Cyborg Adventures : Preparing to Jump

17 12 2009

I went to the hospital for a repeat sentence perception test yesterday as I had scored 52% the first time and 53% the second time. 53% was just outside the criteria for a CI, so they wanted to make sure of my ability to understand speech just by listening. This time, I scored 43%, which put me well inside the criteria for a CI. I asked for a single word speech perception test, and scored 33% – that was an extremely difficult test to do, as there was no context for me to guess words from. I think single word speech perception testing should be used more to measure auditory functioning, as sentence testing can be deceptive. A person with good cognitive skills will appear to hear more than he or she really can hear.

The CI team kicked into gear and I met with the consultant, surgeon Dr Lavy and speech therapist Liz. The consultant was of the opinion that I am coping quite well with lip reading, but the CI will make a huge difference to what I will be able to do in other environments on a one to one basis.

I have been wearing hearing aids consistently and for a long time, so my ears hopefully have been stimulated enough so they should benefit. A lot depends on how I progress afterwards with the rehabilitation. The consultant reckons I will definitely be able to hear better with it than without, than I am now.

We discussed which ear to implant and chose my left ear. I prefer my right ear, which is the better ear, as I can understand conversations better and pick up on environmental sounds which the left ear completely misses. The CI would work well in both, potentially slightly better in the right ear, but it would still work well on the left side. With a left ear implant, I can wear the hearing aid on the right side. The medical team said not everyone can manage with both a hearing aid and CI as the sound can be so different, but some get on quite well. I’ve been advised it is best to keep wearing the hearing aid if I can, to keep the hearing nerve stimulated, and so keeping the door open for a second CI (or other technological aid) in the future. A second CI is not normally given to adults in the UK purely because of funding, they are expensive at £40,000 and a lot of people are refused a CI, never mind get offered a second one.

I then went to look at four CIs. I chose Cochlear’s Nucleus 5 which is the newest CI available. With a rechargeable sound processor holding 18 hours of battery life, the Nucleus 5 is 43% smaller than other CIs and features the industry’s most advanced microphone technology. The implant has 24 electrodes. Liz said the thing about numbers of electrodes is they are all more or less the same. She doesn’t think 22 is better than 16. How odd. She said there is no proof to show that any more than 8 is better; what all the CIs can do is they get electrodes to talk to each other, so they have virtual electrodes. So it is an electrode that doesn’t actually exist but they get two electrodes to talk and they meet in a middle point which simulates that part of the nerve. They all do it, so the number of electrodes is not proven to be better otherwise they would all have 22. Not sure I understand this point….. there is a simulation on the internet of what can be heard through a CI and I have been told by hearing people that 22 sounds WAY better than 16. Go figure.

The Nucleus 5 simplifies phone use with AutoPhone – the industry’s first and only sound processor designed with automatic phone detection with auto telecoil, and I’ll be able to connect easily with direct and wireless access to entertainment, music and the phone (assuming I will be able to hear them clearly enough). This CI is waterproof (not just showerproof) and I can go swimming with it on, although Liz didn’t recommend this. It’s nice to know if it falls down the toilet, it will be fine. The white one looked like an Apple offshoot, bang on trend. I chose the black colourway to blend in with my hair. There are clip-on covers I can add to change the look. There is a remote control to help make using the CI easier and to flip between programmes, similar to those on hearing aids. So I’m pleased I’ve got a CI which is a similar size to my old hearing aids and not too big.

I then went for my pre-admissions check. The nurse was completely puzzled by my palantypist, as was my CI consultant. They had never seen one before which I found sad – how do all the hearing impaired people with speech cope in hospitals?

Next, I need to visit my doctor for a meningitis injection, as there is a possible link between meningitis and a cochlear implant.The presence of stimulation electrodes passing into the cochlea may present a route for the spread of middle ear infection which, if left untreated, may lead to bacterial meningitis.

The CI team are waiting for the funding to be agreed from the Primary Care Trust and once that’s been agreed, they will give me a date for surgery. Whoop.