Today, my cochlear implants were activated.
It has been the most amazing day!
The activation process
I met my parents at the hospital, and we waited together in the waiting room. They were talking and I sat there in isolation, as usual. The minutes ticked on and we were finally called in half an hour after the appointment time.
However, it was All Good™. The audiologist, Roberta, introduced a man who was with her as Gregor from MED-EL, the company who makes the cochlear implants I have. It turned out that I was the first simultaneous bilateral implantee with MED-ELs that they’ve done. So Gregor had set up a couple of systems for Roberta that apparently would ultimately speed up my appointment anyway.
Roberta explained what was about to happen, then she and Gregor checked the strength of the magnet. They decided it was ok, though later they did have to change to stronger magnets.
We started with the left ear.
First a quick test was run to make sure all the electrodes were working ok. They were! Then, one by one, Roberta activated each of the twelve channels. She slowly increased the volume until I could hear the beep and then continued to increase it until it was at a “loud but comfortable” level.
Just this small exercise was delightful because as we moved along the channels I was hearing the beeps of frequencies it had been many years since I’d heard at all.
Then Roberta activated all of the channels for the left ear at the same time.
There was no overwhelming rush of sound as I’ve read in some other switch-on accounts, but I heard some high pitched tones, then Roberta started to speak. Each word sounded like a high pitched beep. When I told her so, my words also sounded like high pitched beeps. Now, I knew not to expect too much at first but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed in case that was as good as it was going to get today…
But Roberta then increased the overall volume gradually and I started to hear some lower-pitched tones too. Eventually I began to distinguish words. That was such a relief and so, so amazing!
We repeated the process with the right ear, and I seemed to have a lot more extraneous “noise”, both high- and low-pitched, with the right ear. But as the volume was increased, the clarity of the words was probably better than with the left ear. Weird how these things work.
Then, Roberta turned both processors on at the same time. After a bit of balancing the difference of volume between the two ears, I was understanding speech at least equally as well as before the implants. I still need to lip read, and I don’t catch everything, but I can hold a conversation. How amazing is that?
Getting used to sound
In addition, there are other sounds I hear that I didn’t hear before. I noticed the car indicators ticking as I left the hospital — it’s a long time since I heard those! I couldn’t resist putting on a CD as I was driving to work, making sure it was playing a familiar song — but too much, too soon — it sounded awful and far from discerning a tune, I couldn’t even tell that there were notes! The singing voice sounded a bit like an old vinyl record being played slooooooooowwwwwwly. Dreadful! Although I had hoped, I wasn’t too disappointed because I had always known it would be unlikely I’d be able to listen to music straight away.
At work, it was great to be able to converse again, however awkwardly. Just as previously, with hearing aids, I found any conversation stressful but I was so excited about my “new ears” that I chattered away to a few people. Someone commented that I was speaking faster than usual but I told her that was probably just because I was excited! Neil said it is noticeable that I speak more quietly now. Apparently that is a Good Thing™ because everyone could previously hear every single word I said.
Who woulda thunk it?
The weirdest thing was to sit at my computer and click with the mouse — and hear a click! I had no idea that a mouse click actually made a clicking noise — who woulda thunk it?
The sound was to both delight and annoy me all afternoon!
When I left work, I decided to persevere with the music thing, and put the same song on the CD player that I’d tried earlier. Imagine my total shock when the introductory notes filtered through, and then I heard the words being sung. It sounded awful — tinny, with buzzing and beeps that are no doubt a meaningful part of the music but my ears don’t know that yet, and as with hearing aids, I couldn’t understand most of the individual words — but I could hear it! I was fighting back tears as I was driving. I never expected this on the first day of sound!
I tried some of the other tracks and I did have better luck with some than others. Some I still couldn’t make out the tune, even though I knew it. But others sounded relatively wonderful and I was just over the moon.
As soon as I got home I pulled out my violin (I just couldn’t help myself!) which I hadn’t even attempted to play in the last two weeks of silence. I started to play, and that sounded terrible too, of course, yet — it didn’t. Whatever my hearing levels, my fingers and my bow arm know what to do, and I found that if I focussed, I could hear the notes and distinguish the tunes and… I was totally awed at the tones. I could hear the resonance of the vibrato in a way that I don’t remember ever hearing before, though once I must have. I played piece after piece, and despite all the ugly sounds in there too, just loved what I was hearing.
Andy and Connor came over for dinner and the conversation flowed smoothly for the first time in two weeks — no need for a pen and paper now! I still do have to look at people’s faces and speech read — I don’t know what they’re saying if I can’t see their faces, but I do at least know they are speaking, which is new to me. I never dared to dream things would be this good so soon.
Andy and Connor left quite early and I was glad because the speech processors had been hurting the still-healing wounds behind my ears for a while, and I really wanted to take them off — even though I was so tempted to take my violin out again. If the musical CD experience was anything to go by, each time I do things it will sound better and better.
To know it can only get better from here is a wondrous thing!