Today is the 1st anniversary of the activation of my cochlear implants, which I received on June 26, 2008.
In many ways, I haven’t felt there was much to report in the last several months. I think this is because progress was so dramatic in the first 4 months or so after activation. Even though my hearing has subsequently improved, it has been relatively unnoticeable.
In terms of scientific measurements, tests at a visit to my audiologist 6 weeks ago show that my hearing has continued to improve even since the last tests. The difference was especially noticeable in tests for speech comprehension in noisy situations. (Which are still bad, but at least I heard some things, as opposed to nothing at all before.)
This is particularly good considering that over the last few months, some frequencies have had to be turned down in volume due to the presence of pain at certain levels. One wonders what improvement there may have been if this had not been the case…?
The real-life differences
Scientific measurements certainly have their place, and they have been encouraging markers when actual progress has been imperceptible to me. But the real differences have been lifestyle ones that, when I think back, have been quite radical.
The difference above all differences
The major, major, and did I say major? change in my life has been that I am no longer afraid to talk to people. Yep, I still dread it somewhat in places with lots of background noise, but even that is improved.
Before my cochlear implants, I would face even a trip to the supermarket with deep dread, because — what if the checkout operator spoke to me? I’d watch their faces like a hawk for the question “Cheque, savings or credit?” when I went to pay with my EFTPOS card, but anything further than that I couldn’t predict. In such situations I would either ask and ask for the speaker to repeat (up to 5 times before giving up) or smile and pretend I heard when it was probably pretty obvious to the other speaker that I hadn’t.
Humiliating, either way.
I avoided going out much at all and particularly avoided anywhere there might be background noise.
But when I’m out and about now — I know I may not hear first time, but I do know that I’m going to hear enough to communicate sooner rather than later in most circumstances.
That is just the most amazing thing.
Other important differences
Being able to converse with my kids has been a wonderful thing! Previously, if my youngest son spoke to me as we were driving along, before I could understand what he was saying and reply, I’d have to say, “Wait till I stop, then I can look at you.” Now, I can chat with him as we go. That is just incredible! I can also talk to my oldest son, which I couldn’t do before even face-to-face in a quiet situation, as he doesn’t tend to move his lips much when he speaks.
Professionally as well as socially, I feel I can hold up my end of the conversation and not come out of it appearing to be totally stupid. In the last year or so before I got the cochlear implants I felt my (lack of) hearing was really getting in the way of me being able to be the best I could be, professionally, and now I see those barriers falling with relief as well as satisfaction.
Talking on the telephone is now possible. I do still have difficulty when either the other person or myself are in a noisy place, or when the other person has an accent, or talks very fast. For this reason I avoid answering the phone in general, just in case it’s one of those awkward situations. But if I have to make a call, I can — especially if I know in advance that I’m calling a quiet home or office, as well as the topic of conversation. (Speech comprehension is made so much easier when the topic is known in advance, because you are expecting to hear certain words and phrases without even being conscious of it.)
And of course I do hear all those environmental noises, such as birds tweeting, cars, aeroplanes, emergency vehicles, computers humming, microwaves beeping, telephones ringing, and — a biggie for me — the “Snap, Crackle and Pop” of rice bubbles in the morning when I have cereal!
To sum it up
If I could summarise what cochlear implants have done for me, I would have to say they have ended my isolation. I’ve regained a lot of confidence when dealing with other people. I used to love being around people, used to even be known for my quick wit, believe it or not! (Try being witty when you don’t hear what’s being said!!!) I totally lost that social side of me when I couldn’t hold a conversation and that is now changing.