Dancing into a new life

29 03 2010

It’s been four days since switch-on and my bionic hearing is changing quickly. On Wednesday, I was able to detect a few sounds but they were all beeps. I started to pick out people beeping around me like little birds, items being banged set upon my desk, pages being turned in a series of beeps, the phone ringing in a beep. I had been given three levels of sound on my processor, which was expected to easily last me until my next visit to the audiologist’s, in five days time. On the second day, the volume of the beeps was getting quieter and quieter, and I kept increasing the sound. I started to detect my work colleagues’ voices, with an accompanying beep. I was able to detect a glass being filled with beepy water and draining down the sink’s plug hole, a kettle boiling in mini beeps and switching off with a ping, a crisp packet being beepily rustled. I was getting rather beeped off!

By Thursday evening, I didn’t have any more volume to add on my processor and I didn’t want to wait until Monday’s audiology appointment and miss out on any progress. So there I was on Friday morning, banging on my audie’s door, and she gave me a big increase in sound levels on the processor. She can’t believe how fast I am progressing and has told me to slow down, that my brain needs time to take it all in or I might hamper my progress. She thinks it is because I have done so well with my hearing aids that my brain is very well developed at listening so is able to make sense of the new cochlear implant sound more quickly. My audie said a lot of people take a month off after switch-on to relax at home and take in the new sounds, then they have a shock getting used to their usual routine when they go back to work. Considering I am facing a month of crappy sound whilst my brain adjusts, I reckon returning to work is the smartest thing to do. Just before I left the audie’s office, I realised she wasn’t beeping when she was talking to me.

*hurrah!*

It was Friday afternoon and I was back in the office. I was shocked to find that I could make out my colleagues voices without beeps over the top, their voices sounded distant, in high tones, but I could make them out. It was happy tears all round and a very emotional day. I was amazed that I was able to hear through a computer in my head.

I received a very kind gift from Patrice, Bob and Kirby – a pretty seashell for my New Ear Day, very appropriately reminiscent of a cochlea – and beautifully polished until it shone. I have spent the three days since activation working as normal and that means listening and taking in sound from clients all day, chatting to my interpreter, colleagues and friends, going to the usual noisy cafes for lunch. I think all this has really helped me to ‘acclimatise’ to listening through a computer. It was wonderful to hear a voice and not a beep, and it really helped with my lipreading – which I found a lot less stressful.

Voices now sound quite weird as my brain adjusts to the new sound, and I am having great difficulty understanding what is being said today. I expect to go backwards sometimes as I adjust but to carry on moving in the right direction. I can see that there are so many different shades of hearing. Moving from silence, to sensations or beeps, to detecting some environmental sounds, detecting voices and life around me, moving on to comprehending sounds and then – finally! – understanding speech. My Holy Grail is to understand speech without lipreading. A bonus gift would be to enjoy music. I’m on Advanced Bionic’s HiRes-S with Fidelity 120 program and will get an additional program in May 2010 called ClearVoice, which is revolutionary in having the ability to reduce background noise or the ‘cocktail party effect’. So now I have my goal in sight.

My sound database is now constantly being populated with a drip-feed of familiar, new and sometimes surprising sounds. Familiar sounds I can now hear are the dog barking next door, cars passing me, and sometimes footsteps. When I walk through a busy place such as the cafe in our office building, I don’t experience the usual wall of indecipherable echoey loud white TV noise that hurts my ears and makes me want to scream very loudly, but instead I detect the quiet chirping of people’s voices. (I know from Amanda, the cutlery will become my new sound from hell). At the moment my window of sound is still quite small, because I would not be able to cope if the audie let me have it all at once. It is a mountain that I have to climb slowly, take a rest now and again, acclimatise myself bit by bit. So at the moment, I am only able to hear high frequency sounds that are not too far away from me. I have tried listening to my iPod and music sounds absolutely rubbish, however the volume is set much lower (my hearing aid required the maximum iPod setting and hearing aid setting). I’ve bought my first audio book, Harry Potter’s first book, and find that very hard to listen to as the sound makes no sense – what I am hearing sounds like a long wail with gaps. But I’m holding the faith! Here’s why ….

New sounds from my cochlear implant are the Blackberry / Mac / remote control keys clicking, cutlery on plates, plastic bags rustling, scissors cutting plastic, clicking fingers, bus doors thumping shut, my dog panting and whining (he sure whines a lot!), using an eraser, the bathroom door lock and light clicking from the room next door, the doves and pigeons making a racket in my chimney, my own breathing and sniffing, zips, Amanda’s jaw cracking every time she opens her mouth – all these tell me that the cochlear implant is already outperforming my hearing aid. And it’s only been FOUR DAYS! I am realising that when something moves, it makes a sound. The first sound I could hear clearly, sounding normal and without any pesky beeping, was my shoes scraping on the tarmac when I walked my dog yesterday morning, and I took great pleasure scraping my shoes (and dancing) all around the park. Unfortunately, I now need a new pair of shoes.

I am amazed that I put up with such crappy hearing for so many years.

Bye bye, Crappy Hearing Aid.

Hello, ‘Borg with new shoes.

New, polished, and shining with pride. ~ Come dance with me!


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22 responses

29 03 2010
Liz

That’s brilliant nd I’m sure it will get even more better from here. 🙂

29 03 2010
RuthC

Thanks Tina, for this running commentary – far too much to tweet! You are opening my ears/eyes to what a new sound world might be like..and how your previous experience (sight/aided hearing.. anything else?) might inform how you process the new signal. One thing thatstruck me is how much of your new audio-experience seems to be high frequency. I guess your old aids gave you more low frequency. I know that CIs don’t give much low f. info (because the electrodes cannot be placed all the way up into the tightest coils of the cochlea) . So adapting to that ‘gap’ should be interesting.

Another thing that intrigues me is – how does your own voice sound to you, when you speak? Does (did?) it surprise you? Or does that just ‘drop out’ of the auditory experience? And how is Smudge taking this all?

Anyway – I’m looking forward to more news from the front line.. Good luck, good rest and good Easter break,

Best, Ruth

(Miranda:) O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
Shakespeare: The Tempest (V, i)

29 03 2010
funnyoldlife

@Ruth: It’s just the eyes and ears, although a new brain would be nice too. I have never had any high frequency hearing, I presume that learning to use a CI is akin to gradually reversing a hearing loss, so there is a huge space for the high frequency sounds to fill. My HAs (appropriate abbreviation!) weren’t able to replace the lost high frequencies. Yes, adapting to HAs and CI together will be worth a few blog posts, I am sure! At the moment, my voice sounds a little lower. My voice, and everyone else’s, currently sound as if you’re holding your nose to talk, making it terribly difficult to understand. My colleagues say I am now clearer and louder, and when I took the CI off today to show it to them, my voice changed dramatically into a shout. Smudge is totally laid back as usual… however I heard him ‘talk’ for the first time today. He is very talkative! (What have I let myself in for?) Have a good Easter – we must meet up sometime soon and you can assess my speechreading skills!

29 03 2010
Jeremy Freeman

Amazing…but Tina…slow it down a little!

By the way I think you can silent the clicks on the BlackBerry!

29 03 2010
funnyoldlife

@Jeremy: The key tones are off on the Blackberry, it is the actual depression of the buttons which I am hearing. Yeah … too much information!

29 03 2010
Martine

I’m so pleased it’s going so well for you, and so quickly! 😀 Brilliant to read how positive it is and how you’re just taking it on one day at a time. You’re the same as me, the Holy Grail is to hear speech without having to lipread…….. at this rate you’ll end up being an interpreter as I am a CSW now! Music is such a joy now (I never really followed it with hearing aids before). Can’t wait to meet up with you one day and just share stories. Pub sometime? And you’ll probably be able to overhear some conversations!! 😉

29 03 2010
funnyoldlife

@Martine: Pub it is! and we can compare notes… I can’t wait to eavesdrop on people!

29 03 2010
Speakuplibrarian

That’s good news, Tina. You are progressing fast. I am impressed at the difference between the implant and your hearing aid in what you are able to hear already. That seashell is a lovely gift.

29 03 2010
funnyoldlife

@Sarah: The CI is indeed impressive. My new sound today was on the bus. I was sitting at the back and I could hear the windscreen wipers. Bionic hearing? Oh YEAH baby, bring it on!

29 03 2010
David

Hi Tina,

I am sorry if this is not your name or if it is too forward! I was trying to figure what to call you since your website doesn’t list your name other than looktohear but everyone else seems to call you Tina so I will just go with that.

I just wanted to thank-you for your blog because it has been such an inspiration to me and a much needed source of information.

I am also deaf (born that way) and have used hearing aids all of my life. I feel like I was very fortunate because I was able to use my aids well even though my hearing loss was considered to be severe and profound. I did lose my hearing completely or very close to completely in left ear about 14 years ago and I thought that was it for me from a hearing standpoint from that ear. However I met a guy at a social function who had implants in both ears who encouraged me to look at getting the implants. So I started down this path which also led me to your blog.

So to make a long story short, I am set-up to get my left ear implanted at the end of April and I have you and Jim (the guy with the implants) to thank for it. I am very excited about it especially after reading your blog. You have helped to answer many of my questions and slay some of my fears.

So thank-you Tina for your website. I look forward to reading more about your experiences as you go through this journey. I anxiously await for mine to begin.

Sincerely,
David (of Kansas City, Missouri)

29 03 2010
funnyoldlife

@David: You’re welcome. Good luck with the CI and your journey to better hearing. Stand by for further updates 🙂

29 03 2010
Nanna

On sounds from hell: loading and unloading the dishwasher – ever so carefully.

On sounds from heaven: birds singing. I cannot get enough of listening to and locating the birds. Last week, on my way to the hearing therapist, I almost fell off the curb while walking and looking up into the trees at the same time. I noticed some people making a point of walking around me – must have thought I was drunk the way I flew off the curb… Here’s to dancing in the street.

30 03 2010
Paul

My Blackberry Curve has a tactile keyboard so even if the tones are turned off it still clicks away. I could feel the “click” when depressing the keys but hadn’t heard them until this week.
Good to hear all your progress! When did Smudge learn to talk? Has he been ordering for you at the pub?
You’ve chosen a good road. Check out all the new paths.

30 03 2010
IanIlly

Great to see the progress so fast! I will love to read how you fare with the new programming – ClearVoice – that filters out voices. Where I work there is a steadily increasing level of background noise so I am finding it quite hard at times to follow anything. Not helped by the old HAs not being quite right in some way either but difficult to pin down exactly what is wrong.

Anyway, good progress but is it the case that the beeps are what you actually hear and eventually you and your brain make these turn into sensible sounds? I wondered if it was just a waythe started off the settings on the CI or somesuch?

Cheers

Ian

30 03 2010
funnyoldlife

@Ian: Good question! The beeps are not what I am actually hearing but what my brain was telling me I could hear, because it was hearing sounds for the first time. It didn’t recognise sounds so I got a basic beeping. At switch on, some people hear nothing as their auditory nerve has never been stimulated, some hear beeps which later become sounds as the nerve wakes up and the brain ‘translates’, some hear sound as sounds straight away, some even understand speech – typically those who have been hearing well previous to getting a CI and perhaps became deaf through illness.

Unfortunately the HAs won’t be able to discriminate voices against a noisy background. I find I have to manage the background or the voices. You could try a radio aid for one-to-one conversations, with a mike for the speaker.

30 03 2010
Tammy

Hi Tina enjoyed reading about your CI wish you all the best with it 🙂

30 03 2010
Bluesky

Tina, will you ditch the hearing aid in your other ear? or do you need it to even out the sounds somewhat?

30 03 2010
funnyoldlife

I haven’t decided what to do about that yet, I will give the HA a try and see how it goes. Some people like it for the additional low frequencies it delivers, but I am told it sounds very different from the CI and some don’t like dealing with this difference.

1 04 2010
kim

Sounds like you’re doing wonderfully! And so soon too! 🙂

1 04 2010
byost

Tina,

It’s been 8 weeks since I have been “turned on” (is that the British term for activated?). The most enjoyable therapy for me is listening to audio-books and reading along. I have finished 3 books so far and I really think this has improved my hearing. I use the direct connect for this exercise.

It helps if your spouse buys both the book and audio tapes. Why she does this I have no idea, but it helps that I don’t have to get this stuff from the library.

Byron

3 04 2010
Dr.V.Ramcharan

Hi Tina,
I haven’t disappeared or anything and you are very much in my thoughts. I tried getting to this blog in many ways but had no luck. Kept getting old news. How do I get to the blog without having for a recent HJ post and clicking the link there ?
P am so happy you did all the prep work before getting your Harmony. I saw your activation video and you handled a difficult situation with flying colours. Your amazing progress is testament to your tenacity and willingness to forge ahead.
I personally do not believe in the notion of overloading your brain, or the processor. If that were a concern, you would have had smoke coming out of your eyes while doing your degree in Japanese. The people I know who pushed as hard as they could in the begining made great strides all along. The starting laggards never got very far. If you practice listening without lipreading, it will happen for you. The radio is a great tool. Try BBC World news and commentary. Also VOA special english prograsms onl;ine.
I will stay abreast of your progress.
When this ear has surpasses the other and you are hearing without lipreading, lets see what can be done about getting you bilateral. I know NHS has issues, but miracles do happen. Whwere there is a will…
Dr.V

4 04 2010
Dan Schwartz

@David in KC: I’m on the path to getting a CI myself. Are you using KUKC as your implant center? They have a very good CI program there, with all three brands.

That being said, the CI you want is the Advanced Bionics HiRes Helix array in a perimodional placement, which gets the electrode as close as possible to the spiral ganglion nerve for a tighter, more focused stim. Tina has a brilliant blog article on why she chose AB; and Abbie Cranmer in Toms River, NJ.

Also, as a preface to Tina’s article, be sure to read what she says about how the CI centers present each brand — These are Very Wise Words.

Next, make sure you have a Volunteer CI Mentor,who is someone who can guide you through the process, holding your hand along the way. There are three pages of Mentors – Many are actual users; and ome are parents of CI Kiddies. [Note: Although Abbie is still listed, she is pretty busy with her wedding plans, so it would be better to choose another Mentor. Kim Brownen is a Senior Mentor, and has had her CI for 16 years.]

Note for UK friends:Use this link to the UK branch of the Bionic Ear Association Volunteer CI Mentor program instead~

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