Platform 9 3/4

3 04 2010

It’s been one week since switch-on and what a start it’s been to my journey to better hearing. It’s been nothing like I dreamed it would be, with unexpected twists and turns, and I’m sure, many more to come.

I was delighted when the beeping faded and real voices started to come through. I had been pumping the volume higher and higher and finally requested an early tune-up from my audie last Friday. Now I was able to hear the keys being depressed on my Blackberry (not the tone sounds, but the actual key depressions themselves), cutlery on plates, and traffic just as it whizzed past me. I was happy with the increased volume but as I left work on Friday evening, I stepped out of the building and this loud whine started up in my head. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. It didn’t go away. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I couldn’t hear anything else, just this loud EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. What was it? Was there something wrong with the cochlear implant? EEEEEEEEEEEE. Or my brain? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I ripped the implant off after 30 minutes as I couldn’t stand another minute of EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. It just did my head in.

*shudders*

The next day, I turned the volume down quite low and this was a relief, as I was busy taking photos all day in Covent Garden, it was very busy with lots of people around, making for lots of background noise. I didn’t want to take the cochlear implant off as in order to maximise success, particularly in the learning stages, the user should wear the processor for every waking hour possible. This is not a ‘Nazi’ view (as one ignoramus has accused me of having) but a strategy recommended by cochlear implant centres. A cochlear implant is not like a hearing aid at all. It’s a completely different animal. The more you wear it, the more your brain becomes accustomed to sounds, the more synapses your brain will create, the more sounds your brain will recognise, and the better your hearing will become. It’s like training to be an athlete – an hour here or there when you feel like it will not help you to become a world-class athlete, but regular and consistent training will.

On Sunday, I turned the processor up again. I was thrilled to hear my dog ‘talk’. He talks a lot! Erasing my notes, I was shocked to hear the eraser scrape across the paper. It moves ….. ergo it makes a sound. I heard a racket and discovered this to be pigeons and doves in my chimney. I heard the door unlock and the light switch click, in the bathroom next door. I could even hear myself breathing. Stunned was probably how I felt that day.

It was Monday morning and I slapped the processor on my head. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I couldn’t hear anything else, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, couldn’t stand this for another second, EEEE – took it off, and hightailed it to the hospital. The processor was checked and the impedances were fine. I was given a new mapping and the whine was still there, quietly in the background, so the audie turned the high frequencies down to 5% and switched my HighRes Fidelity 120 from HighRes-P to HighRes-S which has softer high frequencies. She reckons that I have pushed too far, too fast, and my brain is protesting at all the new high frequencies I haven’t heard before. This new programme seemed to work. I got a shock to hear a colleague preparing her lunch, she was using a knife to jab holes in the plastic wrapping of her microwave lunch, it sounded like loud gunshots. I picked up the sounds of my dog sighing (like, every 10 minutes!), my footsteps on carpet, and the beeping of the supermarket till in an otherwise silent supermarket.

My tinnitus decided to make a comeback in my unaided ear and gave me this lovely loud drilling sound for the next three days. I haven’t been wearing my hearing aid as I want to give the cochlear implant 100% and get this up to a high standard before giving my brain mixed signals to cope with. Sounds from hearing aids and cochlear implants are very different; the brain does acclimatise to cochlear implant sound but some people’s brains do not like mixing the two. This is something I may try when I am ready, perhaps in six months time. In the meantime, my brain does not like having no stimulation in the unaided ear, and is giving me merry hell with tinnitus. It has, however, been quiet for the last two days – until I start my Clix soundwork. Fickle brain! Clix listening activities are available from The Listening Room, where you can practise listening skills on your own or with a coach, and record your progress.

Over the last couple of days I have been able to pick up new sounds from downstairs – voices and rapping on the TV. I’ve also been able to hear footsteps coming up the stairs and a bottle cap being unscrewed from the bottle. AGC (Automatic Gain Control) is another thing I’ve noticed. This is a process whereby the hearing aid or cochlear implant automatically reduces all sound for a few seconds when a loud noise is heard. So when I call Smudge, my world goes silent for two seconds. It’s a very odd experience.

I listen to a chapter of my audio book every day, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read by Stephen Fry. This book was recommended to me as Stephen Fry has a very friendly, clear voice which is easy to listen to. At first his voice sounded like a whine with gaps for the spaces between words, which was very very tiresome to listen to. Now it sounds clearer, I can tell there are words in an English accent, however I am still unable to understand what is said. Today I was able to pick up on when Stephen uses different voices for the characters, and on the emotion in each voice, which makes the story come alive. Voices still sound tinny and not quite normal, but I expect this to change soon. ESL-Lab will help as this website provides lots of different voices to practise listening to.

It’s truly amazing to reflect on how much has changed in the space of one week. From nothingness, to hearing all of this.

My ticket looks promising. I had better run and catch the train to Hogwarts – has it left without me? Wait up!