to us, he said that everything would be fine and that he would put Ana on the top of his waiting list. He advised us to contact our life and health insurance company about the expenses for surgery and said that he would do something for us too. We paid $250 for the first visit, while at subsequent visits, Dr. Cohen would follow us to the receptionist and gave a discreet sign not to charge anything for the checkup.

As a Fulbright scholar, my wife had temporary American life and health insurance and we, as family members, could also use it with reasonable participation in costs. However, the insurance company was not willing to promptly respond to ours and Dr. Cohen's inquiries about the conditions for surgery. However, to be truthful, they eventually contributed to the realization of surgery by covering part of the medical expenses.

While we were thinking about the ways to get the money for the operation and the short time we had left in America, Dr. Cohen generously used his reputation to help us. It was only later that we found out that the surgery and the cochlear implant cost about $54,000, an amount beyond our reach. Eventually, he made Ana's surgery possible by his great efforts and a significant donation on his part. His secretaries, Carol and Ariel, were also very helpful, in word and in deed, and made our coping with the hospital's administrative systems easier. They always had a kind word for Ana, and occasionally even a doll.

The Way We Lived

Thus began the most beautiful days of our lives. The autumn in New York was magnificent. My wife worked hard on her postgraduate acting curriculum at New York University. She was virtually away all day. She would leave at 9 a.m. and return home at 7 p.m., unless she went to the theatre. I was working on my technical book and got close to my own child, which I never had a chance to do in Zagreb. Spending almost 24 hours a day with a child, during which I was on my own, without my wife, for at least 20 hours was a great lesson. With Ana's afternoon naps and nights spent working, I had plenty of time to write. My daughter is a very, very tough and stubborn child and sometimes she is impossible to discipline (with the experience in child-raising that I had). Since she learned how to get out of her cot, we could no longer put her to sleep and go to another room. She would climb out a dozen times, wander around and only when she became exhausted after being repeatedly put her back into bed, stay there and fall asleep in a minute. We never gave in to her clandestine and cunning attempts to sneak into our bed and she graciously went back to hers.

St. Mark's Place

I spent a lot of time with Ana in the parks and walking around Manhattan. We did it every day. The parks are full of greenery, friendly squirrels, and are wonderfully arranged and maintained, with rubber pads beneath seesaws, jungle gyms and toboggans. Sometimes, if we were lucky, my wife would also join us in the park. We usually went to St. Marks Place Park near 15th Street and 2nd Avenue. It has a special, secluded area where only children and the people accompanying them are allowed, so there are no people who could disturb the children's playing or your peace. In other parts of the park, the homeless sit quietly in the sun, picturesque with their entire possessions in bundles or shopping carts. Usually, there was a trailer parked nearby, where they could get free coffee or warm soup, but there was also a police car.

The circumstances forced me to improve my, until then, modest cooking skills. Namely, I had to prepare food for the three of us. I used to go to the nearby market place where the food was much cheaper. Turkey drumsticks, the size of a small ham with roasted potatoes and pasta in a (overspiced) champignon sauce became my specialty, while crispy bacon baked in the microwave was a delicious treat. One of my responsibilities was doing the laundry, which proved to be a mistake. I would go to a supermarket and got lost in the vast quantity of products. However, I later became something of a shopping expert. Like all American housewives, I watched the morning TV shows as I cooked, particularly heated debates on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. To be truthful, my wife often prepared the lunch before she left in the morning, and I only had to warm it up or finish it at noon.

Manhattan Children's Club

Family life was certainly good for Ana, but we wanted her to socialize and to have contact with her peers. Therefore, she attended the Manhattan Children's Club, i.e. a kindergarten, twice a week, where she fitted in very well. She immediately developed a sense of discipline necessary for being in the kindergarten and was no different from other children. At the kindergarten, Ana's deafness was accepted as an ordinary fact and we were surprised that they did not ask any questions or set any limits to her stay. Ana's staying at the kindergarten gave me some free time to wander around New York. In early November, Ana stopped attending the kindergarten, due to the American viruses that she had no immunity to and which constantly attacked her system, as well as the high expenses. In the kindergarten's tradition, she left a print of her hand on the wall there.

On Broadway

In the evening, after she came from the kindergarten or directly from home, Ana and I would go to meet her Mum at the faculty. After having a cup of coffee in one of the cafes, we would walk along Broadway through Soho to our neighborhood in the Lower East Side. We carried Ana in a very practical back carrier, a smart investment of 70$. It was a fortunate thing that I did not bring the pram from Croatia, which would only interfere with free movement on the subway with its many staircases. In the evening, she used to watch the crowds of people go by with great interest. On our way home, we would sometimes visit a store with a good discount. She loved it, and sometimes she would fall asleep during shopping. We often treated ourselves to a delivered Chinese dinner, which was both cheap and delicious. For 15$ we got so much food that there were leftovers for my lunch the next day. The only problem was communicating with the people at the restaurant; their English was bad and we sometimes got food we did not order.

On Saturdays and Sundays, we socialized with teachers from the University, colleagues from the theatre and parents of children with implants. A small and successful colony of my former students often visited us in the evening. There would be wine from Peljesac and we would also make dinner for our friends. On Sundays, we sometimes went to the German Evangelic Church, where both Ana and I felt comfortable, and then to Central Park.

Going to the theatre in the evening also meant that we had to hire a babysitter, namely a student from Suzana's faculty, who was happy to provide the service with minimum charge. Ana did not mind the replacement. Instead of going to the movies, we rented films in a nearby video rent every day and under more favorable conditions than in Zagreb. We created an at-home atmosphere of a movie premiere by popcorn prepared in the microwave. It was not easy to decide between the 600 movies from the American movie industry which are released every year. We saw many famous stars in second-rate movies. The lack of subtitles forced us to watch more attentively. We saw a number of eminent actors playing substandard roles. Although we did not have a satellite or cable TV, the dozen TV channels we could watch on our TV were enough to keep us both informed and entertained. Ana also started to show interest in television and proved to have good taste by choosing The Simpson's as her favorite.

Fast Food restaurant on Broadway

We met Lisa and Danny, about whom I will write more later on. We shared in the love of Italian cuisine and exchanged our experiences of good and cheap restaurants. Thus we found an inexpensive and excellent Italian restaurant near their apartment, run by friendly Albanians from Kosovo. The Italian restaurants we frequented in Little Italy were run by Latin Americans whose attempts to speak with Italian accents were less then convincing. We also visited pizzerias, Chinese and student snack bars and fast food restaurants. Children are welcome in all bars and restaurants and they are given pastel crayons and drawing paper before you order, which gives the parents the space to eat and talk and engages the children in a creative activity that does not disturb other guests. However, we sometimes let Ana crawl under the tables like the other American parents did.

It was nice to eat in restaurants where there were barely any smokers, and those who did were isolated in one corner. We enjoyed the smoke-free restaurants and cafes, not just because of Ana. Even before she was born, we were disciplined enough to quit smoking, after years of being passionate smokers. It proved to be a great advantage in America, because you practically commit yourself to isolation if you want to smoke. Even when you have guests, those who smoke step outside onto the street to indulge their habit. We saw people like that everywhere. Dressed in thin coats and light clothing, they would leave their offices to smoke, standing near the back entrance of a skyscraper and shivering with cold. It was particularly interesting to see the Wall Street brokers and businesswomen who, because of their light clothes, looked as if they were pursuing another kind of profession. In fact, the only reason that kept them out in the cold, in front of the business buildings, was their smoking vice.

Suzana, Ana and Debbie

For Halloween, the night before All Saints' Day, we were invited to spend our holidays in Fulton, a remote province of the State of New York, at the home of Suzana's NYU teacher and actress Debbie, and Boris who was also an actor. They were both dear friends. The train journey along the Hudson River was a beautiful experience and so was the car ride to the small village with only a handful of houses. Boris's family home was actually a church that his father had rebuilt into a house. We decorated the front porch with the traditional carved pumpkins with candles and Ana also got a small one especially for her.

Here, in small a village, we began to discover how close the people in parishes were. The only church in Fulton, which felt familiar to me, was a Methodist church. It was there that I sought and found peace. The people were curious about what a Croat was doing in a remote rural area, they showed genuine interest in my country and the war that we went through, and their prayers for peace and joy lifted my spirits. However, we kept Ana's health problems to ourselves. We had a similar experience in Marple Head, Massachusetts, but also at our Evangelic Church in New York, where waited until after the surgery to share our story.

Life is beautiful.

Time to Learn

We knew that the operation was the beginning of a long journey, the journey of learning how to speak and listen. It was not just something Ana had to do, but us as well. We had to gain experience, meet the parents and children, hear the opinions of rehabilitation specialists on what would be the most important thing for Ana's post-operative progress. Also, we did not want to waste our time in America by missing out on some quality rehabilitation for Ana.

My wife established an extensive network of telephone contacts across America and contacted the John Tracy Clinic, a Los Angeles-based institution founded by the actor Spencer Tracy whose son was deaf. We made use of their correspondence courses and later we used videotapes. We met many parents of children with cochlear implants, as well as many American experts on rehabilitation, and they all supported out endeavors to make the surgery possible. We were also faced with a strict and rigid attitude of the deaf community opposing the implantation.

We bought professional books and video-courses from Canada, which is a country renowned for excellent rehabilitation methods. We ordered two books on rehabilitation methods for younger and older children with cochlear implants. We also ordered a rehabilitation video-manual. We had several telephone conversations with the author of these books. He was surprised that we ordered both books, for younger and for older children, and tried to talk us out of it. We explained that it was easier to order both books now and, after all, there were people in Zagreb who could certainly use them. We were not used to such a caring approach. We later found out that he was an expert of great importance and reputation.

My wife made telephone contact with Toby and Jim, the parents of little Julia, whose address we got from Ken. They kindly invited us to meet them. Dr. Cohen also operated on their daughter. They lived outside New York and one Sunday Jim came to pick us up with his car. After we arrived to their home, we found out that the family was celebrating a birthday and we were invited to the family lunch.

Ana and Julia

It was a great joy to meet Toby, Jim and five-year old Julia, who gave us the best insight into life with a cochlear implant, and also offered us their friendship. The very fist time we met, they offered to let us stay with them, in case there were any complications and we had to prolong our stay in America. Thus we began to realize how open and how ready to help someone in need the Americans were. Seeing and hearing Julia was a great discovery for us. Her speech ability was fascinating and she had an encyclopedic knowledge of American history, particularly the presidents. It was particularly interesting to listen to her when her processor was off. The only difference was a little softer pronunciation. When she started attending school, the school authorities immediately replaced all synthetic-fiber rugs with rugs made of natural materials since the synthetic fibers can generate static electricity, which can affect the performance of the speech processor.

Ana and Miranda

During one late visit to Dr. Cohen, in the waiting room, we met Miranda, who had recently been operated on, and her parents Lisa and Danny. Miranda was a little younger than Ana and her parents naturally understood the interest we expressed in their experience. We immediately bonded with them. They informed us of the list of surgery expenses and the cochlear implant, gave us important advice on the way to do business with the life and health insurance company and the hospital administration and shared their experience of the surgery itself and the post-operative care. During the time we lived near Lisa and Danny's home, Ana and Miranda often played together. Lisa also offered to baby-sit Ana occasionally, so I could have a free afternoon to visit the library.

Suzana, Ana and the pacifier

Living in an environment with lots of children, we noticed that Ana was among the very few who used a pacifier. She kept it in her mouth all the times. At night we had to wait until she was fast asleep to take it from her without her noticing it. She wore them out pretty quickly, which was a major problem, because it was not easy to find pacifiers whose quality matched the quality of those we used to buy in Zagreb. American parents told us that their children barely used pacifiers and that it was not a competitive product. It took us a long time, even a year after returning to Croatia, to get her to kick this bad habit. We struggled with low-grade oral infections and were worried about the jaw formation that could be affected by long-term frequent use.

The parents of children with implants used to get together and organize meetings and subtitled cartoon shows for children. We attended one of the shows with Lisa, Danny, Miranda, Jim, Toby and Julia. We also saw Ken and several other familiar faces. Before, during and after the screening, there was a reception with refreshments for both parents and children. Consequently, throughout screening there was a crowd of children wandering between the screening room and the luxurious lobby of the multiplex cinema on Lincoln Square, getting some Coca Cola, going to the bathroom or looking for their parents who were using this time to socialize with others. This was an opportunity to see children with various degrees of hearing disability, with and without implants, those who were preparing to undergo surgery and those for whom surgery was not an option. There were cases of brothers and sisters, where one sibling was deaf and the other was not, or both were deaf, or one was deaf and the other was hard of hearing. It was a beautiful and inspiring thing to see, as was the opportunity meet and talk to their parents, hear about their experiences and feel their optimism and joy of life. There were also those parents with much greater problems than my wife and I had to face.

Carol Zara and Ana

We started the rehabilitation at the League of the Hard of Hearing in New York. Twice a week, we would visit Carol Zara, an excellent rehabilitation specialist, at the League in 23rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. She even learned a few words of Croatian, but we thought her methods of work were more important and we did not insist on her using Croatian when working with Ana. We taped the sessions on video, in order to be able to work with Ana at home. We liked the fact that everyone, children and rehabilitation specialists, sat on the floor, both in group and individual sessions. We also liked the spacious and well-lit rooms equipped with a lot of toys, the nicely decorated waiting room for parents and children and the close relationship with the staff. Sometimes, we would watch sessions with other children. Knowing that we were from Croatia and were preparing for surgery, their social worker offered a symbolic price that we could afford, even without our asking.

At the League, besides other parents, we met the mother of Miss Caitlin, who was the first child to get the cochlear implant about a decade ago. We had just seen her story in a prime time TV documentary. Their life and her experience and progress helped to reinforce our decision to go ahead with the operation. Dr. Cohen also operated on her.

… and Time to Seek

It took time for our wishes and hopes to take a more defined shape. After the initial enthusiasm, our first doubts began to appear. Time passed by without a definite answer to the question of how to actually purchase the device and to cover the expenses of the costly surgery. The family resources were not enough, and living in America was also expensive. The Fulbright Scholarship provided for a decent living, but nothing more.

In consultation with Dr. Cohen, we started our search for foundations and ways to get the cochlear implant at a favorable price. With his personal and written support, we contacted the Cochlear Corporation, the American franchise of the Australian company Cochlear Limited. They produce a state-of-the-art speech processor and a cochlear implant Nucleus® 24 Cochlear Implant System which Dr. Cohen prefers. We contacted our life and health insurance company again. For two months before and one month after the surgery, my wife made several calls a day to our insurance company or our insurance agent. Dr. Cohen also contacted them by mail. The social worker of the hospital contacted us privately and tried to help us raise money for the surgery.

We had a friend in a high position at the Croatian consulate in New York who had experience with American hospitals and surgeries, but could not give us any information on the American foundations to which we could turn for help, nor could he indicate any alternative solutions. We decided to go to Washington and visit some institutions where we hoped to find help. Plus, we also had to find a way to prolong the three-month Fulbright Scholarship, which was to expire soon. Luckily, I have a dear childhood friend, Mila, who has been living and working in Washington for years. She kindly invited us to stay with her.

In front of the White House

The cheapest way to get to Washington was to hire a car, with a university discount. Although I am usually a grouchy passenger, I was impressed by my wife's skillful driving around New York and on the highway to Washington and back. It was also the most interesting and pleasant trip we had in America, because we could stop anywhere we wanted or when Ana needed something. We saw a small part of America from the car, and when we got lost, walking into a small-town police station at night was a real adventure. We went sight-seeing in Washington, but we did not visit the White House, because, despite the constant rain, there was a line several hundreds of meters long at the entrance. We only used the opportunity to take some photos of ourselves in front of it. The Kennedy Center was one of the sights we did not miss and my wife used the opportunity to go to the theater while I babysat Ana. We did not feel as safe in Washington as we did in New York. We were very cautious about the neighborhoods we visited and we mainly kept to well-frequented places. When I wanted to take Ana to a park, I went to a neighborhood of diplomatic residences.

Ana and Lida

Staying with Mila in her house in a beautiful residential area was like having a country vacation. Besides her hospitality, she gave us the best and the most useful advice in Washington. She instructed us on ways to communicate with the institutions and she also asked Victor, whom I mentioned above, to help us. Her daughter Lida also taught us a few things about America.

Lida's talents won her a scholarship and admission to a prestigious high school attended by the children of the American social, i.e. political elite. She was proud to tell us that one of the new pupils was deaf and that her schoolmates learned Sign Language, without any outside pressure, to be able to communicate with her. This was one of many examples of social awareness we encountered, and our own experience is also a witness to this.

A. G. Bell Library, Washington

We visited the deaf people's associations, e.g. the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, as well as those of which the scope of activity was the rehabilitation and education of the deaf. There was virtually no significant institution in America that we did not contact, whenever we found a new one, they would already know everything about Ana and us. They kindly received us and heard us out, gave advice, offered assistance within their limits, in the spirit of the saying: "To he who knocks it shall be opened". To be truthful, we did not contact the associations of deaf people because of their rigid, declarative official standpoint that rejected the cochlear implant. We understood that they had developed their own language, a complex Sign Language, formed their culture and a strong and organized community in America, and received adequate financial support from the state, which would be unrealistic in Croatia. After all, there are 2,000,000 of them.

After we returned to New York, we contacted Sarah through the AGB Association. She is a deaf young lady whose speech ability and education were fascinating. We still keep in touch with her. We wanted to meet successful and prosperous people who had found their place in society through their exceptional talents despite the handicap. Her life story was an enlightening one. We learned how to communicate with the deaf, we became more disciplined with respect to the clarity of pronunciation and we were careful not to cover our mouths when speaking. We no longer went through life by looking in just one direction. We noticed the deaf everywhere, communicating by sign language, and this was something to which we had never paid particular attention before. They seemed to be, and indeed were, a rather self-contained community.

At that point, Ken contacted us and mentioned the possibility of a free surgery with the MED-EL cochlear implant system, which at the time was in the experimental stages at the Lenox Hill Hospital. However, this would require starting from scratch at another clinic and with another doctor; but our choice was Dr. Cohen.

Knowing that MED-EL has secure professional support in Zagreb, we tried to discuss this implant. However, despite the fact that Dr. Cohen was willing to make an exception in our case and use this implant, it was not a part of the privileged offer available from the Cochlear Company. This would take more time than we could spend in America.

We were worried about the expert and technical support available in Zagreb, and we contacted Mr. Ronald E. West, the director of the franchise of Cochlear, Englewood, Colorado, the manufacturer of Nucleus®, through Dr. Cohen. He kindly referred us to Dr. Boris Pegan (with all telephone numbers and addresses) as the only doctor in Croatia who was familiar with their program and who could provide expert and program support that our child would need after the surgery. As far as our request about a favorable purchase of the cochlear implant and the speech processor was concerned, he suggested that we send a letter.

Problems

In mid-November Ana got sick. We found out later that it was an ear infection. She had a fever, but the pediatrician we were referred to failed to call us, despite having promised to do so. His nurse claimed he would be in touch soon, but time went by without his call. Ana's temperature was rising. The next day, we still had no word from the doctor, and the nurse kept giving us vague answers. We did not know what to do. Finally, after raising my voice, I managed to get the answer: the doctor would not examine patients that he had not seen when they were healthy. We were advised to go to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

Checkup at the hospital

At the emergency room, a kind female doctor gave Ana her full attention and excellent medical care. The diagnosis was infection of the auditory canal. The outpatient treatment that we underwent at the same hospital, but under the care of another doctor, was a long process. We had to go for a number of checkups, because antibiotics are prescribed sparingly and only as the last resort. In addition, at the doctor's recommendation, Ana got an asthma inhalator. There was a slight suspicion of her having asthma. It seemed to us that it was one of the greatest concerns of the American health system. Even on the subway, we saw posters with health care authorities' warnings about this disease in infants. However, we believed that Ana was not asthmatic and, besides, the inhalators were too expensive so we (rightly) quit this treatment.

Consequently, we received astronomic bills that introduced us to the complex world of life and health insurance and the bill charging system. We got bills for the services of doctors we never saw, but who were allegedly consulted on Ana's treatment. Naturally, we did not want to pay those bills without getting a proper explanation and we had a lengthy correspondence with the hospital administration. No sooner had we answered one letter from them, we got two more, as if we did not answer them at all. They called us on the phone. Once we explained something to one officer, we would never hear from him again, but had to explain the whole thing again to another. Next, the agency specializing in bill collection contacted us. We had duplicate correspondence and duplicate telephone conversations. We forwarded all bills to our insurance company, which kept a low profile, and it was impossible to contact them directly. Luckily, we had Danny as our advisor, who had been through thick and thin to get his insurance company to cover the expenses of his daughter's cochlear implant. However, our correspondence with the hospital continued for one year after we returned to Croatia. The entire process taught us and made us aware of a concept we were previously unfamiliar with – the patient's rights. They should be exercised.

We spent a considerable amount of money on pre-operative checkups, and the ear infection was a great financial strain. We did not expect it. We chose the days when we would take a taxi to the hospital depending on Ana's condition. On days when she felt fine, we took the subway. Fortunately, the food was cheap and all overhead expenses for the apartment were included in the rent.

Despite the generous financial assistance by our family, it became hard for us to make ends meet in everyday life, and we had no idea how to raise the money for the operation. The debt on the American Express credit card was increasing, my wife's scholarship was near the end, Ana and my visas were to expire before the surgery and we had no news on the renewal of the scholarship and the visas we applied for. My plane ticket was soon to become invalid, while Ana's discount ticket was to expire in a few weeks, after her second birthday. Winter was coming, and we had no warm clothes. The contract for the apartment we sub-rented was nearing its expiration date and the owners were to return to New York at the end of December. Ana got sick with one infection after another that she contracted at the kindergarten. We had to undergo checkups and treatment every time she got sick and our emergency health insurance was also about to expire, which would deprive us of this type of medical care as well. Fears, hopes, and fears again – it was draining. Everything seemed to be beyond our control and, at the same time, happiness was at our fingertips.

Break, Decision and Good News

In late November, on Thanksgiving Day, we were invited to the home of our relatives Renate and Terry in Boston, Massachusetts, to elaborate the final possibilities for surgery. They sent us plane tickets as well. Renate helped us prepare the letters to the insurance company because the hospital bills were still hanging over our heads and the insurance company would not pay them. She also helped us draft the letters to the Cochlear Company in which we asked for more favorable conditions for the purchase of their implant.

Spruce Head, Maine

We left Boston with Renate and Terry and went to the seaside, to Spruce Head, Maine, where Ana could recuperate from her illness. This was also a farewell vacation, because we would be leaving America soon. We spent the next ten days in a region of beautiful New England, amidst a thick pine forest. Rockwell was the nearest town and it was half an hour away on foot. We found being isolated from the world and the mundane refreshing. In the warm and cozy house, the Atlantic Ocean was roaring below us. We watched its blue depths and the Atlantic waves crash against the shore, creating white foam. Between us and the sea, which was some ten meters beneath, was the wonderfully picturesque shore, consisting of plate-like granite rocks.

Suzana, Renate and Ana

We had a marvelous time, and Renate and Terry made the time we spent with them peaceful and full of hope in finding a solution. Their cozy home helped relieve some of our stress. Although Maine is renowned for shrimp and lobster, we enjoyed Terry's skillful Mexican cooking. I had the privilege of being the kitchen maid. Our days passed by in a serene family atmosphere. We visited fashionable seaside resorts, as well as the famous town of Salem, luckily, without witches. Naturally, on Thanksgiving Day, we had a real American-size turkey on our table.

In the jacuzzi

Ana was enjoying the company of Terry's granddaughters Ashley and Ariel, who were her playmates. She was also fascinated by the Jacuzzi in the bathroom where we took long bubble baths in the evening. Even after two years, she can still remember it, and a visit to a hotel in Mali Ston stirred up her memories.

Rested and with new strength, we made a decision, but were not sure if it was feasible. We sent a letter to Dr. Cohen informing him that we had decided to stay in America until the end of January and that we hoped that the surgery would be made possible with his help. We were aware that the speech processor could be mounted and the system completed only a month after the surgery, but our first concern was the surgery itself, which was to take place in December. Once it was done, we would find a way to make other things happen. We had no idea how to make any of it happen, and time was flying by, but we knew it was our last chance and we had to grab it. We put the issue of visas and other formalities aside for the time being.

Expiry date 15 Dec 1998

Although everything was still uncertain, we got our first good news when Dr. Cohen's office contacted us, informing us that the date for the surgery was scheduled. It was fantastic news. We knew then that he cared about our situation and it was encouraging. We based our new-found sense of optimism on this, and optimism was all we had. The surgery was scheduled for 17 Dec 1998, Ana's second birthday. Our visas were to expire two days prior to that, which meant that Ana and I would have to leave America. The surgery date would be too late. Thus, day after day, the possibilities of our staying in America were opening and closing again. We were facing new obstacles all the time; as soon as we removed one, another would appear.

Renate and Terry were of great and reliable support, but there was a number of administrative, financial, organizational and everyday problems we had to take care of. Renate was positive that the surgery was going to happen and she caringly provided Ana with winter clothes made of natural fibers, and she also gave some to us, because the temperatures in New York in winter can be very low. She also took set up my computer so I could surf the Internet.

Upon our return to Boston, we went sight-seeing, but were mostly occupied with making phone calls. We were impatient and called Dr. Cohen's office from the phone booth to ask if the changes in schedule were possible, made calls to Washington about the extending the validity of the visas and the scholarship, talked to our insurance company about the outstanding bills etc. On our return to New York, we called Washington from Boston airport to find out that my wife's scholarship was extended by another three months and that there should be no problems about the visas. The only problems left were the issues of money and the apartment. We were full of energy and in a hurry.

However, our plane did not land in New York, but somewhere in the middle of the night in the wilderness. We waited for hours in a frighteningly empty airport with no idea of what was going on. We had to wait for another plane or, alternatively, take a bus to New York, and this procrastination made us nervous. When we asked the pilot to get the baby holder for Ana from the cargo compartment of the plane, which was on the runway, he went to the remote apron and got it for us. This was another testimony to the friendliness of the common people. Finally, after few hours, we flew to New York.

Ana and Harris

New York at last. The apartment owners – him an actor, her a theater lighting designer, and their son Harris – who were to return to New York in a couple of days, agreed to live with their parents for three months, which was the period that we needed. Thus we would not have to look for a new apartment directly before or after our baby was operated on. We grew to love this apartment and we did not mind that it was full of someone else's belongings. The owners were not upset even after I caused a flooding by incorrect use of the washing machine. The water leaked even to the apartment beneath us. I helped to mop it up.

Unsure about how would we manage financially and expecting large bills, we naively wrote a letter to the Croatian Institute for Health Insurance, asking them to cover a reasonable portion of the costs. This request was delivered to someone who had promised to forward it to the Director of the Institute. Nothing happened; the request was either not forwarded or not processed. We made no further inquiries and, upon our return to Croatia, we did not ask for (or receive) anything from the Institute, or any other Croatian institution, association, foundation, etc.

Operation

Audiogram with and without the Phonak hearing aid [large image]

It was Christmas time, and Ana's birthday was approaching. I stopped taking Ana to the park, so she would not catch a cold. She stopped attending the kindergarten as well. Every day seemed like an eternity. We still were not sure that everything would go as planned. A week before Ana's birthday, we started the pre-operative exams, namely the audiograms and CT scan. On Ana's birthday, an audiogram was taken which confirmed what we already learned in Zagreb. Her hearing defect was so severe that the amplifiers she wore were of little use. The measurements were done with and without them and when I saw how loud the sound must be to reach her, I knew that the classic methods could not help.

The surgery was postponed for 22 Dec and it would be performed by Professor Noel Cohen at the NYU Medical Center/NYU Rusk Institute. We wondered whether Ana would have computer support for her cochlear implant and the speech processor in Croatia. In any case, we were not sure which device would be implanted, Nucleus® 22 or the state-of-the-art Nucleus® 24.

Our family managed to raise the necessary resources to cover our current hospital expenses, but it proved be difficult to deposit it in the bank, because the banks where we tried to do this did not do business with Croatia. The day before the surgery we managed to deposit the money in the bank in the street next to ours and they promised us that the money would be available in two days to settle the checks that would be coming from the hospital. However, this process was also complicated and full of difficulties that Dr. Cohen had to deal with for a long time.

Before the surgery

A sleepless night between 21 Dec and 22 Dec. On the morning of 22 Dec, we were in the waiting room at 5:30 a.m. and Ana walked in apparently in a good mood. After a while, they came for us and after that everything went smoothly. We were taken to the operating ward and a comfortable changing room where the final checkup and short pre-op procedure were done. Ana's disposition was great, while we were both anxious and happy. Ana began to feel euphoric due to an injection she received. At 7:30 a.m., Suzana followed Ana into the operating room, and stayed with her until she was anaesthetized. We were told to come back after noon.

It was a dark, soggy, snowy day. We sipped our morning coffee in a café of a nearby store. We went home uneasy, but happy at the same time, and sent our family an e-mail message that the surgery was under way. At noon, we were back at the hospital. The surgery lasted for about 5 hours and Dr. Cohen phoned us in the waiting room while the incision was being closed to tell us about the course of the operation. At 1 p.m. Ana was taken to the recovery room full of beds, patients recently operated on, busy staff, medical instruments and curtained booths. The atmosphere resembled the TV series ER. We stayed with our daughter who was in a deep sleep. She was so small and pale that she was barely discernible in the big, white hospital bed.

After the surgery

Around 4 p.m. she was transferred from intensive care to a hospital room in the pediatric department of the NYU Tisch Hospital which is part of NYU Medical Center. After a while, a little color returned to Ana's cheeks. She received a little morphine, antibiotics and, later, some junior analgesics. She was half-delirious. Her nose bled a little and she vomited blood twice during her restless sleep. She had a slight fever which was taken care of immediately. It was nothing strange or worrisome, just the aftershocks of the surgery which did not last for long. Dr. Cohen came to check on us around 6 p.m., after having spent 12 hours at the hospital. We gave him a red rose that we brought for him at 5 a.m. and which was already half-dried. He was moved. So were we. Toby, Julia's mother, also came in to share our joy with us. We did not ask which implant was inserted. It was, however, Nucleus® 24 Cochlear Implant System [2], although we had no idea where it came from and how.

The doctor's checkups, nurse care and attendance were around-the-clock. Everything went smoothly, day and night. Everyone was enthusiastic and did their jobs with joy and ease, so at the hospital we felt like old and welcome guests at a small hotel. Ana shared the room with a Puerto Rican boy who had been waiting for about a month to undergo complex surgery. At night, his whole family, including his aunts and grandmothers would gather around his bed and create a merry atmosphere. His mother and father slept in the same room, separated by a curtain, so there were, together with Ana and Suzana, five people in the comfortable two-bed room with two TV sets, two VCRs and two radios.

The morning after

Ana spent her first post-surgery afternoon gradually waking up but she did not regain her normal cheerful and merry disposition until the next morning. Suzana was at the end of her strength after spending a sleepless night at Ana's bedside. I did not have a peaceful night in our empty apartment either. At dawn, Ana started to play, and Suzana was beside herself with exhaustion. She desperately called me at 6 a.m. and I rushed to the hospital. Ana looked funny with a big white turban tightly wrapped around her head, which made her look frowned and serious, but it was only on the outside. In fact, she had a lot of fun during her waking hours, both at her own expense and at ours. Suzana, visibly exhausted, tried to pick herself up with some hot coffee. The only thing that tainted our joy that Ana's roommate did not have such good prospects.

At 7 a.m., the bandages were removed and, at last, we could see what the surgery was all about. Around her right ear, 5 cm of hair was shaved off. The incision was 15 cm long and looked like an elongated and reverted letter S. The lower part of the incision was at the point where the ear and the head meet and the whole thing looked like a large scratch, clean and precise, as if it was glued together. There were no stitches to remove. Around 10 a.m., less than 24 hours after the surgery, after taking care of some administrative business, we left the hospital. We got an analgesic suppository, just in case. There were no special instructions, no medication to take. Ana was as active as ever and in a great mood. We quietly left the room, wishing her roommate whose future was uncertain and his parents the best of luck.

Postoperative Care

Ana walked on her own from the taxi to the house and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Around 3 p.m. she fell asleep, after our repeated attempts to put her to bed. Only 3 hours later, she was very active again. We were told that we could give Ana a bath and wash her hair gently the same day, but we cautiously postponed it for the next day. However, we washed her hair with a little chamomile tea. Suzana, after getting no sleep the previous night and with many restless nights before that, could barely stand on her feet. She was in a curious post-stress condition that was actually an added stress. Indeed, we lived in a state of stress all the time and became oblivious to it. It took great strength and willpower to endure this. At night, with much reluctance, we had no heart to stop Ana from sneaking into our bed. She has kept this habit even to today, although we have tried to get her to give it up.

Christmas Eve and the red apples

The following afternoon, on Christmas Eve, I started to search for the Christmas tree that we had no time to buy before. In the evening we decorated a beautiful tree which I got at a bargain price of 15$. In accordance with our family tradition, we decorated it with fresh, red apples that I bought in a nearby supermarket. Ana meddled in everything. We exchanged symbolic gifts which Suzana secretly put underneath the tree, but we knew that we already received the greatest gift of all.

The third post-surgery day came. Everything was great, Suzana had even recovered from her lack of sleep. It was a white, sunny Christmas Day, and we wondered whether to go out or not. However, we postponed it until Sunday when we planned to go to church. Just as in previous days, Ana was in a great mood and her vivacity instantly made the place look like a playroom with a dozen kids. Her mother, who is from Slavonia, was devastated with the mess and kept tidying up after her. I adopted a more rational approach and waited until the evening to clean up.

In the evening, we took a bath. We did not wash her hair, but she tried to imitate her Dad who entertained her by plunging in the tub, so her head got wet too. She spent too much time in the water and the incision was a little bit wet, but still looked good. A small inflammation of the lower half of the incision behind the ear (reddish area, around 2 mm wide) seemed to subside. She was no longer cautious about the right part of her head that she had not leaned against her pillow during previous days. While two days before she had been wary of hands approaching this part of her head, she no longer cared. When I gently ran my fingers over the receiver, which was underneath the skin, she gave no particular reaction. The incision wound, which was aesthetically well positioned and looked as if it was glued together with great precision, healed fast and neatly. It looked like a sharp scratch, but underneath it was a slate with an FM receiver covering an area of about 15 cm2, which was completely indiscernible - even to the touch. We had slight problems with combing and brushing because of this, but it had more to do with our fear and caution that any real risk.

We had to take her to a hairdresser. We were not very good at cutting hair and it was necessary to have her get a trim although she looked pretty with bushy hair, especially in the mornings when her hair was a mess. With her hair shaved off behind the ears, Ana looked like a punk rocker, which was not a strange sight in New York. After all, she acted like one too. There were Latin American salons in our neighborhood, but Suzana was not very enthusiastic about them. However, she relented, and Ana got a nice haircut at the Milady salon, and I got a new haircut too.

No postoperative checkups were necessary. However, we wanted to see Dr. Cohen once again and he told us that he had done his part of work. He was thrilled with a painting by Zlatko Keser that we gave him as a farewell present. Actually, he admitted, the painting would delight his wife. Our friend Sanja had brought us the painting that Keser sent from Croatia, without knowing what kind of surgery we were dealing with. The wonderful coincidence was that the painting seemed to be a part of our story. Since it was painted earlier and printed in a catalogue, it is amazing how much it related to our situation. The painting represented a human head with a large spiral that resembled the cochlea. Thank you, Zlatko.

Now that the worst part was behind us, we had a happy time around our big Christmas tree with fresh apples and every day, Ana was overjoyed to see the shiny lights again. Ana would occasionally take apples off the tree and bite on them, but I put them back, even with the teeth marks on them. The Christmas atmosphere was even more real for us with the anticipation of sounds Ana would soon be able to hear. Our Christmas in New York was white and sunny and so was the New Year's Day. Sunny mornings gave an illusion of warmth. After only one week, although it was cold, we started to go to the nearby playgrounds, where Ana descended down the toboggan, sat in the swings, climbed the jungle-gyms and had a great time playing and trying to catch squirrels and pigeons.

Daily exercises

We frequently exercised according to Carol's instructions. These exercises were in preparation for using the speech processor. We combined them with the exercises recommended by Aunt Zora in Zagreb. It seemed like the best thing to do, and Ana responded best to this approach. She was stimulated by the exercise patterns she was familiar with. We also used the exercises recommended by the John Tracy Clinic and by the books, manuals and videotapes by Professor Warren Estabrooks, the great Canadian rehabilitation expert.

At night, we took baths in the tub, which, however, had resulted in a fall. She cut her frontal bone, which was a great shock to me, because I was worried about my daughter's looks. The wound healed pretty quickly, and after a couple of months, the scar was barely visible. Nevertheless, we were worried about injuries, because a blow to the head could damage the receiver which would cause dramatic consequences and require a new surgery.

We did not neglect our social life, taking Ana to the Italian and Chinese restaurants, cafes and pizzerias, as well as afternoon and evening strolls around Christmas-decorated New York. We loved taking walks on Broadway, Soho, Greenwich Village, Rockefeller Plaza, 5th, 6th and 7th Avenues. We went to the top of the Empire State Building. We discovered streets which, some twenty years ago, were nests of crime, but were transformed into peaceful business, trade or residential quarters. We spent the New Year's Eve at Victor's, with his family and friends. Victor gave us a sense of direction and he was the wind beneath the wings of our hopes. Thank you, Victor.

Miranda, Suzana, Ana and Ken

In the meantime, to relieve some of the tension and uncertainty while waiting for the processor to be mounted, we threw a big birthday party for Ana and invited a lot of people. All our New York friends were there, both children and adults. We owed it to them, but also to our daughter and ourselves. It was a merry and crowded party. We had a guest from Zagreb staying with us for ten days, and her friends also paid a visit. Our relatives, who visited New York as a part of their journey, were also there.

We did not neglect our habit of theater going. Once we saw a play performed by deaf children and another time we went to see a Broadway blockbuster. It was Schnitzler's play "The Blue Room" featuring Nicole Kidman, which attracted great public interest. A month before the show, when our staying in America was still uncertain, we managed to buy the tickets for 50$, which stirred envy of our friends who offered to buy them from us for 300$. We declined. The show was captivating, but I was so tired that night that I fell asleep in the crucial moment. Nicole Kidman took her clothes off and showed her nude body in all its beauty, and I was awaken by the ovation of the audience. It was really hard to endure being mocked by friends later.

Then, the big shock came, namely the bill for anesthesia amounting to $2,520.00. The first bill of many. Dr. Cohen's office took care of this.

Mounting the Processor and the First Fitting

We did not know how we would obtain the speech processor and the accessories, since we did not pay for them; even the cochlear implant itself was provided from hospital reserves.

On 2 Feb 1999, we were informed (followed by a formal letter at our request) by Cochlear that they would donate the speech processor and the cochlear implant to us, with the best wishes. We are very grateful to Cochlear USA. In fact, we received a case with two speech processors, SPrint™ and ESPrit™ at the hospital, as well as many accessories. To be on the safe side, we bought additional spare cables because we feared that these might not be available in Croatia.

A month after the surgery, namely on 25, 26 and 27 Jan, we visited Department of Otolaryngology at the Bellevue Hospital, which was a part of the NY Medical Center to have the speech processor mounted and programmed for the first time. In the course of the three-day fitting, the expert team headed by Janet E. Green, M. S., CCC-A, set up a program that cautiously conducted a certain range and force of sonic frequencies to Ana and transformed these frequencies into electric signals. Janet Green, an audiologist, had conducted Ana's audiogram before the surgery and, based on her findings, had also recommended the cochlear implantation.

Mounting and the first fitting

The fitting was carried out though a game of putting different forms together. The setting for a particular form was initiated by an electric signal of a certain power and frequency that was conducted to Ana via the speech processor and the cochlear implant. She was surprisingly calm and paid attention to everything that was happening. The lower and upper audibility and tolerance thresholds were defined by minimal reactions to certain sonic frequencies of certain intensity, perhaps a blink, or motion or doing the required task. It takes a great experience to distinguish between reaction to the sound and an accidental movement in a two-year old child. From now on, Ana would perceive these electric signals as sound that she would have to learn to recognize and, with diligence, she would be able to play the piano, violin or any other instrument.

After the first fitting, we gradually increased the intensity of the signal and microphone sensitivity, according to the instructions, and monitored what was happening. We did it cautiously, one grade of microphone sensitivity and volume at the time. In order to allow the skin on the head to adjust to the magnet and the pressure from the coil, we gradually prolonged the time Ana wore the device during the day.

The Boston arsenal

After only one week, in early February, we had the final check fitting in New York. The head of the Audiology Department, Professor Susan Waltzman, insisted on this. She would not let us go home before she was completely sure about the performance of the set program; knowing that it would not be possible in Zagreb to obtain everything Ana needed, she wanted to run a check personally. The big issue was how to adjust the device after our return to Croatia, without having to go to Germany or Switzerland. Dr. Sandra Roglic already informed us that Dr. Pegan was in Germany where he was introduced to the Nucleus® Cochlear Implant System 24, which was to be used in Croatia too. The clinic informed us that, initially, an expert technician for programming and adjusting the speech processor Nucleus® 24, would be coming to Zagreb periodically from Basel, Switzerland.

People said that we managed to do something that was not easy even for most Americans. Ana got a state-of-the-art implant and speech processor Nucleus® 24 from the Cochlear Company. It was all made possible by her mother's persistence, harmonious relations in the family, support from relatives, Renate and Terry, Dr. Cohen, the NYU Medical Center, Cochlear, numerous American friends and, not least, America. Our whole life since Ana was born could be the basis for a melodrama about the American dream and the Christmas Tale coming true at the same time.

Today, we would certainly have the surgery done in Zagreb, where it is now done with great expertise, so people no longer have to go abroad. Now when I tell this story from today's perspective, it all sounds so simple.

Leaving or Returning

At the farewell dinner for friends, besides our American friends, Nenad Bach and Brane Zivkovic were also present. Suzana's NYU mentor, Professor Zelda Fichandler, a very kind person, was also there. It was Suzana's turn to make dinner. We bought the meat at a Croatian butcher's on the city outskirts in Queens. The menu: delicious pasticada in the Slavonian manner, Italian gnocchi from Little Italy, vegetables and salads from China Town and red wine from Peljesac which was listed together with Austrian wines in the shop.

We were ready to go. We bought three large and three small suitcases in the nearby famous Orchard Street. These we loaded, together with the two suitcases we already had, with a host of books, dishes that we collected during our six-month stay in America, winter clothes that Renate gave to us and a Ana's many toys. We would have needed two taxis to transport this luggage to the airport, but Nenad Bach, a Croatian musician with whom we also socialized in New York, gave us a lift in his van.

The price for Ana's plane ticket from New York to Zagreb, for which we were charged the full fare since she was already two years old, was 800$. We did not have that much money, so we bought a return ticket New York – Zagreb – New York, again with Renate's assistance, for which we paid only 450$ (and got some of the money back later, since the return was never used). This was such a great shock to the airline company clerks that they forgot to object to my plane ticket which had expired. However, the stewardess provided the best seats for the three of us and left two empty seats on each side, although the plane was crowded. This was also an example of the American conduct. Considering the way we were seated on our flight from Zagreb, although the plane was not so full, this was another example of how different the two civilizations were in their relation to the parents and children.

We carefully avoided the airport metal detectors which Ana's device could activate or which could cause unpleasant sounds and disturbances for her. The airport officers did not like this, so they searched us thoroughly. Thus, our six-month stay in hospitable America was over.

The reality hit us upon the arrival to the Amsterdam airport, our stopover to Zagreb. The thick cigarette smoke in the lounges was suffocating us. After a long search, we found an area where there was a little bit less smoke. It was then that we realized how much living in the New York smoke-free environment, both indoors and outdoors, meant to us. Unsurprisingly, the Croatian Airlines plane to Zagreb was hours late, because it had to make a charter flight and transport some soldiers from Croatia to Europe.

[2] CI24M cochlear implant and SPrint™ speech processor