What a fantabulous couple of weeks it has been with my “new ears”! No, it’s not perfect, but I’m aware it never will be. However, I already hear noticeably better than before the surgery, so even if improvement stopped right now, I’d consider the cochlear implants a success!
But I’m assured that there will be a lot more improvement so it’s definitely All Good™!
At the clinic
For now, the fine tuning of the map (program) of my cochlear implants and associated hearing rehabilitation is on a weekly basis. So, on the last two Thursdays, I returned to the Lions Hearing Clinic to see my audiologist, Roberta.
I am very well looked-after at the clinic. Everyone is so helpful and genuinely wants me to hear as well as possible. It’s not “just a job” to them.
In the last two sessions we have worked to make sure the sound was more balanced between the two implants and between the individual channels of the implants, and the overall volume has been turned up several steps.
We also started on some rehabilitation exercises and Roberta, after quickly running through a few to find out the level of speech understanding (without looking) I was at, gave me some to take home and do for “homework”.
I had been interested to know what form these rehabilitation exercises would take. I haven’t done the second week’s homework yet, but in the first week they were very simple exercises (although they will get harder as I progress) of two types. In the first type, the clinician (the audiologist or the person helping with the homework) tells the patient (me!) either a clue topic or a specific phrase, then — without the patient being able to see the clinician’s mouth, the clinician reads several sentences which the patient then has to repeat. In the second type of exercise, the patient is given a list of sentences and when the clinician reads them out, the patient has to identify that sentence on the page.
Andy did the first week’s homework with me and I (predictably) did quite well as I’ve always been good at guessing what people are saying. However, I only actually hear a few words without looking and do have to guess. I didn’t do as well with sentences like, “Children look forward to Halloween in the Fall,” because that is so far from anything I would have expected that there was no way I would have guessed it! Children don’t think much about Halloween here at all — almost no one in Australia does — and nor is Halloween in the Fall — and if it was, it would be called Autumn! I was a bit cross about this — I am not American! Roberta told me the next time I was at the clinic that there is some Australian-based therapy but unfortunately it hasn’t been quite so well thought-out. Blah!
But anyway, before the surgery I could hear nothing without looking at people’s faces and my guessing was done while speech reading, so there’s massive progress there.
The hearing experience
Over the last couple of mapping sessions I have noticed that when the volume is increased, so too is the detail in what I hear. This surprised me, no doubt because that was not the case with hearing aids. If I was hearing muffled sound with hearing aids, turning them up meant I would hear louder muffled sound. It shouldn’t have surprised me though, because those things I now wear behind my ears are called “speech processors” for a reason — they are far more than the mere amplifiers that hearing aids are. It’s just that this is so different to my previous experience.
I walked out of the clinic a week after switch-on and heard a bird tweet for the first time in about 25 years.
I went to work and was putting something in the fridge and someone spoke to me, so I turned to look at her. She looked very surprised and said, “You knew I was talking to you! Before, you wouldn’t have even realised.”
I can now hear the garage door going up and down, and the beeps when the pads on the microwave oven are pressed are quite loud, and I can hear the beeps or pings when the microwave has finished cooking, too. I didn’t even know till now that the buttons on EFTPOS handsets beep. I can hear my kitten meow and can hear her purrs after a fashion (they sound a bit crackly). I couldn’t hear any of these things before.
When I listen to music now, the buzzes and extraneous noises are totally gone (yay!) though I still cannot always make out the tune, and (as with speech) louder is clearer. Every now and then I will hear some instrument or instrumental pattern that I hadn’t previously realised was a part of the music and without fail that puts a big grin on my face! Likewise when I suddenly clearly distinguish words or phrases being sung that previously were incomprehensible mumbles.
One day at lunch, I hadn’t been aware of anyone coming up behind me, but out of the blue I clearly heard a voice say, “Can I get you another glass of water?” I was able to turn around and reply, “No thank you, I’m fine,” without having to ask the person to repeat it. In fact, it is amazing enough that I knew someone had spoken to me at all, let alone heard (yes, heard!) what they said. What a buzz that gave me!
Another day, I was seeing someone out of my office and we were standing in the doorway, talking. Suddenly, my magnet popped off my head and attached itself to the doorframe! After a moment of total shock I had to crack up laughing. It kept me chuckling for most of the day. I told Roberta about this and she was unsurprised, and said that people report their magnets jumping off their heads onto fridges and all kinds of things!
Using my mobile phone
On one occasion, I found myself lost (long story!) and was running very late for a meeting and I was somewhat anxious about it so I phoned the receptionist at work to ask her to pass on a message from me.
Well, that was interesting. I automatically reached up to remove my hearing aid as I had previously heard better on my mobile phone without it than with it. Quite a “duh!” moment as I remembered that things are different now and I’m deaf as a door post without the speech processors! I scrambled for the remote control so I could try switching to T (telecoil) mode if necessary. I had no idea if my mobile phone even had a telecoil. Anyway, I dialed and held the mobile phone up to my speech processor, and the phone started to ring and it was very faint so I switched the telecoil on. Louder — but lots of interference. Blah.
I didn’t hear what the receptionist said when she answered the phone at all so did my usual trick when I don’t hear — talk away and don’t let anyone get a word in edgewise! If they don’t get a chance to speak to me, I won’t mishear! I explained my situation rapidly and did get (or guess!) the “I’ll let her know” when I finished my spiel and then I said thank you and hung up quickly, glad to have that out of the way!
So there was my first telephone conversation post-implant. And I have to say, I’m not in a hurry to repeat it, especially now I know my mobile phone doesn’t work well with the implants. Next time I won’t use the telecoil, that’s for sure.
I told Roberta about this experience and she suggested turning the phone over to speaker phone for now, and said that we’ll “start working on using the phone” in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to that in a way, but for so many years I have associated even the thought of using the telephone with such huge stress that I think it will be an “interesting” although exciting process.
In any case, it’s progress! And still all very exciting.