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.


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!


Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch

24 03 2010

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Audie said, Let There Be Sound.

It’s switch-on day for my new bionic ear. I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to it as I didn’t know what to expect. You have to roll with the curveball that you’ve been thrown. Everyone is different and so there are a wide range of experiences from hearing nothing to understanding the audie right out of the gate. I was hoping to hear sounds similar to my hearing aid.  Being born deaf, that was probably unrealistic. I was feeling very very nervous as I stepped into the audie’s office.

The cochlear implant processor was plugged into the computer and put on my head. Eilene, my audie, first set the impedances – measures of the electrical resistance between the individual implant electrodes. Then she set the sound levels. I listened to 4 beeps, very much like a hearing test. I had to tell her when each beep was too soft, comfortable, or too loud. This set all 16 electrodes as each beep set 4 electrodes. Now I was set to go!

They unhooked me from the computer and Eilene tested me out with some sounds. I could hear her voice, but it was beep-beep-beep-beep. Clapping? Bip-bip-bip-bip. She rustled papers. Bip-bippity-bip-beep.

I am a bionic girl in a morse code world.

Wow. This is different!

I was so shocked at my switch-on that Smudge, my hearing dog, picked up on this and freaked out. He jumped up and down, looked at me as if to say ‘It’s okay mom’ and wouldn’t leave me be. Awwww bless! I was unable to hear Eilene rattle her keys. She asked me to put the plug in her office sink, run the tap, and unplug. Listen for the plug being put in, water running, water draining out, plug being taken out. I couldn’t hear a bloomin’ thing. Smudge then ran over to the sink and put his paws up on the rim – he obviously wanted a drink, so we put some water in a bowl for him. Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep. That was the sound of him drinking water! It was beeps, but it was sound. Whooooo!

I went for a quick coffee break in a silent cafe, there were 2 small children with CIs playing computer games. I could hear them beeping like happy little R2D2s. Then I went to see Liz, my speech therapist. Liz took me through some speech sounds, I can tell when she is saying AAAAAAAH with her voice and without. I found it hard to tell the difference between AMA (beepbeep) and APA (beep – pause – beep) but with practice I will get better at this. I can tell the difference when she says TEA (beep), COFFEE (beepbeep) or HOT CHOCOLATE (beepbeepbeep).

These beeps will change over time into meaningful sounds as my brain learns and adapts. It’s like being a baby, I have to learn to hear all over again. Although I am disappointed I am hearing beeps, at least I am not hearing nothing, and I am not getting a sensation of being electrocuted rather than hearing sound – common switch-on reactions for those who were born deaf.  I am able to turn up the volume if I need more before my next mapping in 5 days time. The strange thing is, when I go outside, I hear nothing – this is something to do with the acoustics. I cannot hear my male colleagues but my female colleagues are beeping away. I really AM starting from scratch again. I can now understand why this process is scary for some, especially for those who have had good hearing before they lost it.

(Captions courtesy of Howard Samuels and Bill Cresswell)

I was given my box of tricks to take home, filled with coloured covers to jazz up the implant, a dry-box, batteries, battery charger, car charger, different leads and ear hooks. And a health and safety manual. It’s very important not to plug a cochlear implant into the computer / laptop whilst the computer is plugged into the mains electricity supply. I’m also advised not to crawl under electric fences. 🙂

I’ve been wearing the implant for 10 hours now. Let’s see ….. what’s beeping?

Keyboard keys

Moving the keyboard on the desk **

Putting objects on the desk, e.g. mobile phone, glass, pen, oh heck – anything! **

Paper rustling **

Sighing (me)

Sniffing (me)  **

Phone dial tone


Light switch

Kettle boiling and switching off **

The fire doors at work closing **

Clothes landing in a pile **

Drop a pen on the carpet **

Hear someone talk (i.e. beep) in another room **

When I give Smudge a kiss **

Plosives in speech (T, P, B, K, G, J, D, Q) **

All the sounds with stars ** are sounds I cannot hear with my hearing aids. So there you go. Progress. Even if it’s in baby steps.

Beep beep!