She sells seashells by the seashore

4 06 2010

We’ve had gorgeous weather for the past few days so I took an opportunity to visit the English seaside and test my baby cochlear implant. This is a little wish I’ve had for some time, to feed my soul and revisit a memory. A day of walks, ice creams, salty sea air, happy faces, and the soothing sound of the waves.

I grew up by the seaside. It was a cold, rough, Irish sea, mesmerising in all its tempestousness, its savagery, its cold hard beauty, its sudden mood changes from sky blue to grey to black and even to white in fierce, majestic storms. Scary in its calmness in an orange sunset, for I knew it was dark and dangerous beneath the vast surface, taking lives at random when it chose. Enticing on a hot summers day with gentle waves lapping at your feet, for we had the longest whitest sandy beach in the north – visit this link and feast your eyes. I almost drowned when I was eleven, and I’m still a water babe, but have a real fear of water, deep water, when I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet. Walking along the pier at the mouth of the River Bann still scares the bejesus out of me, as you can see the water is so deep on both sides, and so so close. But somehow, I still have a fascination with and love of water.

I walked along the promenade and recalled the sound of the sea from memory. shhhhhSHHHHHHshhhhhhSHHHHH. Quiet. SHHHHshhhhhSHHHHshhh. Calming. shhhhhSHHHHshhh. Reflexive. SHHHHshhhhSHHHHshhhh. I listened hard for this sound as I walked with my dog.

There was a constant loud ROAR …… ROAR and I tried to work out what it was, thinking “Bloody aeroplanes!”. I was puzzled because there was no airport nearby.

ROAR ….. ROAR

I scanned the sky but couldn’t see any aeroplanes.

ROAR….ROAR….ROAR

Must be the traffic, then. There was a road behind the promenade but it was a quiet day and I couldn’t see many cars.

ROAR….ROAR….ROAR

I looked around and scanned for moving objects that would match up to this sound. Then it hit me.

It was the sound of the breaking waves!

ROAR….ROAR….ROAR

I could not BELIEVE how loud they were. They were teeny tiny itty bitty waves but they crashed with a sound that did not match their size – see photo.

Is this normal? Or is the volume magnified by my new-found awareness of sounds? I am just blown away.

The quality of the sound is so different as well. It’s no longer a quiet soothing shhhhSHHHHshhhh but a harsher sort of frantic bubbling, or crackling with the hard edges taken off.

You can see what a hard time I am having, trying to describe simple sounds. What I am hearing is my own version of reality, not yours.

It’s very hard to explain sounds when you haven’t heard them before.

It’s also hard to explain to my audiologist what I’m hearing, so that she can adjust the program appropriately on my cochlear implant.

I was talking to Paul in Seattle about this sound recognition and progress with our cochlear implants. Paul had normal hearing prior to getting his cochlear implant. He was activated one day before me. He says;

I find it amazing and fascinating reading about the hearing experiences of people who had a long term profound loss and used hearing aids before getting a cochlear implant. Many, who felt that they accommodated quite well (by lip reading, speaking, etc), seem awestruck by what they hear with the cochlear implant. While I feel, at 2-months myself, that the quality of the sound from the cochlear implant has a lot to be desired (remember, I KNOW what “normal” or “near-normal” hearing really sounds like) it is leaps and bounds better than what the hearing aid can provide one who has a profound loss. While I had “normal” hearing at one time, it’s been a very long time. My hearing has declined since the 1960s. It’s had its ups and downs but it was a long slow decline nonetheless.

Most people with mild to moderate loss really do benefit from the hearing aid. But a profound loss is in a class by itself. I find it hard to describe some sounds to you because either you never heard that particular sound before in your entire life OR what you heard with your hearing aid was a very bad representation of the sound. Of course, you wouldn’t know that what you heard was crappy because you had nothing to compare it to. How do I describe a sound to you when you’ve never heard that sound? How do I describe color to a blind person?

Sometimes I wonder what babies really hear in their first couple of years. Is it all mangled sounds like the first few weeks of a cochlear implant? At the same time that their brains are trying to make sense of associating sounds with what they are seeing they are also trying to figure out how to verbalize sounds themselves. What marvelous things our brains can do!

How exciting. I can’t wait for the next big storm. I used to love watching them whilst my dad hid under the kitchen table. It’s going to be a fantastic 3-D experience!

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4 responses

4 06 2010
Vivie

Now you’ve made me cry…

I’m from Greece…and I was like you…Profoundly deaf..with HA ( unilateral since I was ten )

I got implanted two years ago , and it is going to be my third summer with the CI..

You articulated what I was thinking..My feelings , my profound amazement.My love for the sea even the primal fear for it.The sound my dad’s boat made when the sea lapped around it, while we were out , fishing.

You sent me swirling..A big hug..

9 06 2010
Megan

Thanks for the wonderful post. It really made me think. I wrote a bit inspired by this post at http://hearingsparks.blogspot.com/2010/06/difficulty-of-describing-sounds.html.

11 06 2010
Bluesky

Profound deafness is in a league of its own. Going from moderate to profound deafness in a decade. I can distinguish from what sounds rubbish and not normal with hearing aids. The difference IS startling, hearing aids become almost useless in profound range. From constant tiredness from lip-reading and headaches, it’s a no brain-er to take that leap into cybernetics.

15 08 2010
Kieron

Tina, this is Kieron from hearingjourney. I’ve been devouring your posts for a few days and it’s been enormously helpful. This was the one I was looking for. I had _some_ “normal” hearing range until about 3 years ago, and could do quite well with a HA, enough to compensate and ignore the loss despite having only 1 usable ear. With the deterioration of my residual hearing, the quality of sound (esp. speech) has really fallen off, although I can still hear waves and environmental sounds quite well. This post has been a lot of food for thought. Thanks for all your work here. I hope you appreciate just how much good you’re doing for those of us coming up after you in CI-Land.

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