It’s been quite the interesting one month and so weeks since activation. Updates have been pretty few and far between. I will attribute this error to my trails and tribulations of having a cochlear implant. My 20-plus years of being profoundly deaf are making this process a slow one. However, none-the-less, things are progressing!
I have visited the audiologist every two weeks since activation. Our hour that we spend together consists of about 30 to 40 minutes of questions and discussion and only about 20 minutes going through the actual adjustments. At each appointment I am given only two types of tests. For the first one the audiologists gives me sets of beeps and goes through each main frequency level starting at the low frequencies and working up to the higher ones. He asks me to count the number of beeps in each set. When this is done, he gives me a chart with a bar. On the left side of the bar there’s a marker that says “first hearing” which means this is when I first hear something. The next marker to the right is “soft”, then “medium”, then “loud but comfortable” and finally “too loud”. Our goal is to find a volume I can listen to on each frequency for long intervals. There are really no marks as far as development goes. The experience is different for each patient. The audiologists go at a pace that is comfortable to the person using the device.
As far as my experience goes between the appointments: it was pretty awful at first. As I said before, I was given eight programs, each a little louder than the previous. I was asked to gradually turn up the volume – at my own pace. Each appointment was like this. This proved very stressful the first few weeks. I was faced with countless headaches and even nausea. I even was sick with a cold for a week (although I am sure this is not the fault of the implant – just one of those things that comes with being human). I would often leave the implant off for long periods of time. I felt guilty about this a lot – which is probably the real reason for my lack of posting. I knew I needed to wear it to get anywhere, hearing is not something that can just come to you. You have to work at it. Practice really does make (almost) perfect when it comes to hearing.
Then last week everything changed. Instead of my usual two weeks, I was given three weeks before my next appointment. I breezed through the programs in a week and a half, much to my amazement. With my volume maxed out, I think I finally had a chance to just focus on hearing rather than having to deal with the constant change and the headaches that went along with it. Then one day I decided I wanted to see how far I had come. I could hear little things and understand noises here and there. That however, isn’t what I want from my CI. I can get that easily from my hearing aid. I wanted to understand speech. So I turned off my hearing aid, leaving my CI on. I was in the car and decided that I would plug in a Grammy Nominees CD. These were songs I knew fairly well and before long, tears were coming to my eyes as I jammed along to (believe it or not) Britney Spears and Kid Rock. I could follow along in the songs! This was great. I have not heard a thing out of that ear for 23 years and I’m following along to music!!!??? It was really amazing. That was a real starting point to real hearing rather than just some gorram noise.
I think I am blessed to be able to use my hearing aid to the up most of my abilities and do well at it. It created “memory” for my left ear. Even though I had a rocky start, my brain knows how to interpret sound from a 23-year-dysfunctional ear that’s receiving some type of electronical stimulation that it has never received in its life. I am in awe how “plastic” our brains are, simply in awe.
After that moment in the car, I really began practicing. On the way to work, I started listening to talk radio with just my cochlear implant. I don’t pick up much, but I know I heard “The Dow Jones is up by (36?) points” and “south (of the lake)”. At a later date, I picked up “United States”, “frustrating” and “President Bush’s” – though not consecutively in that order. I also finally got my book in the mail, and am listening to the audiobook as I read. I just finished today and plan to try to listen to the audiobook again on a road trip for work on Wednesday. Since I know the topic and most of what was said, I bet I could pick up quite a bit.
Today’s visit to the audiologist was a bit different than the others. My audiologist programmed my CI to handle environmental sounds rather than it being a way of rehabilitating my brain. I was given four programs. The first was for everyday events, the second took advantage of the directional microphone which is programmed to focus on sound in front of me, the third was programmed to reduce background noise and the fourth was designed to listen to music. I didn’t understand the fourth one other than it’s supposed to pick up more sounds and heighten background noise since the CI can’t tell the difference between background noise and music. Oh joy. I think I’m avoiding that one.
One thing that was interesting that I learned today. There are frequencies that the cochlear implant can “hear” that no hearing aid can pick up on. They’re the higher frequencies after where the hearing aid will “drop off” in audiogram. Wow. I wonder what they sound like and how it makes sounds different.
This all is a pretty fast leap from when I felt “head throbs” as my first introduction to CI hearing. Things sound less like bells and more echoy overall now.
P.S. I love the violin solo in “Circle of Life” from Lion King. It is gorgeous!