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!
Jonathan Snook says
That’s awesome and even brought a little tear to my eye. Congratulations!
Adam Schilling says
Amazing story! I’m so happy for you! :-)
Paul Boag says
Hi Vicki. I know we have never actually met but you have almost had me in tears reading this. What an awesome and exciting experience. Please keep posting your experiences. It is a delight to read and amazingly inspiring. technology rocks!
What an amazing day! It’s also really cool that you got out your violin. Let me know if you want to come over and hear some frogs croaking. :-)
This has been thrilling to witness, and I am over the moon for you :) Your honesty is what is making it so exciting. Thank you for sharing it.
That is soooo cool! :-) I too shed a little tear for your delight. It is amazing the things that we take for granted. Thanks for reminding us of the joy that is in the everyday.
Rob Knight says
Tears indeed. Congratulations. That is so awesome. Thank you for sharing the story.
Gary Barber says
You go girl! Another step on the road to being the super cyborg. You are really inspirational.
Ben Buchanan says
Truly awesome, what a first day! Thanks for sharing this :)
Thats great news Vicki, I’m so glad its working out for you. Looking forward to more stories of improvement!
There is not much I can say more as others did already. Except that I loved reading all that great news and I’m happy for you having such an excellent day 0. Mac :-)
just got back after one of those bad days, you were on my mind and I hoped your day went better than mine :) And so I was keen to find out how you felt today – and now I’m sitting here smiling ;)
Thank you so much for sharing your story and your experiences. Must have been a rollercoaster of emotions for you: excitement, worry, disappointment – and JOY :) :) wow… amazing to read about the details of your day, gave me goosebumps.
SO very happy for you :) onto even more audio explorations for you :) all the very VERY BEST :)
Oh Vicki, I’m so pleased for you!
Last week was the first time I’ve tried to sing and play in company since getting my new, more powerful hearing aids. Being able to tune pitch, after several years of not being able to, was very emotional for me.
I can only imagine how much more intense your experience was.
Hurray for technology!
Congratulations Vicki so happy for you yes I am getting excited my op 4th,.
Can i ask you history how old and what and how long as caused your hearing loss. go for it you are moving along so quickly, i am only getting one ear done but I dance rock n roll and hav been expecting the music side to be the last thing that works so keep me posted on that side,i cant wait till i can i sing along in the car. i have missed that so .. xx
James Shook says
Congratulations! I hope things get better and better as you expect. Thank you for sharing this fascinating experience.
By the way, you NEVER want to hear me play the violin :-)
Go for it you good thing! (I also had a tear in my eye, as your bravery, positiveness, expressiveness and general adorableness are quite moving…)
Derek Featherstone says
Vicki – so wonderful to read this post (and your tweets) filled with emotion and excitement. I can’t even imagine what you’re experiencing… Keep well and keep us updated.
oh wow, wow, wow! Thanks for sharing your experiences!! :)
How wonderful, Vicki. I hope your daily progress continues along this curve!
I’m glad that your switch-on went so well Vicki…I never knew about the mouse click either! Hopefully I will have the same success as you. Thanks for posting your experiences.
Gavin J says
Vicki, I am just lost for words.
Things can only get better from here.
Steve Fleischer says
I am so very happy for you and it’s great to know that things are going even better than expected.
Can’t wait for the day we can meet up and chat together!
Take care. xx
Thanks everyone — your responses have been overwhelming and although there are too many for me to attempt to reply to individually here, I’m so grateful for your support and encouragement. Thank you so, so much!
well done kiddo.. I kinda liked your violin playing.. made a very civilised background noise :-) .. very happy for you :-)
I hope activation day comes quickly! Please consider adding your blog to Deaf Village (www.deafvillage.com) — we’d love to have you as part of our community!
Congratulations, Vicki – I am absolutely thrilled for you!
Brianna's Mommy says
Congratulations! When Brianna was activated about 2 months ago, she had the same beeping experience with voices at first. I was secretly devistated, but as you did, she started hearing more and more. I am so happy for you and I hope that you get to hear all those little things that make life so vibrant and alive! Good luck and keep us posted!
Hey Vicki How are you going havent heard anything since you were switched on Is all Ok ???
Congratulations!!! And your blog is very interesting!
I have a question for you…after your surgery and up to your activation day, did you experience tinnitus of any kind? If so, did it go away once you were activated?
My surgery was on July 3rd and experiencing horrible ringing sounds about 10 times or so per hour, it is nuts!!! I am told that it will gradually go away once I am activated, hope they are right.
My activation day is July 29th, can hardly wait!
Wondered if you had the same thing too?
Happy anniversary :-)
Thank you Zuzu! :)
Sandra Sciascia says
WOW WOW WOW!!! Hun this is an amazing story.
It’s been quite an amazing journey, too. :-) xxx