Peer closely and you will see my new Sonnet speech processors.
After seven and a half years with bilateral cochlear implants, I have finally upgraded my original speech processors. I am now the proud new owner of two sexy matte black Sonnets, by Med-El.
Black, it would appear, is the new black.
It is remarkable, really, that the previous pair lasted as long as they did. It’s true I took very good care of them (at A$12,500 each, it was no doubt wise to do so) but it’s also true the plastic was getting brittle and they were literally falling apart.
Still, they had a pretty good innings. They didn’t even die while we were living in our mouldy rainforest home! And thank heavens for that, as I didn’t have access to an audiologist who dealt with cochlear implants up in Far North Queensland.
My health fund unfortunately didn’t automatically agree to pay for the upgrade. (Apparently only Medibank Private does, and HBF doesn’t cover them at all. The other funds appear to vary in the degree of difficulty of approval.) There were a few hoops to jump through and the process took about 7 months altogether. I can’t pretend I didn’t feel I was bashing my head against a brick wall for much of that time but really, I’m just grateful that the day finally arrived when I received an email from the Lions Hearing Clinic telling me the money was in their bank account. I could now come in and be fitted with the sparkly new speech processors that had been ordered and delivered months beforehand.
When I walked into my audiologist’s room, she had already started to unpack one of the boxes containing the speech processors and accessories, and had ripped open some of the small boxes containing the accessories too. I felt like a disappointed child, not allowed to unwrap my own presents! So when it was time to open the box for the second speech processor, I stopped her before she got stuck into it, and snapped a photo while it was still sitting on her lap.
Brand spanking new cardboard boxes, er, I mean, speech processors.
It’s a far cry from the fancy aluminium cases my first two came in! But that was, admittedly, pretty wasteful. This is too, really, in a different way, and has much more packaging overall from what I can remember. (I do still have those old cases — they are far too good to throw out — but wouldn’t know where to find them.)
On this visit, my audiologist mainly copied over the settings from the old speech processors to the new ones, which didn’t take long at all. I have a follow-up appointment booked in early March for any fine tuning that might be needed after I’ve used them “in the wild” for a few weeks.
The most amazing thing
I’ve found by now that there are indeed a couple of annoyances, and will see if those can be eliminated at the follow-up visit. The main benefit, however, has been an absolutely remarkable one to me. The Sonnets are far more moisture-resistant than the Opus 2s, which makes a very practical and quite astounding difference to the quality of my life.
It might seem a small thing on the surface, and of course I realise it’s minor in the scheme of things, but I don’t actually remember the last time I was able to hear while taking a shower, or directly after washing my hair.
You see, when my speech processors are out, I am totally deaf. I have zero hearing. Not even the faintest sounds — just total silence. So, in the past, I would take off my speech processors (or, before that, hearing aids) to shower, then put them on again afterwards. If I washed my hair, I had to either blow-dry my hair straight away so I could put my “ears” back on again, or be totally without hearing for the hours it takes my thick, below-shoulder length hair to dry.
Likewise, at the beach, I’d take my “ears” off and, most times, keep my head above water so as to avoid getting my hair wet. Wet hair means no hearing until it’s dry again, which in turn means I am not only in silence while actually in the water, but also while packing up and walking back to the car, then during the car journey home, in the shower once home, and until my hair had been blow-dried and I could put my “ears” back on again.
I’m sure you can appreciate that not being able to communicate for significant chunks of time is somewhat less than ideal.
When out diving, I’d have to bring a hair dryer if I wanted to be able to hear at all between or after dives. I was on the receiving end of some strange looks and incredulous comments, I can tell you!
It was inconvenient, but that’s how it was and for more years than I can count, I lived with it. As you do, when there’s no other option.
Now, I can wear my speech processors in the shower and in the water at the beach, as long as I don’t get my head wet. If I do, well, I still have to take the speech processors off, but the difference is that a quick towel dry later, I can pop them back on again. I haven’t been diving since the upgrade, but the same thing will apply — a quick towel dry and I’ll be able to hear. No more worrying about whether or not a boat will have power for a hairdryer, and no more feeling quite so like a freak.
Being deaf is extremely isolating. This seemingly little thing is actually huge to me.
As a bonus, when I let my hair dry naturally it’s curlier, more bouncy, and feels softer and just generally more pleasant. It still feels like a real luxury to be able to do this again.
The Sonnets actually have reusable covers that are waterproof, but for some reason they’re not yet available in Australia, even though they appear to be elsewhere. I’m looking forward to them becoming available here, as then I could actually go swimming wearing the speech processors. That would be amazing. It’s hard to imagine being able to put my head underwater, come up again and be able to hear if someone spoke to me.
Nope. Can’t imagine it.
Another feature that hearing aids and other cochlear implants have had since I got my original speech processors is bluetooth capability. The Sonnets do have it built in, but for some reason beyond my comprehension the facility for this is also not available in Australia yet. This means that I have to physically change the battery covers and plug cables in to connect my speech processors to a computer or device if I want to listen to music, or a podcast, or anything else with audio. This is not exactly convenient, especially as when I’m “plugged in” I can’t hear other sounds, so if someone speaks to me it is not a matter of simply hitting “pause” — I have to change the battery covers back again first.
Rechargeable batteries are yet another accessory that is available elsewhere but not here. It’s good that the Sonnet takes only two batteries instead of the three my previous speech processors took — and they last just as long before they need to be changed. Still, they require replacing every two days, and even though I’ve now reduced battery usage from six every two days down to four, it does gets expensive and means a lot of poisonous waste in the environment that has to somehow be dealt with.
A bonus of my new Sonnet speech processors is the Dry-Star electronic drying station that came in the box. Each night, the speech processors must be given the opportunity to dry out to prolong their life. If we’d still been in our rainforest on solar power I might think differently about the power usage but, as it is, it’s much more effective than before. Instead of a little screw-top plastic container with disposable silicon-filled tablets, I have this.
Dry-Star UV electronic drying station.
I believe that in later years the Opus 2 processors have come with an electronic drying device, but “back in my day” it was just the small plastic tub I’ve had all these years.
I do like getting new toys!
So there we have it — and hopefully my new, sexy black Sonnets will be as good to me as my original speech processors have been.
Leigh Owen says
It is amazing what we take for granted. I didn’t know cochlear implants needed speech processors and certainly didn’t know that blow-drying hair can be a necessity. Great blog Vicki to educate people like me. It strikes me as weird that Australia (apparently here at Wollongong Uni) were at the forefront of cochlear implant development and now we seem to have fallen behind in its application (ie waterproof covers and Bluetooth).
I have a feeling that the Cochlear brand (the Australian one) is way ahead of Med-El (a Swiss company) in these areas. Cochlear has some plastic waterproof covers available already, though the Med-El ones are better from what I can tell. Still, a bird in hand, etc etc. And if I remember correctly, Cochlear had bluetooth capabilities even when I got my first speech processors. (The Cochlear ones were also a LOT larger, very bulky and ugly, which was a factor for me in choosing Med-El. After hearing aids, which have become smaller and smaller, all of them were huge.) Since that time, Cochlear has been updating their speech processor range but it was only last year, 7 years after I received my cochlear implants, that Med-El has put out an update. They just seem to be a lot slower. Still, I do have the upgrade now and already it’s improved my lifestyle, if not my hearing, so I’m happy!